One of the First Acts of Indian Resistance Against the Portuguese. Jesuits “Martyred” for Defiling Hindu Temples

Valignano, Alessandro (1539 - 1606)

Relatione della felice morte di cinque religiosi della Compagnia di Giesu, et di alcuni altri secolari ammazzati da Gentili per la fede nell'India Orientale l'anno 1583. Cavata da una del P. Allesandro Valignano Provinciale dell'india per il P. Generale della compagna di Giesu data in Goa alli 28 Dicembre dell'istesso anno.

Rome: appresso Francesco Zanetti, 1584


Octavo: 14.5 x 9.5 cm. [14] pp. Collation: A8 (lacking the first leaf, blank.)


Later “carta rustica” boards with spine in early vellum. The text begins on A2. Complete.

The extremely rare first Italian edition of this report from India. Streit lists a Latin edition at Goa in 1584 (Streit IV, 1024) but this appears to have been published only in later collections (the 'Littera annua' of 1585, etc.). This is the first of two separately printed 1584 editions, both of which are of extreme rarity, recorded by Streit. The Yale copy also lacks the first blank leaf.

This letter details the deaths of the Jesuit Martyrs of Cuncolim, who were killed on Monday, 25 July 1583, in the village of Cuncolim in the district of Salsette, territory of Goa, India. The “martyrs” were the Italian Rudolph Acquaviva, the Spaniard Alphonso Pacheco, the Swiss Peter Berno, the Portuguese Anthony Francis, and Brother Francis Aranha, also a Portuguese. In addition, the Portuguese layman Gonçalo Rodrigues, and some Indian youths, Dominic, Alphonso, Francis Rodrigues, Paul da Costa, and ten others were also killed.

While prosecuting their mission of Conversion in Cuncolim, the Jesuits and their companions desecrated a Hindu temple by urinating in it (a relatively mild, if repugnant, form of desecration; on an earlier excursion, Father Berno had set fire to another temple) and destroyed a sacred anthill. In addition, they killed a cow that was also an object of worship and hurled its entrails into a sacred well, thereby defiling it. The understandably outraged citizenry set upon the Jesuits and their companions, killing them with scimitars, lances and arrows. They then threw their bodies into a well. The five Jesuits quickly achieved great fame as martyrs and at last, in the 19th century, were elevated to sainthood, while the lay Indians who were slaughtered with them were ignored.

It should be remembered that three of the five Jesuit martyrs were in Cuncolim as chaplains to a force of Portuguese soldiers sent to exact harsh reprisals for indigenous resistance to Portuguese rule and the Jesuit campaign of forced conversion. In this context, the killing of the Jesuits is remembered by the people of modern day Cuncolim as one of the first acts of revolutionary resistance to European rule in India.

Of course, the letter, written in December of 1583 by the Jesuit Provincial of India, Alessandro Valignano, glorifies the “martyrs” and, in true martyrological style, vividly describes the deaths of Acquaviva and his companions.

“The Pagans then fell upon them; Father Rudolph received five cuts from a scimitar and a spear and died praying God to forgive them, and pronouncing the Holy Name. Father Berno was next horribly mutilated, and Father Pacheco, wounded with a spear, fell on his knees extending his arms in the form of a cross, and praying God to forgive his murderers and send other missionaries to them.

“Father Anthony Francis was pierced with arrows, and his head was split open with a sword. Brother Aranha, wounded at the outset by a Scimitar and a lance, fell down a deep declivity into the thick crop of a rice-field, where he lay until he was discovered. He was then carried to the idol, to which he was bidden to bow his head. Upon his refusal to do this, he was tied to a tree and, like St. Sebastian was shot to death with arrows.

“The bodies of the five martyrs were thrown into a well, water of which was afterwards sought by people from all parts of Goa for its miraculous healing. The bodies themselves, when found, after two and a half days, allowed no signs of decomposition.”(Catholic Encyclopedia)

Streit IV, 1029. De Backer Sommervogel, 8, 404 records only later editions. Very rare. Not in Laures Rare Book Database Project & Virtual Library Part III: European Works on the Early Missions in Japan to be found in Libraries around the World Imprints: 1581-1600, which quotes the edition printed in 1585. Cfr, on 1585 edition (Milan: Poncio): Streit, v. IV, p. 444; Cordier, col. 78; Sommervogel, v. II, col. 1266. EDIT16 71518.