A humble man, credited with being one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, was beloved of the Goan people. He is often known as the patron Saint of Goa. His sacred relics are entombed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, and their public expositions draw people from all over the world.
The feast of St. Francis Xavier is celebrated on the 3rd of December, and during this time the Basilica and its surroundings have a carnival-like atmosphere of jollity and fun.
Life sketch of St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier was a Jesuit priest who came to Goa as a missionary to spread the ‘Good News’. After staying in Goa for a time preaching the Word of God and giving lectures on the subject he travelled further east to continue his missions, eventually reaching Japan.
However, the Professed House attached to the Bom Jesus Basilica acted as a kind of Mission Centre for the Jesuits in the Eastern world, and St. Francis returned here periodically between missions.
He passed away of a deadly fever on the island of Sancian whilst waiting for a boat to take him to China. Read more +
Francis Xavier was born on 7th April 1506 at Castle of Xavier in Basque in Navarre, now a province of Spain to Dom Juan de Jasso and Dona Maria de Azpilcueta.
After taking the high degree of licentiate in Philosophy on 15th March, 1529, he became a lecturer of philosophy at the College of Dormans-Beauvais.
Later on inspired by his devoted colleague, Ignatius Loyola, Francis responded to the call of God. He was ordained priest on June 24, 1537 at Venice.
The then King of Portugal, Dom Joao II , being the fervent Christian appealed to Ignatius Loyola , the founder of Society of Jesus, to spare the services of some members of his society to be sent to the East. The choice fell on the Portuguese Simao Rodrigues and on the Castilian Nicolas Bobadilla who fell sick and was substituted by Francis Xavier.
Francis Xavier was the conferred by Pope Paul III the rank of Apostolic Nuncio (aka Papal Nuncio) for the Indies. Xavier landed in Goa which was the headquarters of the Portuguese territories, in the east on May 6, 1542.
As young Francis was full of passion and infatuation; he at once started his missionary work administering the sacraments to the sick, in the hospital Royal, to the lepers in hospital Santa Lazaro and teaching children catechism.
After five months in Goa his apostolic work in the East necessitated his leaving the shores of Goa. He went to Southern India Cape Comorin and the fishery coast, which was inhabited by Paravas who lived their lives by selling pearls and continued his mission in proclamation of Christ.
In 1545 he went to Mulapore, where he spent a long time in prayer and retreat in the Shrine of ST. Thomas and thereafter in September he went to Malacca. He left Malacca for the Islands of Eastern Arpicalego and continued from Ceram to Naussalaut, Amboyna, Ternate Island, and Monro Islands, and then returned to India again in July 1547.
He left for Japan and landed in Kagoshima in 1549, accompanied by Hanshiro. After Japan in 1551, he returned to India after his stay of two long years in Japan. His final sailing out of Goa was on November 21, 1552. He passed away on in the Island of Sancian (Shang Cheun) during the night of 2nd December1552.
His ardent endeavours of his apostolic work in the east earned him the title of “Apostle of the East.”
Miracle of Incorruptibility
When the good Saint died in Sancian, his body was buried by some Portuguese sailors whom he had befriended. However, when his remains were disinterred some years later, they were found to be intact despite the coffin having unslaked lime in it.
Subsequently, this miracle was what prompted the Vatican to confer upon him the title of Saint. St. Francis was buried in three different locations before coming to his final resting place in Goa. Read more +
His body was buried in the Island of Sancian in a sandy grave, with lime so as to hasten decomposition. However, when the grave was opened on February 17, 1553, to transfer the bones, the body was found incorrupt and as on the day it was buried. It was then taken to Malacca and buried again in the church of Our Lady of the Mount.
The body was dug out for the second time and brought by sea to Goa on March 16 1554, when on medical examination by the Viceroy’s physician, Dr. Cosmas de Saraiva who testified that it was wonderfully preserved though there was no sign of it being embalmed or preserved from corruption by any artificial means.
The holy body was witnessed to be incorrupt for over 150 years by all classes of people.
In 1614 by the order of Pope Paul V, the right arm was cut and sent to Rome. In 1616 the upper arm was amputated .The Saint was canonized in 1662. In 1698 the desiccation had gone so far as to leave the bones loose. The authorities in Rome ordered the holy relics to be enclosed.
From 1707 there was no exposition for 37 years. In 1744 and in 1751, the body was exposed privately for the Governors, Archbishops and other dignitaries of the time.
Tomb of St. Francis Xavier
The relics of the Saint were initially interred in a simple casket with little or no ornamentation. However, after his canonization, the Jesuits and people of Goa decided that something more elaborate was needed, something more in keeping with his elevated status.
The tomb in which the relics rest today was a gift from Cosimo III, Duke of Florence and the last of the Medicis. It is clearly visible and indeed the highlight of any tour of the Bom Jesus Basilica. Read more +
The tomb of the great Saint, rests beneath a shower of gilt stars. It has three parts: the altars, the Florentine mausoleum and the silver casket. There are four altars, one on each of the four sides of the tomb. They are constructed of reddish jasper with white strips which are ornamented with flourishes and fringes. There are two Cherubim in each corner. They are made of pure alabaster. In the centre of each altar’s frontispiece there is an emblem in bold relief. Above the altars is a quadrangle of spotted jasper. On all four sides are bronze plaques depicting scenes from the life of the Saint.
In the first scene we see St. Francis preaching to the Malaccan people. Above the panel is a bronze sun disc and two alabaster angels holding a bronze banner inscribed with the words “Nox inimical fugat”. The second scene shows St. Francis baptisting the Malaccans with his right hand and holding a crucifix in his left. The bronze sun is at it’s zenith above this plaque and the banner held by the angels reads “Ut vitam habeant”. The third scene depicts St Francis being attacked by the Moro islanders with stones and arrows. The bronze medallion shows a lion in a storm and the banner reads “Nihil horum vereor”. The fourth plaque shows the death of St. Francis on the island of Shangchaun surrounded by his disciples. The medallion depicts the setting sun and the banner reads “Major in occasu”. Taken together these four Latin phrases can be roughly translated to mean “I drive away the enemy of the night, that they may have new life and fear not the great setting of the sun”.
Above this quadrangle is a balustrade of jasper and it is on this balustrade that the silver coffin rests.
There are 32 silver plates which form the four sides of the casket. The scenes that they depict are as follows:
1. Francis lies on the ground with his arms and legs tied, but the cords are miraculously broken.
2. Francis kisses the ulcer of a patient lying in a Venetian hospital.
3. He is visited by St. Jerome as he lies ailing in the hospital of Vicenza.
4. A vision about his future apostolate.
5. A vision about his sister's prophecy regarding his fate.
6. He saves the secretary of the Portuguese Ambassador while crossing the Alps.
7. He lifts a sick man who dies after receiving communion.
8. He baptizes the people in Travancore.
9. He resuscitates a boy who drowned in a well at Cape Comorin
10. He miraculously cures a man full of sores
11. He drives away the Badagas in Travancore
12. He resuscitates three persons: a man who was buried at Coulao; a boy about to be buried at Multao and another child.
13. He takes money from his empty pockets and gives to a Portuguese beggar at Malyapore.
14. He effects a miraculous cure.
15. A crab restores his crucifix which had fallen into the sea.
16. He preaches in the island of Moro.
17. He preaches in the sea of Malacca and announces victory against the enemies.
18. He converts a Portuguese soldier.
19. He helps the dying Vicar of Malacca.
20. Francis kneels down and on his shoulders there rests a child whom he restores to health.
21. He goes walking from Amanguchi to Meaco.
22. He cures a dumb paralytic in Amanguchi.
23. He cures a deaf Japanese person.
24. He prays on the ship during a storm.
25. He baptizes three kings in Cochin.
26. He cures a religious person in the College of St. Paul.
27. Due to lack of water, he sweetens the sea water, during a voyage.
28. The agony of Francis at Sancian.
29. After his death he is seen by a lady according to his promise.
30. The body dressed in sacerdotal vestments is exposed for public veneration.
31. Francis levitates as he distributes communion in the College of St. Paul.
32. The body is placed in a niche at Chaul with lighted candles.
The casket is topped by a cross standing on a pedestal with the figures of angels, one on either side. The angel placed near where his head rests bears a heart with a halo, whilst the one near his feet has the motto “Satis est! Domine, satis est” which means “It is enough, Oh Lord, it is enough”.
During the time of the exposition, the plates on the side of the silver casket are removed so that devotees may see the “intact” remains of the Saint through the glass urn. The glass urn was put in place after the exposition in 1954, when it was decided that the relics should no longer be directly touched. It was made in the Casa Brandizzi in Rome and the relics were placed inside with all ceremony in 1955, before the whole was placed into the silver casket.
Public Expositions held in Goa
Due to the unusual incorruptibility of the body, the relics of the Saint became an object of reverence and wonder to many. Thus it was eventually decided that the public should be allowed to view and venerate the relics of the Saint.
Many public expositions were ordered that attracted people from all over the world to Goa, and made Goa famous throughout the Christian World. Gradually these expositions took on a more festive atmosphere with stalls being set up and the area around the Basilica being decorated with streamers and flags. Read more +
The first public exposition was held from 10th to the 12th of February, 1782.
The second exposition was held from 1st December 1859 to January 8th, 1860. More than 2 lakh pilgrims venerated the relics.
Third exposition took place December 2nd, 1878 to January 6th, 1879.
Fourth exposition was held from December 3rd, 1890 to January 1st, 1891.
The fifth exposition was held in connection with the Eucharistic Congress in Goa from Dec 7th to 10th 1900.
Sixth Exposition was from November 20th to December 28th, 1910.
The seventh exposition marked the third centenary of canonization and was held from December 3rd, 1922 to January 7th, 1923.
The eighth exposition was held from December 3rd, 1931 to January 10th, 1932.
The ninth exposition from May 6th to the 27th 1942 was held to commemorate the fourth centenary of the arrival of St Francis Xavier in Goa.
The tenth exposition took place from December 3rd, 1952 to January 6th, 1953
The eleventh took place from December 14th to the 31st, 1961
The twelfth took place from November 24th, 1964 to January 6th 1965
The thirteenth took place from November 24th, 1974 to January 5th 1975
The fourteenth took place from November 21st, 1984 to January 7th, 1995
The sixteenth was held from November 21st, 2004 to January 2nd, 2005 and the Decennial Exposition of the Sacred relics took place from November 22nd, 2014 to January 4th, 2015.
The feast of St. Francis Xavier is perhaps the most popular and well known of all the festivals celebrated in Goa. It is preceded by a nine day novena to the Saint which ends on the 3rd of December which is the feast day. People from across the globe come to pay homage to the Saint, even in the years in which the exposition does not take place.