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Jordanus Catalani, also known as Jordanus de Severac (f. 1321-1330) was a Catalan (or else an Occitan speaking French of Catalan origin) Dominican missionary and explorer in Asia known for his Mirabilia describing the marvels of the East. He was the first bishop of the first Latin Rite Catholic diocese of India.
He was perhaps born at Sévérac-le-Château in Aveyron, north-east of Toulouse. In 1302 he may have accompanied the famous Thomas of Tolentino, via Negropont, to the East; but it is only in 1321 that we definitely discover him in western India, in the company of the same Thomas and certain other Franciscan missionaries on their way to China. Ill-luck detained them at Thane in Salsette Island, near Bombay; and here Jordanus' companions (the four martyrs of Thane) were killed on April 7, 1321.
Jordanus, escaping, worked some time at Bharuch, in Gujarat, near the Nerbudda estuary, and at Suali (?) near Surat; to his fellow-Dominicans in north Persia he wrote two letters — the first from Gogo in Gujarat (12 October 1321), the second from Thane (24 January 1323/4) describing the progress of this new mission. From these letters we learn that Roman attention had already been directed, not only to the Bombay region, but also to the extreme south of the Indian peninsula, especially to Columbum, Quilon or Kollam in later Travancore; Jordanus' words may imply that he had already started a mission there before October 1321.
From Catholic traders he had learnt that Ethiopia (i.e. Abyssinia and Nubia) was accessible to Western Europeans; at this very time, as we know from other sources, the earliest Latin missionaries penetrated thither. Finally, the Epistles of Jordanus, like the contemporary Secreta of Marino Sanuto (1306–1321), urge the Pope to establish a Christian fleet upon the Indian seas.
Jordanus, between 1324 and 1328 (if not earlier), probably visited Kollam and selected it as the best centre for his future work; it would also appear that he revisited Europe about 1328, passing through Persia, and perhaps touching at the great Crimean port of Soidaia or Sudak. He was appointed a bishop in 1328 and nominated by Pope John XXII in his bull Venerabili Fratri Jordano to the see of Columbum or Kollam (Quilon) on 21 August 1329. This diocese was the first Roman Catholic one in the whole of the Indies, with jurisdiction over modern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka. It was created on August 9 by the decree Romanus Pontifix. Together with the new bishop of Samarkand, Thomas of Mancasola, Jordanus was commissioned to take the pallium to John de Cora, archbishop of Sultaniyah in Persia, within whose province Kollam was reckoned; he was also commended to the Christians of south India, both east and west of Cape Comorin, by Pope John.
Either before going out to Malabar as bishop, or during a later visit to the west, Jordanus probably wrote his Mirabilia, which from internal evidence can only be fixed within the period 1329-1338; in this work he furnished the best account of Indian regions, products, climate, manners, customs, fauna and flori given by any European in the Middle Ages - superior even to Marco Polo's. In his triple division of the Indies, India Major comprises the shorelands from Malabar to Cochin China; while India Minor stretches from Sind (or perhaps from Baluchistan) to Malabar; and India Tertia (evidently dominated by African conceptions in his mind) includes a vast undefined coast-region west of Baluchistan, reaching into the neighborhood of, but not including, Ethiopia and Prester John's domain. Jordanus' Mirabilia contains the earliest clear African identification of Prester John, and what is perhaps the first notice of the Black Sea under that name; it refers to the author's residence in India Major and especially at Kollam, as well as to his travels in Armenia, north-west Persia, the Lake Van region, and Chaldaea; and it supplies excellent descriptions of Parsee doctrines and burial customs, of Hindu ox-worship, idol-ritual, and suttee, and of Indian fruits, birds, animals and insects. After the 8th of April 1330 we have no more knowledge of Bishop Jordanus I.
Of Jordanus' Epistles there is only one MS., viz. Paris, National Library, 5006 Lat., fol. 182, r. and v.; of the Mirabilia also one MS. only, viz. London, British Museum, Additional MSS., 19,513, fols. 3, r.f 2 r.
- The text of the Epistles is in Quétif–Échard, Scriptores ordinis praedicatorum, i. 549-550 (Epistle I.)
- and in Wadding, Annales minorum, vi. 359-361 (Epistle II.)
- the text of the Mirabilia in the Paris Geog. Soc. 's Recueil de voyages, iv. i68 (1839).
- The Papal letters referring to Jordanus are in Odericus Raynaldus, Annales ecclesiastici, 1330, f lv. and lvii (April 8; Feb. 14).
- Sir Henry Yule's Jordanus, a version of the Mirabilia with a commentary (Hakluyt Society, 1863) and the same editor's Cathay, giving a version of the Epistles, with a commentary, &c. (Hakluyt Society, 1866) pp. 184–185, 192-196, 225-230
- F. Kunstmann, Die Mission in Meliapor und Tana und die Mission in Columbo in the Historisch-politische Blätter of Phillips and Görres, xxxvii. 2538, 135-152 (Munich, 1856), &c.
- C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, iii. 215-235.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.