Saint Francis Xavier's body remains intact after 460 years

Saint Francis Xavier's body remains intact after 460 years

Visitors to the former Portuguese colony of Goa are drawn not only to its long stretches of beautiful sand, thumping beach parties and myriad architectures, from the quaint to the imposing.

Tourists, especially the faithful, flock to the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa to catch a view of the remains of a saint who has left his mark all over Asia since the 16th century.

From Singapore and Malaysia to Macau and Japan, Catholics as well as educationists revere Saint Francis Xavier, the Spanish priest whose missionary zeal took him to all over Asia.

He was in Singapore when "he found Fr Ignatius' letter informing him he had been appointed provincial of the "Indies and the countries beyond", according to church history in Singapore.

When he reached India, he was informed that he was to go to Rome to report on the status of his mission. But Saint Francis felt the report could wait until he had visited China.

He left India in April 1552 and landed on the desolate Sancian Island in September. While waiting for smugglers to take him to China, Saint Francis had a fever and was confined to a hut. His Christian Chinese servant, Antonio, faithfully took care of him.

On November 26, he slipped into a coma but regained consciousness on December 1. Church records said he "prayed constantly until the morning of December 3, when he went to heaven".

His body was buried on the island but was taken to Malacca subsequently. It moved to Goa a few years later where his remains were interred in Bom Jesus.

His body is usually kept elevated - out of reach - in a silver casket in the Basilica. But, once in every 10 years, an "exposition" is held where the body is brought to ground level for people to have a good view.

The recent exposition, which was held from November last year to January 4, were attended by thousands upon thousands, who saw a procession carrying the body from the Basilica to the Se Cathedral.

It was here that they could venerate him at close range. Close enough to touch the see-through casket or plant a kiss on it. To the faithful, the largely intact body is a "miracle".

That has been, faithfully, one of Goa's biggest attractions.

chenj@sph.com.sg

 

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