Jesuits, Brahmans, & Snake-worshippers

INDIA. JESUITS. Magistris, Giacinto di, S.J. (1605-1668)

Relatione della Christianitá di Madure fatta da Padri Missionarii della Comp. de Giesù della Provincia del Malavar.

Rome: Angelo Bernabo del Verme, 1661

$2,500.00

Octavo: 15 x 10 cm. [16], 385 (recte 389) [2] p. Collation: *8, A-Z8, Aa8, Bb4

FIRST EDITION.

Bound in 19th c. quarter vellum and marbled boards, repairs to spine. A very good copy, sigs. R-S and V-X browned. Early inscription on title. Marbled edges.

Giacinto de Magistris, an Italian Jesuit, worked in India for twenty years before returning to Rome in 1660. From 1644 to 1659 he acted as secretary and companion to Archbishop Francisco Garcia of Cranganore. He returned to Europe as procurator of the Malabar mission. He later returned to India, where he died in 1668.

In 1661 Magistris published at Rome his ‘Relation’ as a call to his confreres to enlist for service in Madura, Tanjore, and other places in southern and eastern India. “Magistris’ account is based on the Jesuit’s own experience in this region, as well as on information from fellow Jesuits in charge of the various residences and dependencies maintained by the Society.  Since he was looking for recruits and financial aid in Europe, he stresses Christian successes and failures and provides many edifying stories about the fortitude and staunchness in the faith of both the missionaries and their converts. He pounces at every opportunity upon the ‘errors’ of the Indians and upon their superstitious practices. While he had only a superficial partisan interest in Hinduism, he is sometimes surprisingly full and precise on military, political, and broadly cultural matters…

As for the Jesuits of Madura and Tanjore, “The Jesuit residence at Madura, the largest in the nayakdom, is run by Balthasar da Costa (d. 1673), who first arrived there in 1639, with the help of Jean Fereira. Father Joseph Francis Acrolino, who dresses as a sannyasi, studies Tamil and Sanskrit at Madura. At Tiruchirapalli, Emanuel Alvarez is imprisoned in by ‘Cupejando’, the governor, on the insistence of the yogis. Emanuel Martinez (1597-1656), superior of the residence at Tiruchirapalli, dies while fleeing the city during an attack by Mysore. Leonardo Cinamo (1609-1676), a Neapolitan, is transferred along with Fortunat Senataccio of Lucca from their posts in Mysore to the mountain refuges of these displaced Christians. At Tanjore the mission is headed by Antão Proenza (1625-1666). A Portuguese Jesuit who compiled an important Tamil vocabulary; he is aided by Estienne de Arez. Magistris concludes his work with eulogies to and biographical sketches of the Jesuits wo had died in the Madura and Tanjore missions.” (Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, Vol III, Bk. 2, p. 1057 ff.)

Indian Culture and Society:

Magistris gives an account of the long reign (and recent death) of Tirumala Nayaka, the popular ruler of the vast and fertile lands of Madura, who commanded an army of 80,000. We learn of Madura’s capital city, densely-populated with men and women, educated at the many universities and colleges, who debate with the missionaries. Artists are highly-esteemed and decorate both the colorful and magnificent temples dedicated to the principal gods and lesser deities, and the churches erected by the missionaries. The Madurans’ festivals and rituals, the caste system (each layer of which is described), the practices and beliefs of the Brahman priests, and the peculiarities of snake-worship, are all described.

As for the progress of Christianity, Magistris reports that from the founding of the mission of Madura the missionaries had converted about 110,000 Indians, almost 9,231 of them from 1655 to 1659 alone. This despite the disruption caused by wars and the challenge posed by the many languages to be mastered, the caste system, and epidemics. The greatest (and most perilous) obstacle is the opposition of the Muslims, Yogis, and Paraiyars. There was a devastating invasion of Madura by Islamic forces from Golconda, during which churches were burnt (though Hindu temples were untouched) and Christian children were sold off as slaves to “heathen” merchants.

Since the region of Tanjore is relatively unknown to Europeans, Magistris describes the principal cities: eponymous Tanjore, Mannargudi, and Vallan Kottai, and explains the complex relations between the Christians, the Brahmans, the Dutch, and other religious, social, and ethnic groups. Of these one of the most complex and curious is the “Larrons”, a caste, some of whom are actually Christian converts, who live largely by theft and pillage but who are extremely hospitable to strangers.

De Backer-S. V, 313; Streit V, 451