Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Oct - Dec 2002

The Death Of Francis Xavier
December 3, 1552

The large sail of the ship which was carrying Xavier's last letters to Malacca slowly disappeared beneath the horizon on the south. One morning, after almost all the other ships had also sailed away, Xavier noticed as he was saying Mass that his host, Jorge Alvares, was missing. When he asked where he was, he learned that his friend had hastily set sail for Malacca. He had been unable to take his leave of him: he had not even waited for the arrival of the junk which he had purchased on another island. When Xavier heard this, he observed: "I do not know if he is standing well with God. See! Here comes the ship which he bought; and he was unwilling to wait until it came! He will not leave Malacca but will, instead, die there." When the people left the church, they could not at first see the ship; but then, to their astonishment, it soon appeared on the horizon. It was later learned that Alvares had gone into the forest near Malacca to gather wood for his ship and was there slain by robbers.

the death of St. Francis Xavier

It was now still and solitary on Sancian. Only two ships were lying at anchor - the junk of Diogo Vaz de Aragâo and, on the northern side of the bay, the Santa Cruz of Diogo Pereira. Only a few Portuguese were still living in their rude shelters on the strand. Xavier was now alone with Antonio and Christovâo in the hut of Jorge Alvares, and they no longer had anyone to care for them. The north wind blew with its penetrating cold, which was keenly felt by the Portuguese, who had become accustomed to a tropical climate. Hunger set in. At times Xavier had to send Antonio to beg for bread or something else to eat from the Portuguese. But even then they occasionally suffered from extreme want. The Portuguese were themselves in need of provisions, since the mandarins were blocking their export from the mainland.

The Chinese merchant who was to take the priest to Canton was to arrive on the nineteenth of November. Daily, and even hourly, Master Francis anxiously watched for him. But he did not come on the appointed day, nor on the following.

The priest fell ill. It was on Monday morning, the twenty first of November, after he had celebrated Mass for one who had died. Since he did not feel well and there was nothing to eat, Francis asked Antonio if it would not be better for him to go on board the ship of Diogo Pereira, which was anchored in the harbor. Antonio replied in the affirmative, especially since the ailing priest had no one to sustain him or to care for him. He would perhaps feel better there than on land, where he was suffering from such great need.

At midday on Tuesday, November 22, Francis was as a consequence rowed out to the Santa Cruz, while Antonio remained behind upon the beach. There he went to his cabin upon the ship. In the morning the people waited for him to come out as he usually did. But he did not appear, and he did not answer when they knocked upon his door. He was deep in prayer, and his usual sigh was all that could be heard: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" During all this time he ate and drank nothing, nor even on the following day. The rough tossing of the ship only increased the fever that was racking him; and on the day after his arrival, the morning of Wednesday, November 23, he asked that he might be taken back to land. $ His wish was granted, and he returned with a pair of warm trousers under his arm and a few almonds in his sleeves. He had such a high fever at the time that he seemed to be a glowing stove.

When Xavier's friend, Diogo Vaz de Aragâo, saw him in such a serious condition, he took him into his straw hut, which was open to the wind and weather. When he told Francis that he should be bled at once, since he was more seriously ill than he thought, the latter replied that he should do so, and everything else that seemed good to him. The priest was consequently bled that same Wednesday. This caused him to lose consciousness for a short time, since he was of a fiery and sanguine nature. Water was thrown into his face, and this caused him to come back to himself. But he then suffered a great loss of appetite and could no longer eat. When his fever rose again on the following day, Thursday, he was bled again; and he again lost consciousness. He was given a purgative, but his fever rose ever higher and was accompanied by great anguish. During all this time, though he was no longer able to eat, he remained so patient that no word of complaint passed from his lips.

Since Francis now felt that his death was near, he ordered Antonio to take all of his possessions books, letters, clothes, and pictures immediately to the ship.

He then lost consciousness. Though he became delirious, he did not say anything absurd. With a cheerful countenance, and with his eyes raised to heaven, he held a kind of colloquy with God, speaking in a loud voice and in the different languages which he knew, but also one which Antonio did not understand. As he spoke, he repeatedly inserted verses from the Psalms in Latin; and he could frequently be heard saying: "Tu autem meorum peccatorum et delictorum miserere!" ("Have mercy on my sins and failings!") He spoke thus with great fervor for five or six hours. The name of Jesus was constantly upon his lips, and Antonio often heard him say: "Jesu, fili David, miserere mei !" ("Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!")

He remained thus, without eating anything, through Thursday and Friday; and he was so forbearing that he did not cause the least difficulty to the one who was assisting him.

On Saturday, November 26, he lost his voice and ceased to recognize anyone. It was not until noon of Thursday, December 1, that he was able to speak again and to identify those about him. His words were directed primarily to the most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for which he had always had a great devotion. And he also could be heard frequently saying: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" and "Virgin, Mother, be mindful of me!"

On the day before his death, Francis turned his eyes towards Christovâo, his Indian servant. Filled with grief and compassion, he repeated three times in Portuguese: "You poor fellow!" The meaning of these words was not understood at once. Did Francis foresee how, after his death, his servant would surrender himself to a dissolute life in Malacca and be killed there by a arquebus' shot while he was in this condition? From then on the ailing priest and Antonio were alone in the but of Diogo Vaz de Aragâo.

On the evening of Friday, December 2, Antonio could see that death was approaching, and he decided to keep watch by him throughout the night. The dying priest kept his eyes constantly fixed upon a crucifix which had been put up where he could see it by his companion. It was already past midnight when Antonio saw that the end was near. "I placed a candle in his hand," Antonio later wrote in his report, "and with the name of Jesus in his mouth, he returned his soul into the hands of his Creator and Lord with great calm and tranquility. His body and his countenance were filled with peace and of a roseate hue; and his blessed soul entered into the enjoyment of his Creator and Lord, and of the reward and deserts which he had so well deserved for the many great services which he had rendered to his Lord, and for the great and continuous hardships which he had experienced during the ten years that he had labored there. He died before dawn on Saturday, December 3, 1552, on the island and harbor of Sanchôn, in a straw but that was not his own, ten years after he had come to these regions of India." 14 His last words, as he was dying, were: "In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum." (" In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded.")


The Burial On Sancian

When Antonio became aware that Master Francis was no longer among the living, he called the Portuguese, who remained with Xavier's body while Antonio went to the Santa Cruz to obtain the vestments which Xavier had used for celebrating Mass so that he might be laid out in them for his burial. While Antonio was away, Diogo Vaz de Aragâo took the saint's reliquary as a remembrance of him, but he later restored it to Father Melchior Nunes at the latter's request. Those who learned of Xavier's death from Antonio were greatly grieved at the loss of one whom they had loved so much, and to whom they were so greatly devoted. Some of these returned with Antonio to help him with the burial. Antonio then remembered that the Chinese were accustomed to bury their dead in a wooden coffin. When he mentioned this to the others, it seemed to them that it would be good to have a coffin made for the body. When this was finished, since the ground in the immediate vicinity was permeated with water, they decided that Xavier's grave should be dug at some distance from the huts of the Portuguese, at a site about halfway up on the headland of the bay opposite the Santa Cruz. Because of the great cold, only four persons sailed in a boat to a landing on the promontory Antonio, two mulatto slaves, one of whom was Jorge Mendes, and a Portuguese, about whom nothing further is known. After the men had dug the grave and were about to place the coffin in it, one of them suggested to Antonio that it would be good to bury the body with a large amount of lime so that it would consume the flesh and make it easier to transfer the bones to India. The four agreed that this should be done. They returned to the camp of the Portuguese and obtained four sacks of lime. They then sailed back to the promontory and placed two sacks of lime beneath, and two sacks over, the body. The coffin was then lowered into the ground for its temporary burial. After the grave had been filled with earth, Antonio placed some stones upon it to mark the site so that later, if someone of the Society should come to this deserted spot, he could find it. Those who had assisted at the burial then left and returned to the camp, overcome with sorrow at having lost such an excellent and saintly man. All of this took place between Friday, the second, and Sunday, the fourth, of December, 1552.


The Translation To Malacca And Goa (February 17, 1553 March, 1554)

In the middle of February, 1553, the Santa Cruz was being readied for its return voyage to Malacca. Xavier's body had by this time been buried for two and one half months on Sancian, and the faithful Antonio asked himself if Master Francis should be left alone upon the island. He expressed his doubts to Diogo Vaz de Aragâo, the captain of the ship, who then shared his perplexity. He sent a Portuguese to open the grave and to discover the condition of the body. To his astonishment, the man found the body perfectly fresh and incorrupt, just as it had been at the time of death. He cut off a piece of flesh the size of a finger from near a knee and brought it to the captain in order to prove to him the perfect preservation of Francis' body. When Vaz saw the piece of flesh and perceived that it had no evil odor, he praised God and ordered the coffin to be brought with the body, and also the lime, so that this would consume it during the voyage if the Lord did not determine otherwise.' The body was consequently brought on board the ship. It was apparently at this time that it was dressed in a new silk garment which had been found in the priest's traveling bag, and which he had intended to wear at the audience of the emperor. After a normal voyage, the ship reached Malacca on March 22, 1553.

(From Francis Xavier, His Life, his Times, by Georg Shurhammer, SJ, vol. IV, pp.640 – 644)



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