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Relics of St Francis Xavier: Venerated across the world

03rd December 2015, 12:00 Hrs

MELVYN MISQUITA

While the Relics of St Francis Xavier are enshrined in the Mausoleum at the Bom Jesus Basilica in Old Goa, various parts of the body have been distributed, preserved and venerated in different parts of the world over the past five centuries.

The Relics of St Francis Xavier are known to have been preserved and venerated in churches and chapels in Old Goa, Margao, Panaji and Canacona in Goa, as well as in Mumbai. Elsewhere in the world, the Relics are reported to have been enshrined in reliquaries in Japan, Macau, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Canada and USA.

It may be noted that Relics are described in three categories. A First Class Relic is a part of the body (bone, hair, a fingernail, etc.), while a Second Class Relic is something owned or worn. A Third Class Relic is more common. Someone may touch a religious medal to a first-class relic and the religious medal would be a third-class relic.

In his book , the Jesuit scholar P Rayanna provides details on some of the various relics of the saint which have been venerated across the world, since the death of the saint five centuries ago:

* The servant who was sent to exhume the body from the desolate coast of Sancian is reported to have cut off a piece of flesh, a finger’s length, from the left knee of the body of Francis Xavier.

* Except for a big toe, all the other toes are now missing from the right foot of the body. The little toe was bitten off in 1554 by a Portuguese lady called Dona Isabel de Carom, as she was anxious to have a relic of the Saint. This toe in the possession of the family of the Count of Nova Goa in Portugal, was donated to Santa Casa De Misericordia, a state run Portuguese Charity who also maintains a well known museum in Lisbon.

* In 1556, St Paul’s College had a reliquary containing some hair of the Saint, presumably taken out from the coffin.

* The right hand was cut on two separate occasions. The first operation took place on November 3, 1614, by order of Father General Claude Aquaviva. The arm was cut off at the elbow and sent to Rome in the following year. It is kept in a silver reliquary and venerated in the church of Gesu.

* A small piece of this relic was sent to Malines, Belgium.

* The second amputation took place on April 27, 1619. The rest of the right arm with the shoulder blade was cut off at the order of the same Father General Claude Aquaviva in order to satisfy the request of the Jesuit Province of Japan for a great relic of its first apostle.

* The shoulder blade was divided into three parts, one for each college of Cochin, Malacca and Macau. These relics were lost when the Dutch took Malacca in 1643 and Cochin in 1663.

* The relic of Macau is still kept in the seminary of St Joseph in Macau in a reliquary of solid silver, containing a good part of the shoulder of 12 cm, including the top part of that bone with the forearm.

* By 1636, all the internal organs were removed from the body and were distributed as relics in the East and the West. Authentic records of these relics speak of them as taken from the breast, from the intestines, from the flesh, and from the interior organs.

* At the time of its official inspection prior to the Exposition of 1782, the Inspector General of Goa declared that the Relic was with him at home. Part of it is still in possession of his descendants in Portugal, and the rest of it reached its native Castle of Xavier in 1902.

* After the exposition in 1890, one of the toes fell off. Archbishop Valente placed it in a crystal case in 1894, which is kept in the Sacristy of Bom Jesus and is offered to those who want to kiss it.

* About the two other toes no reliable information is available. But it is known that during the Exposition of 1910, two joints of the fourth toe, which were hanging on a thin skin, fell down. The then Patriach Dom Mateus de Oliveira Xavier placed them on February 17, 1911 in the reliquary already existing in the Sacristy. Even now, one can see two bits of bones in the reliquary which the pilgrims kiss.

* During the Exposition of 1952, a dried skin of one leg was hanging. Dom Jose da Costa Nunes, the then Patriarch, cut it and out of it many small relics were made and placed in small reliquaries.

* In 1964 at the request of Fr Aires Fernandes, then parish priest of St Xavier’s Church, Dabul-Mumbai, a piece of this skin was offered to that church by Bishop Francisco Rebello, then Auxiliary to the then Archbishop, Patriarch Dom Jose Alvernaz, and in charge of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman.

In addition, relics of St Francis Xavier have also been venerated in other parts of the world.

* A small bone of the saint has been preserved and venerated at the St Francis Xavier church in Bhatpal-Canacona in Goa.

* A large bone of St Francis Xavier is preserved in the Holy Spirit Church in Margao.

* A Relic of St Francis Xavier is preserved in the St Francis Xavier Chapel in Portais-Panjim.

* A Relic of St Francis Xavier is preserved in the Precious Blood Parish at Cloverdale in Vancouver-Canada.

* A reliquary of solid silver and gold which contains a first class relic of St Francis Xavier is venerated in the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish in Rhode Island in the New England region of the United States.

* A relic of St Francis Xavier is reported to be in the St Francis Xavier Cathedral at Green Bay in Wisconsin, United States. Incidentally, the cathedral claims to have the relics of an estimated 100 saints.

* A relic of St Francis Xavier is also part of the collection of the Western Jesuit Missions in the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, in midtown Saint Louis, Missouri-USA. The reliquary also houses the relics of other Jesuit saints.