Roll up! Roll up for the magical mystery tour!

The first regular coach service from Europe to Asia started in 1957. For almost a decade the ‘Indiaman’ made the 10,000-kilometre journey from King’s Cross in London to Bombay and Calcutta. It was soon joined by the legendary ‘Magic Bus’, leaving from Dam Square in Amsterdam, and by other coaches running from the Porte d’Italie in Paris via Frankfurt, Munich and Salzburg and across the Middle East to India. In the 1960s and 70s these transcontinental coaches provided the route to the Orient for a new generation of independent travellers who were variously called the Beats, Intrepids and Hippies. There were two main motivations for these 20th-century Intrepids to undertake the long and sometimes hazardous overland journey to India: the first was a growing disenchantment with Western values; the second was a fascination with the spiritual traditions of the East. One of the legacies that the Intrepids left was musical, with Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead among those providing the soundtrack for their journey. Four centuries earlier another traveller had journeyed East, and at the 2015 Salzburg Summer Festival Jordi Savall and his fellow musicians are recreated the soundtrack of that 16th-century Intrepid’s route to the Orient.

Francis Xavier was born in 1506 to an aristocratic family in the Basque Kingdom of Navarre. At the age of 19 he went to Paris to study and, four years later, met Ignatius Loyola at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, the theological institute where both men were studying. This was a time of religious upheaval in Europe. Eight years earlier Martin Luther had triggered the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. When he met Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola was working towards founding the Society of Jesus. Following their meeting, Ignatius Loyola, who was 15 years older than Francis Xavier, tried to persuade his young friend to become a priest and work for the salvation of souls. But Francis Xavier resisted and in 1530 graduated as a master of arts and went on to teach Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College. In 1534, however, he joined with Ignatius Loyola and five others in taking a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Pope, committing his life to the spread of Christianity. In the same year Francis Xavier began his theological studies and he was ordained in 1537. As one of their vows the Jesuit founders committed to missionary work in Jerusalem. So Francis Xavier travelled to Venice en route to the Holy Land. But fighting between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire prevented his onward journey and instead he and his fellow evangelists returned to Rome to offer their services to the Pope.

In 1539 Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and their five companions formalized the constitution of the Society of Jesus, which was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III in the papal bull, Regimini militantis Ecclesiae, translated as ‘by the authority of the embattled church’. The Jesuits were not founded as a contemplative monastic order; instead their purpose was to be what the Portuguese musicologist Rui Vieira Nery has described as ‘a well trained religious militia’. Ignatius Loyola’s main purpose in establishing the Society was to fight the spiritual forces of the Reformation, but the Jesuits also became a force of change within the Catholic church and a vehicle for bringing Christianity to the newly discovered continents of Asia, Africa and the Americas.

In the same year, King John III of Portugal asked the Pope for assistance in spreading Christianity within Portugal’s new possessions in India. The zeal of the young Jesuits had impressed senior figures in the church and the Society of Jesus was chosen to undertake the missionary work in India. Francis Xavier was not originally among those chosen, but a fellow priest fell ill and, as a result, he set sail from Lisbon in April 1541, travelling via the Portuguese enclaves of Mozambique and Melinde to Goa. He spent seven months in Mozambique and a short time in the city of Melinde (now Malindi) on the coast of present-day Kenya. In Melinde he came into contact with the Islamic faith for the first time when he met the Arab merchants who controlled trade through the port and who had converted many of the indigenous Africans to Islam.

In May 1542 Francis Xavier arrived in the capital of Portuguese India, Goa, where his primary task, as instructed by King John III, was to reaffirm the Christian faith of the Portuguese settlers. The Portuguese had first settled in Goa 30 years earlier and many of these early settlers had strayed from the church in the intervening years. But Francis Xavier looked beyond the Portuguese community and for almost three years he proselytized in southern India, concentrating particularly on the Hindus in the pearl fishing communities clustered around the southern tip of the subcontinent. The Jesuit missionary ventured as far as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and built more than 30 churches along the coast.

Between 1545 and 1548 Francis Xavier evangelized in the Portuguese territory of Malacca on the coast of what is now Malaysia. From there he travelled to the Muslim Maluku Islands, a sub-archipelago within Indonesia, before returning to Goa for 15 months. The Jesuit missionary had for some time harboured ambitions to take the Christian message to Japan and, encouraged by positive reports, he travelled to Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu, where he landed in August 1549. Francis Xavier stayed in Japan for two years. He met with initial resistance as the ruler of Kyushu forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death and Francis Xavier struggled to communicate in the alien language. However, his efforts eventually bore fruit and he established Christian congregations in three cities, with fellow Jesuits remaining in Japan to carry on his missionary work after he left.

Having returned to Goa in early 1552, Francis Xavier’s sights turned to China. In August 1552 he sailed to the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14km off the mainland, though was unable to proceed further as mainland China was closed to foreigners. While attempting to find a way through this impasse, Francis Xavier was taken ill with a severe fever and died on 3 December 1552, aged 46. His body was taken first to Malacca for burial, but was eventually interred in Goa at the Basilica of Bom Jesús. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV canonized Francis Xavier, together with Ignatius Loyola.

Although Saint Francis Xavier also took the Christian message to Japan, Malacca and the Maluku Islands, he is most closely associated with India. His work in bringing the Christian message to the subcontinent continues today and one of the central figures in Hindu-Christian dialogue has a connection to today’s concert. In 1950 Swami Abhishiktananda, a French Benedictine monk previously known as Henri Le Saux, founded the ashram of Shantivanam in Tamil Nadu State. Swami Abhishiktananda was a close friend and associate of Raimon Panikkar. An authority on comparative religion and an advocate of inter-religious dialogue, Raimon Panikkar (1918–2010) was born in Spain to an Indian Hindu father and a Spanish Catholic mother. Panikkar’s views on comparative religion influenced several of the multicultural projects created by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras including Route to the Orient and Panikkar provided an accompanying essay for their 2007 recording of Haydn’s Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze.

The Society of Jesus was born of a disenchantment with changing Western values, just as the journey by the 20th-century Intrepids to the Orient was fuelled by disenchantment. Their respective encounters with Eastern spirituality, however, had a very different impact. The exposure of 20th-century Intrepids to Eastern spiritual traditions resulted in one of their most valuable legacies, the building of bridges between Eastern and Western religions. Sadly, despite the saint-like efforts of Ramon Panikkar and Swami Abhishiktananda, the Catholic church has been less welcoming to Eastern spiritual traditions. For this reason we must beware of viewing Francis Xavier’s journey to the Orient through rose-tinted glasses. The missionary refers to ‘pagan Hindus’ in his journal and, in an otherwise admiring biography, Jesuit Father James Broderick laments Francis Xavier’s ‘woefully inadequate views about Indian religion and civilization’. The role of Francis Xavier in precipitating the Goa Inquisition, which was enforced by the Portuguese eight years after he died, is still debated. But there is evidence that he was aware of the brutality of the Inquisition, which started on the Iberian Peninsula some years before he sailed for Goa, and it is known that he encouraged the King of Portugal to impose the Inquisition in Goa. The Inquisition punished apostate New Christians, the Hindus and Muslims who had converted to Catholicism and were suspected of secretly practising their ancestral religions, and it also punished lapsed Portuguese settlers who were cradle Catholics. More than 16,000 people were tried by the Inquisition in Goa; it is known that 57 were put to death, while others were burned in effigy.

The Jesuits played a key role in the Counter-Reformation, a period of strict conformity from which came the Roman Inquisition and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). Today Francis Xavier is canonized, however troubling evidence of anti-Hindu sentiment lingers into the 21st century. In a recent biography, Jesuit Father Philip Fogarty calls the Jesuit missionary ‘a Christian among Pagan tribes’ while a fundamentalist Catholic website representing ‘a family apostolate […] established solely for the glory of God and the salvation of souls’ describes modern India in the following words: ‘today this vast country is still in the same darkness. It has, on the whole, fallen even deeper into the same idolatrous wretchedness that permeated it before the “man from Heaven” arrived in 1542 to liberate them.’

But tonight it is the spiritual and human dimension of the 16th-century Intrepid that Jordi Savall, Hespèrion XXI, the Capella Reial de Catalunya and guest musicians from India and Japan celebrate in their musical depiction of Saint Francis Xavier’s route to the Orient. This project originated as a transcultural event featuring Spanish and Japanese musicians to celebrate the missionary’s arrival in Japan and it was expanded to its current dimensions in 2006 for concerts and a recording to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the saint. The Jesuits were formed to defend an embattled Catholic church and the liturgical tradition of that church provides the leitmotif for Francis Xavier’s musical journey in the form of the Marian hymn, ‘O gloriosa Domina’. This is first heard in its original plainchant form and then, reflecting the need to adapt the litany to local conditions, in a duet for Indian instruments and, finally, in improvisations for Oriental forces. Francis Xavier spent nine months in Mozambique en route to India and the music of Mozambique is underpinned by the rhythm of the drum known as the ngoma. This tradition of drumming inspires a duet in tonight’s concert between percussion and the African oud. Speaking of his journey, Saint Francis Xavier said that ‘it is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken’. The spirit of faith of Francis Xavier and the early Jesuits, celebrated in tonight’s concert, was acknowledged in 2013 when Pope Francis became the first-ever Jesuit pontiff.

That text is a slightly amended version of the essay I contributed to the programme book for Jordi Savall's performance of his Francisco Xavier project at the 2015 Salzburg Summer Festival. My essay was accompanied by the following footnote: 'Author Bob Shingleton has retired from a career with the BBC, EMI and other media companies. He now spends his time pursuing his interest in music and comparative religion. In 1976 he married his wife Sorojini in accordance with Hindu rites.'

If I have achieved nothing else with On An Overgrown Path, writing a programme essay for the Salzburg Festival that mentions Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead must rank as a small achievement. Text is (C) On An Overgrown Path 2015. Header image via Genius. Image 2 of Francis Xavier is via the Catholic Catalogue, and image 3 via Xaverian Missionaries USA. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


billoo said…
Merry Christmas, Bob.

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