Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Francis Xavier

Not to be confused with St. Francis Borgia, another Spanish nobleman turned Jesuit.

Saint Francis Xavier (April 7, 1506 - December 2, 1552) was a pioneering Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order). The Catholic church considers him to have converted more people to Christianity then anyone else since St. Paul.

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Missionary work
3 Death
4 Legacy
5 Recognition
6 External link and reference

Early life

Xavier was born Francisco de Jaso y Azpilcueta in the Castle of Xavier (modern Spanish Javier, Basque Xabier) near Sangüesa and Pamplona, in Navarre, Spain. He sprang from an aristocratic Basque family of Navarre. In 1512, Castile invaded Navarre. Many fortresses were devastated, including the family castle, and land was confiscated. Francis' father died in 1515.

At the age of 19, Francis Xavier went to study at the University of Paris, where he received a licence ès arts in 1530. He furthered his studies there in theology. He became acquainted with Ignatius Loyola, and was, along with Ignatius, Pierre Favre and 4 others, one of those who on August 15, 1534, bound themselves by a vow at Montmartre and formed the Society of Jesus.

Missionary work

The field of labor falling to Francis Xavier was that of missions to remote countries. As King John III of Portugal desired Jesuit missionaries for the Portuguese East Indies, he was ordered there in 1540. He left Lisbon on April 7, 1541, together with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martin de Sousa, on board of the Santiago. From August of that year till March 1542, he remained in Mozambique, and reached Goa, India, the capital of the then Portuguese colonies, on May 6. His official role in Goa was Apostolic Nuncio. He spent the following 3 years operating out of Goa.

On September 20, 1542, he left for first missionary activity, among the Paravas, pearl-fishers along the east coast of southern India, north of Cape Comorin. He then exerted himself to convert the king of Travancore to Christianity, on the west coast, and also visited Ceylon. Dissatisfied with the results of his activity, he turned eastward in 1545, and planned a missionary journey to Macassar, on the island of Celebes, in today's Indonesia.

Having arrived in Malacca in October of that year and waited there three months in vain for a ship to Macassar, he gave up the goal of his voyage. He left Malacca on January 1, 1546 and landed on Amboyna, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other of the Molucca Islands, including Ternate and More. Shortly after Easter 1546, he returned to Ambon Island, and then Malacca.

In December 1547, in Malacca, Francis Xavier met a Japanese nobleman from Kagoshima, called Anjiro. Anjiro had heard from Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca with the purpose of meeting with him. Following their conversations, Xavier decided to travel to Japan in the future.

He returned to India in January 1548. The next fifteen months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures in India.

Then his displeasure by reason of the unchristian life and manners of the Portuguese, whereby his proselyting work was seriously impeded, drove him forth once again into the unknown Far East. He left Goa on April 15, 1549, stopped at Malacca and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, 2 other Japanese men, the father Cosme de Torrès and Brother Juan Fernandez. He had taken with him presents for the "King of Japan", since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Xavier reached Japan on August 15, 1549. He landed at Kagoshima, the principal port of the province of Satsuma, on the island of Kyushu. He was received in friendly manner and was the host of Ajiro's family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto, but failed at meeting with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551. There, he was permitted to preach, by the daimyo, but, not knowing the Japanese language, had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism.

For all this, his sojourn was not without fruits, as is attested by congregations established in Hiudo, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China. There, he saw an old friend from Cochin, the rich merchant Diégo Pereira, who showed him a letter of Portuguese being held prisoners in Guangzhou, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to talk to the Chinese Emperor in their favor. Later, he stopped at Malacca on December 27, 1551, and was back in Goa by January, 1552.

On April 17, he was again under way, together with Diégo Pereira, leaving Goa on board of the Santa Cruz and aiming for China. He would introduce himself as Apostolic Nuncio, and Pereira as ambassador of the King of Portugal. Shortly thereafter, he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted to the capitan Alvaro de Ataide de Gama, who had now a total control over the harbor. The capitan refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from hos title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship, and demanded that the gifts for the Emperor be left in Malacca.

In early September 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 10 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was only accompanied by A Jesuit student, Alvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called Antonio and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November, he sent a letter, saying that a man had accepted to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Alvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with Antonio.


On November 21, he fainted after celebrating a mass. He died on the island on December 2, 1552, at age 46, without having reached mainland China.

He was first buried on Shangchuan Dao’s beach. His intact body then left the island in February 1553. It was then temporarily buried in St. Paul's church in Malacca on March 22, 1553. An open grave in the church, now marks the place of Francis' burial. Pereira came back from Goa, removed the corpse shortly after April 15, 1553 and moved it to his house.

On December 11, 1553, the body was shipped to Goa. Xavier's body, having resisted extensive decay, is now in the Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa, where is was placed into a silver casket on December 2, 1637. The silver casket is lowered for public viewing only during the public exposition. The lastest has taken place in 1994. There is a debate as to how the body could have remained incorrupt for so long. Some say that Francis Xavier was mummified, while others argue that the incorruptible body is evidence of a miracle.


Francis Xavier accomplished a great missionary work both as organizer and as pioneer. By his compromises in India with the Christians of St. Thomas he developed the Jesuit missionary methods along lines that subsequently became fateful for his order; the instruction he dispensed in connection with baptism was superficial; and he combined missions with politics, and approved of the extension of Christianity by force (cf. his letter to King John III. of Portugal, Cochin, Jan. 20, 1548).

Yet he had high qualifications as missionary; he was animated with glowing zeal; the consciousness of acting in God's service never forsook him, he was endowed with great linguistic gifts, and his activity was marked by restless pushing forward. His efforts left a significant impression upon the missionary history of India; and by pointing out the way to East India to the Jesuits, his work is of fundamental significance with regard to the history of the propagation of Christianity in China and Japan.

The results of his labor that he himself witnessed were not slight (mere figures may be disregarded, as they are difficult to verify); but still greater were the tasks he proposed. And since the Roman Catholic Church responded to his call, the effects of his efforts reach far beyond the Jesuit order; the entire systematic and aggressive incorporation of great masses of people on broad lines of policy by the Roman Catholic Church in modern times, dates back to Francis Xavier.


Francis Xavier is an Anglican and a Catholic saint. He was beatified by Paul V on October 25, 1619, and was canonized by Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola.

He is the patron saint of Australia, Borneo, China, East Indies, Goa, Japan, New Zealand.

His feast day is December 3.

The Javierada is an annual peregrination from Pamplona to Xavier instituted in the 1940s.

Xavier is one of the few English names starting with X.

External link and reference