The body of St Francis Xavier lies in a silver casket in the
of Bom Jesus in Goa. Ceremonies to honor his
death are performed on December 3, the day he was buried. St Xavier was a
great Catholic missionary, who preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the
people of Asia.
Born in Spain on April 7, 1506, he came to India with the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa in 1543, and immediately undertook the task of influencing the Goan people. He went from street to street with a hired town crier, asking people to attend his meetings and listen to his sermons. Though he did not master the local language, he took the help of Goan scholars and translated the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Ave Maria.
He baptized the inhabitants of 30 villages. Xavier commanded awesome political power. He was able to secure pensions, even for the petty princes who converted to Christianity, from the King of Portugal.
To spread the message of Christ, he sailed to the Spice Islands in 1545, and then went on to Japan in 1549 for a year. His greatest success is recorded in Japan, where he converted hundreds to Christianity. After returning to India for a brief 15months, he proceeded to China, against the wishes of the Portuguese viceroy. It was in the Sancian Island, about 10-km from the mainland of China that he died of fever on December 2, 1552.
According to legend, some Portuguese merchants found him just before he breathed his last. They performed his last rites on the following day, and buried him in a box partly filled with unslaked lime. A few months later, a Jesuit brother disinterred the body and discovered, to his surprise, that it had not decomposed at all. He cut a finger from the body and was astonished to see blood ooze out. When this was reported to the Vatican, the title of Saint was conferred upon Xavier.
The body was interred in a cemetery in Malacca for about two years before it was brought to its final resting place in Goa. Until then, even though the body had not been anointed, it was found to be only slightly affected by death. Before the mortal remains of the saint were placed in a silver casket in the Church of Bom Jesus, one hand was cut off from the body.
The Healing Power
Pieces of the hand were distributed to various parts of the world, under orders of the Pope. Every ten years until 1994, on the anniversary of his death, St Xavier's body would be brought out and kept in a glass case, with the feet exposed, for all to see and worship. For the exposition, people from all over India would flock to the church for a glimpse of the saint.
The last exposition was held in 1994. Since the condition of the body had deteriorated visibly, it was decided by the church that the body would not be displayed anymore. There are many stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs in the fair that is held on the occasion. A wide variety of food and drinks are also available. The pilgrimage turns into a picnic for quite a few families, as they shop in the little lanes decorated with streamers. The ambience of the church site is happy and festive.