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Thursday, May 19, 2011


Francis Xavier was exhausted with arduous ship journeys and the zeal of evangelization consumed him at the young age of 46. St. Francis Xavier died on a Saturday on December 3, 1552 on the Chinese island Sancian.
There were only a handful of men at Xavier's funeral, the crew of the Santa Cruz, consisting mostly of Alvaro da Gama's missions, being afraid to show themselves.
The faithful Antonio laid the body, dressed in sacerdotal vestments, in the coffin. Having covered the body all over with a thick layer lime, the coffin was lowered into a grave cut deep into the earth. There was little time left for the ship to sail, and the precaution of laying the body in lime was taken so that with the lime rapidly consisting the flesh, the precious relics could be easily taken to India. Accordingly, a few days before the ship was due to sail (17th February, 1553), the captain, on being reminded by Antonio, sent one of his men to ascertain the condition of the body ten weeks after its burial. When the body was exhumed the lime was removed and to the astonishment of all it was noticed that the body was as fresh as when it was buried. They touched with their hands different parts of his body for assuring themselves. They realized that this was an extraordinary phenomenon. It defied the laws of nature. It is immaterial and irrelevant to wait till the end of the centuries to check whether the body remains as fresh as when it was buried. Francis Xavier was accepted as a saint in his life itself. The body remained buried for two months and half in a coffin full of lime and did not decompose. This is a miracle, indeed irrespective of what may happen later.
In order to submit evidence to the captain of the ship they cut a piece of flesh of the left thigh just above the knee of the size of a finger. The wound was full of blood. Thereafter the coffin was taken to the ship, which sailed to Malacca. The ship reached Malacca on March 22,1553. They kept the body in a nearby house and on the next day when the entire town gathered forming themselves into a procession, they carried the body to the church of our Lady of Mount, where after solemn obsequies, it was buried very crudely at the door of the sacristy even without a coffin. The grave was too small and when the body was thrown in the grave the neck was forcefully bent and broken due to very rough treatment. And there it lay till it was again exhumed to be taken to Goa, its last resting place (15 March, 1554). At Goa the welcome was more tumultuous. The Viceroy ordered the bells of the city to go into a joyous peal as at a triumph of victorious general returning home after signal success.
On August 15, 1553 the body was fresh as well as the priestly vestments. The handkerchief that was covering the face and the cushion were full of dry blood. There was a hemorrhage in the cervical region; the nose was damaged and perhaps fractures of cervical vertebrae. It must be noted that there was no cadaveric stiffness. Throughout the historical reports it is never recorded that the body was embalmed or that the body was decomposed or that foul smell was emanating from the body. Meanwhile, this news from Malacca reached Goa.
Later the body was bought to Goa as the saint himself had desired that his bones should be taken to Goa. Fr. Melchior, Provincial of the Jesuits hired a galleon which was royally decorated and conveyed the glad news to the Viceroy, to the Senate and to the people. The Viceroy himself accompanied by the nobility went to welcome the body.
There was decoration everywhere in Old Goa and on the margins of the Mandovi river. The cannons from all the forts fired continuously to welcome the body which reached Ribandar in the night of March 14,1554 and it was taken to the Church of Ajuda at Ribandar.
The body was in a wooden coffin with damask lining, offered by Xavier's friend Diogo Pereira. It was taken to the Church of S. Paulo on March 16, 1554 at the sound of bells of nearly 40 churches from Old Goa. Such was the crowd that even the Viceroy could not have a glimpse of the body.
The Renaissance men were anything but credulous.
There were quite a few of these in Goa, and they refused to believe that the body could resist decompositionThe Renaissance men were anything but credulous. There were quite a few of these in Goa, and they refused to believe that the body could resist decompositionwithout artificial methods having being used. Some plainly said it must have been embalmed. Therefore, the Viceroy D. Afonso de Noronha requested his physician Dr. Cosme de Saraiva and Vicar General and Administrator of the Bishopric of Goa, Dr. Ambrosio Ribeiro to examine the body and attest its incorruption. Dr. Saraiva issued a certificate in which he says that he saw and touched all the parts of the body of Padre Mestre Francisco Xavier, specially the abdomen and he could feel the intestines. The body was not embalmed nor preserved artificially- he added. The thighs and other parts of body were fleshy and neither physics nor medicine could preserve it in such a way since he had died one and half year ago and was buried for nearly one year - he certified under oath of his office. On the left side of the abdomen there was a small hole. Dr. Saraiva says that watery blood came out and Vicar General Ambrosio reported that when he inserted his fingers he could feel something that looked like intestines. Bros. Antonio Dias & Joao Bravo also put their fingers inside the hole and found that the abdominal cavity was full. The report is dated 18th December, 1556
The body was exposed for public veneration during three days during this first exposition, D. Isabel de Caron, a Portuguese lady bit off the fifth toe of the right foot and another person cut a piece of flesh which looked red and dry to put in a reliquary and on the fourth day he was buried for the third time near the main altar in the Church of S. Paulo. When this Church was demolished in 1560, the body was exhumed and was kept in the rector's room and later in the room of the novice master, in the chapel of S. Tome, in the sacristy and finally it was taken to the Casa Professa do Bom Jesus.
On November 3, 1614 in total secrecy Bro. Tome Dias was asked to chop off the lower part of the right arm from elbow till fingers in the presence of Visitor, Provincial, Praepositor and three Consultors. It was sent to Rome and is preserved in a reliquary in the Church of Gesu.
How many times the coffin was opened? Nobody knows. It was a private property of Jesuits. In those days, having a great craze for relics several people took pieces of the body or vestments of the saint. Such was the treatment to which the body of the saint was subjected year after year. What would be the condition of the body in such circumstances?
In 1686, the body was shifted to a new coffin and later on at the end of 1698, the body was transferred to the new Italian mausoleum offered by Grand-duke of Tuscany Cosimo III.
In 1759, when the Jesuit monopoly the Archbishop controlled the Body of the Saint. In 1782, a public exposition was held with the aim of scuttling the rumor that Jesuits had carried the body of the saint and the body of the deceased Goan Canon Antonio Gomes had been placed in the coffin. But this was not at all correct, as the subsequent medical exams have demonstrated.
The last among the most crucial examination of both the uncovered and covered parts was done on June 23, 1951 by Dr. Antonio Luis de Souza Sobrinho - Director of Health Services and Dr. João Manuel Pacheco de Figueiredo - Director of Medical School. Some parts of the skull were covered with skin with some hair at skin level and other parts without skin.
The right side eyelid could be seen; the nostrils were visible. The facial features were preserved. Rare beard hair at skin level. Right ear preserved. There is no left earflap. The tendons and veins of the left hand can be seen. Only the thumb has nail. The tendons of left foot are clear but the skin is desiccated. The first and last toes have nails; the other three are reduced to pieces.
The sole of the left foot is very well preserved. The right foot does not have last four toes. Some tendons and veins can be seen. The big toe is quite prominent but without nail. The great portion of the sole is well preserved. When the vestments were removed, it was found that the head was separated from the trunk. The skin of the arm is slowly disappearing. In the central part of the coffin there were many bones. There was no abdominal skin . When these bones were arranged, the height from the big toe to the head was 170 cms. and from the heel to the head was 162 cms. These doctors reported that what has remained incorrupt are exactly the parts that were not covered although with signs of slow destruction namely the face, the hand and the feet, In the beginning of 1955, the Italian engineer, Brandizi Ettore came to Goa and placed in order the bones but did not touch the face, the hand and the feet.
The last known exam was conducted through the glass case by Dr. Joao Manuel Pacheco de Figueiredo - Dean of Faculdade de Medicina de Goa and Dr. Pedro de Ataide - Medico-cirurgiao. The changes in the facial region were noticed. The left eyelid was not visible. The skin is desiccated. The earflap of the right side is quite reduced. The flexuous veins and tendons of hand and feet are still visible.

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