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|Saint Gonsalo Garcia, O.F.M.|
St Gonsalo Garcia of Bassein
Bassein (Baçaim), Maharashtra
|Died||5 February 1597
|Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||14 September 1627 by Pope Urban VIII|
|Canonized||8 June 1862 by Pope Pius IX|
|Major shrine||St. Gonsalo Garcia Church
Gass, Vasai, India
|Patronage||Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay|
Saint Gonsalo Garcia, O.F.M., (Latin: Gundisalvus Garcia, Portuguese: Gonçalo) (1556 – 5 February 1597) was a Roman Catholic Franciscan friar from India, who died as a martyr in Japan and is venerated as a saint. The first Indian to attain sainthood was born in the western coastal town of Vasai, now an exurb of the city of Mumbai, he hailed from the town—then known as Baçaim in Portuguese, later Bassein in English—during the time the town was under Portuguese colonial rule. The festival of St. Gonsalo has come to be held on the first Sunday nearest to the neap tide following Christmas in Vasai.
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Bassein or Vasai is about 30 miles north of Bombay. The Portuguese ruled this place for about 205 years (1534-1739 A.D). In 1498 A.D Vasco da Gama arrived at the harbour of Calicut (Kozhikode) on the western coast of India. It was after this that the Portuguese established their power on the western coast of India. During that time John III of Portugal had ascended the throne of Portugal. He appointed Nuno da Cunha as the governor of Goa in order to conquer the island of Diu from the sultan of Gujarat. Under his leadership, the Portuguese started endeavours to conquer the island of Diu. The Portuguese tried to siege Bassein, because they believed that conquering Bassein would provide them a strategic momentum to acquire Diu. During this period Governor Nuno da Cunha learn that the Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat had sent his forces to built a small fort in Bassein. Governor Nuno da Cunha soon realized that if the Sultan built the fort in Bassein, their desire to conquer Diu would soon be vanished. Ultimately Governor Nuno da Cunha decided to conquer Bassein, after consulting the council of Fidalgos (noblemen) in Goa. Portuguese Fidalgos and thousands of naval soldiers sailed in the direction of Bassein on 150 ships. A battle took place between the Portuguese forces and those of the Sultan of Gujarat on 20 January 1533, which was won by the Portuguese on the feast day of Saint Sebastian. The fort came into the actual control of Portuguese on 23 December 1534 when Bahadurshah signed a treaty with the Portuguese to hand over the complete authority of Bassein. Following the event, Captain Garcia de Sá was appointed to built the Bassein fort, the work began on 20 January 1536.
A number of rich Portuguese Fidalgos living in the different towns were attracted to Bassein’s natural beauty, pleasant climate, and abundant wealth. They came to Bassein and built castle-like palaces in the vicinity of the fortress. Because of these changes the area took on characteristics of a European city. The Portuguese king issued a special order and gave this city the status of ‘Évora’ i.e. a city in Portugal. The Portuguese nicknamed the city as "Dom Baçaim (Bassein)" mocking the numerous "Dom (a Portuguese title for Sir)" people residing in the city of Bassein. The prosperity of Bassein increased such that it was considered among the richest cities among the Portuguese colonies in the world at that time. The dominion of the Portuguese in this part increased and the city became the capital of the Portuguese Province of the North of India; Goa being the capital of Portuguese Province of South.
Birth and parentage
St. Gonsalo Garcia was born as Gonçalo Garcia in 1557. Documents in the Lisbon Archives (ANTT) describe Gonsalo Garcia as a ‘natural de Agaçaim ’ or ‘resident of agashi’ village in Bassein. His father was a Portuguese soldier (although his surname, Garcia, is Castillian) and his mother a Canarim (pl. canarins), that was how the Portuguese called the inhabitants of the Konkan. This term extended often to all the indigenous people from what was Portuguese India at the time. Modern scholars such as Gense and Conti accept the fact that Gonsalo’s mother was from Bassein.
According to Garcia's companion, Marcelo de Ribandeneira, who became a historian and considered as the most authentic source on the life of St. Gonsalo Garcia, the saint once told him that his mother was from Bassein and his father a Portuguese soldier. Hence the Papal Bull declaring Gonsalo Garcia as a saint mentions that he was Basseinite (A native of Bassein). As the child of a European father and an Indian mother he was a Mestiço in the Portuguese sense of term.
In Bassein Fort
Gonsalo Garcia spent eight years (1564-1572) in the Bassein Fort. The fort was reserved for the European people and their servants. According to the policy adopted by the Portuguese government, any Portuguese who got married with a local woman was given certain privileges. So Gonsalo’s father was permitted to quit the job and stayed in the fort as an ordinary layman, and because of that his family came to reside inside the fort. He studied at the Jesuit school of Bassein Fort and helped in their "Igreja do Santo Nome de Jesus", in English ‘Church of the Holy Name (now known as St. Gonsalo Garcia Church)’. Here St. Gonsalo Garcia came into contact with Fr. Sebastião Gonsalves who became a friend and guide throughout his life. During his stay with the Jesuits, he learned Grammar, Philosophy and Roman History.
Gonsalo Garcia was willing to accompany to Japan Jesuit missionaries who, from Bassein were sent there. In 1569 he told Fr. Sebastian Gonsalves about his desire to go East, but his request was turned down as he was quite young. But in 1572 Fr. Sebastian permitted him when he was fifteen. He surprised young Gonsalo by disclosing that he also has decided to leave for Japan. The two missionaries left together Bassein in the first week of March 1572 and reached Japan in July. During the course of his voyage Gonsalo Garcia learned Japanese language with the help of a Japanese who accompanied him in the same ship.
As a cathechist
Gonsalo Garcia was selected as a catechist by the Jesuit missionaries. As a predicant missionary, he went about in public places drawing children to himself by his amiable disposition, by his fluency in the language of the country and by his kindness. Gonsalo Garcia reached one and all and soon became a favorite with the Japanese. He served them faithfully as a catechist for eight years. Meantime, he had expressed the desire to join the Jesuit Order. Though promises of admission were held out to him, Gonsalo’s Indian origin was a bar to his entry in the Society of Jesus. Finally Gonsalo Garcia lost hope and bid adieu to the Fathers, much to their regret.
On leaving the Jesuits Gonsalo Garcia went to another city named Alacao. There he established himself as a merchant. He did not, however, lose his spirit of piety and Christian zeal because of his new career. Gradually, his business transactions expanded and he was able to found new establishments. His commercial relations brought him into contact with all the ranks of Japanese society. His business flourished very well. Wealth and abundance were at his feet. Still, at heart, he remained a religious man in word and deed. Later, he resolved to become a Franciscan Friar. His petition to the superior of the Franciscans at Manila (Philippines) was accepted. In this way, as a Franciscan, Gonsalo Garcia began the second phase of his missionary activities.
A Franciscan preacher
Gonsalo Garcia was very much delighted when he was accepted into the Franciscan order. In Manila, he came into the Franciscan missionary, Fr. Peter Baptista who remained as a companion until the very martyrdom. Gonsalo Garcia started his career as ‘dojuku’ or catechist in Manila. The main advantage for him was his ability to speak the Japanese language. From the different parts of Japan, the people began to send him invitations. It was at this time that the Spanish King wanted to send a delegation to Japan from Manila. The Spanish governor of Manila selected Fr. Peter Baptista as the leader of the delegation and since he did not know the Japanese language, Gonsalo Garcia was selected as his translator as well as his companion. Gonsalo was very happy with this offer that he immediately accepted the responsibility. The missionaries left Manila on 21 May 1593 and reached Hirado, a harbor in Japan, on 8 July 1593.
In Japan, Gonsalo Garcia became the center of attraction as he knew Japanese language well. He was the official member of Spanish translator of Fr. Peter Baptista. After facing some initial difficulties the Franciscan settled in Japan and began their missionary work in Kyoto, Osaka, etc. The Japanese shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, was very friendly with these Franciscans. It was a time when Jesuits were facing lot of opposition in Japan. The people of Japan appreciated the simple way of living adopted by these Franciscan missionaries. It helped them to accelerate their conversion program. Many Japanese, including their landlords accepted the Christian religion. Slowly Japan became the great center of evangelization for the Franciscan missionaries.
Clouds of adversities
The Franciscan were very successful in their conversion policy. Naturally, the Buddhist religious lenders became their arch enemies. They tried to influence the king to take action against Franciscans and to expel them, but the king refused to budge. But the situation worsened with the arrival of ill-fated Spanish ship ‘San Felipe’(St.Philip). It was bound from Manila to Acapulco in Spain but due to terrible tempest, it was driven to the coast of Japan. It was laden with Gold and Silver when it was anchored at Urado. The captain of the ship, Francisco de Olandia, while conversing with the Japanese custom officials spoke boastingly of ‘La Espanha de los Conquistadores’ and unnecessary boasted that the Spanish king had captured many countries in the world. He wrongly told that the king of Spain sent the missionaries first to instigate the people against their ruler. When the matter was reported to Toyotomi, he was wild with anger. The situation was exploited by Yakuin Zenso, a physician and close advisor to Toyotomi. The shogun issued the order to arrest and execute all missionaries in Japan. There were three Jesuits also. The Franciscan including Fr. Peter Baptista, Gonsalo Garcia and others were arrested on 8 December 1596 and were sentenced to death.
Road to martyrdom
On 4 January the persons sentenced to death began their journey from Kyoto. They traveled six hundred miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki through Sakai (Sakai, Osaka), Okayama, Hiroshima, Shimonoseki, and Karatsu (Karatsu, Saga). They reached Nagasaki on 4 February 1597. The next morning they were taken to a hill known as Nishigaoka where Terazawa Hazaburo, the brother of the governor of Nagasaki, had planned for the crucifixion to take place. As Gonsalo was prominent among the missionaries, he was given the middle place. There Gonsalo Garcia met one of his friend from Bassein fort, Francis Rodrigues Pinto, to whom he said: "My good friend, God be with you. I am going to heaven. A hearty hug to Fr. Sabastian Gonsalves on my behalf". The execution started at 10 o'clock in the morning. The culprits were so tired that they could not endure it for long and by 10.30am everything was over. The two soldiers who worked as executioners completed their task by stabbing their spears into the missionaries' chests. The Portuguese and Japanese Christians attending the execution broke past the guards and started soaking pieces of cloth in the blood of the executed, gathering lumps of the blood-soaked dirt, and tearing up their habits and kimonos for holy relics. The guards beat the relic-hunters away and order was reestablished. Terazawa positioned guards all around the hill, with strict orders not to allow anyone near the crosses. After completing the task Terazawa withdrew from the hill.
Way to Altar
After the sensational drama, the corpses of the victims were neglected by the local authorities thinking that they would be eaten by the vultures. But nearly for forty days they remained intact. Afterwards it was reported in The Examiner (March 12, 1904) that the Portuguese brought the head of Gonsalo Garcia to India, which was kept in Bassein fort. They carried it to Goa when they left Bassein in 1739 (page 82). Since the author of the article does not mention the source of the information, it cannot be taken to be a historical fact. Then followed a series of miracles on the concerned hill in Nagasaki. So in 1627, thirty-five years after the crucifixion of the martyrs, Pope Urban VIII declared St. Gonsalo Garcia and his co-martyrs as ‘Blessed Ones’ and permitted the Jesuits and the Franciscans to venerate them. This permission was extended to other religions later on, but in 1629 the same Pope completed the beatification of these martyrs. The matter was neglected for more than two centuries. It was once again taken up in 1862 and on 8 June 1862 Pope Pius IX did the canonization of Gonsalo Garcia and his co-martyrs. Brother Gonsalo Garcia became St. Gonsalo Garcia. The first catholic Saint of India and the Indian Sub-Continent, and 8 June 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of his canonization.
Gonsalo's memory is kept alive with a college named after him in Vasai. He is the patron saint of the Vasai diocese and a feast is held to celebrate his day of birth on February 5. Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai, a Catholic theologian, says Garcia's relevance even today lies in the universalism of his charity and love. A small statue of Gonçalo Garcia was taken from Portugal to Brazil (Recife) as early as 1745 by a local Brazilian -because of his brown complexion (a further proof of his Indian ancestry)- where his veneration soon took off.
- D'Mello, Ashley, "St Gonsalo Garcia: The 1st Indian saint", The Times of India, October 13, 2008
- "St. Gonsalo Garcia". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- Fernandez, Peter. "Bassein." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 26 Jan. 2013
"INDIA’S ONLY CANONIZED SAINT:ST GONSALO GARCIA OF BASSEIN By Dr. Regin D’silva", St Gonsalo Garcia Publications, Bassein, pp95, 2003.
- Gonsalo Garcia at Patron Saints Index
- Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum Home Page
- St. Gonsalo (Gundisalvus, Gonzalo) Garcia, O. F. M.
- Biographies of the 26 Martyrs