St. Xavier’s Hand
Saint Francis of Xavier was a Navarrese Catholic missionary of Basque origin. One of the first Jesuits, he was one of seven first Jesuits who dedicated themselves to the service of God. Xavier was a papal legate, but he was also under commission from the Portuguese king when he arrived in Goa. The father of Christian Missionary Movement, Xavier tried to convert the Indians, Batarians, Filipinos and the Japanese in the Far East, and died en route to China in 1552.
Xavier’s greatest significance lay in his role as an icon and model of all subsequent Jesuit missionary activity. Canonized in 1622, his memory would not only inspire priests from Ethiopia to New France to Arizona but also create the new concept of ‘White Men’s Burden’. Relics of the saint would be a much sought-after spiritual commodity during the seventeenth century. The lower part of his right arm would be shipped off to Rome, where it remains in a reliquary in the Church of Gesu; the remainder would be divided in three and shared between the Jesuit communities in Macao, Cochin, and Malacca. By the eighteenth century, ‘‘Xavier-Water,’’ in which medals or relics of the saint had been immersed, had become a popular central-European cure for fevers and bad eye-sight. Even today, his body, housed in the Church of the Bom Jesus in Goa, remains a cherished sight of pilgrimage and adoration.
The above photo of Xavier’s Arm in a reliquary in the Church of Gesu was taken by Al Fenn for Time/LIFE. In that Church there is a spacious Saint Francis Xavier Chapel in the right transept, designed by Pietro da Cortona. Originally commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Negroni, the polychromatic marble altar encloses a stucco relief representing Francis Xavier welcomed to heaven by angels. The altarpiece shows the Death of Francis Xavier in Shangchuan Island by Carlo Maratta.