An introduction to the pages on India
The Order of Saint Augustine first sent from Portugal to Goa (now part of India) and to its vicinity in the year 1572. Goa was the centre of administration for these members of the Order until after its decline in 1834. For the past history of the Order in Goa and its past and present history in India, Augnet has the following pages listed below.
India: an introduction. Goa. Beginning in 1572, until 1663. Cochin. Beginning in 1579. Bandel. From about 1590 to 1867. Calcutta. From about 1590 to 1867. Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and the island of Bassein. Beginning in 1596. Chennai (formerly Madras). Before 1609 until 1840. Edacochin. First Augustinian ministry in 1978, and this still continues.
For other ministry begun in this region by members of the Order of Saint Augustine from Portugal, go to the headings of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
In 1493 Pope Alexander VI allotted to the small Kingdom of Portugal half of the world to explore without interference from Spain, the dominant power of the age. The Portuguese kings thus eagerly advanced an expansive empire, and, as part of their agreement with the pope, sought priests to accompany their merchants and military forces as they established foreign outposts. Early in the sixteenth century, the Augustinians in Portugal were a small Vice-Province of the Augustinian Province of Spain. They were not then numerous enough to supply and sustain religious personnel for the missions. The King then applied to the Augustinian Prior General for help, and in 1535 two outstanding Augustinians were sent from Spain as visitors and reformers of the order in Portugal.
In 1542 King João III (John) III, the king in 1521-1557, then invited one of these Spaniards, Luis de Montoya O.S.A., to send missionaries to Portuguese India. Montoya was forced to decline for lack of numbers. In the early 1570s, the next Portuguese monarch, King Sebastião (Sebastian), the king in 1557-1578, made an appeal for Augustinians, but this time with a specific project was nominated. The King needed priests for the island of Hormuz (now part of Iran) in the Persian Gulf. Previously Jesuits and then Dominicans had gone there, but had left the inclement island, meaning that the Portuguese garrison and hospital there was without priests. The Augustinians accepted the invitation, and the first Augustinian missionaries arrived at Goa on 3rd September 1572, which was sixty-two years after Portuguese priests – mainly Jesuits and Franciscans - had begun serving there.
With the unreliability and slowness of communications over the long distance between Portugal and India, those going to the Near East were given a degree of administrative autonomy, under the name of the "Congregation of the Hermits of Saint Augustine of the East Indies." In 1605 the Augustinians in Portugal sent Fr Felix of Jesus O.S.A., a native of Lisbon, to Goa in order to write a history of what by then was thirty-two years of Augustinian ministry in the Portuguese Near East. He remained in Goa for thirty-five years in the large Augustinian Monastery of Our Lady of Grace, and died there in 1640. Felix of Jesus O.S.A. wrote two distinct chronicles, the first covered events from 1572 to 1606, and the second one from 1606 to 1627. The first chronicle by Felix of Jesus O.S.A. contains ninety-four folios of beautifully-scripted handwriting. Unfortunately the second chronicle has not survived.
By the year 1638, the Augustinian Congregation of the East Indies had 240 Augustinians in the Portuguese Indies, mainly Portuguese-born but with some locally-born of Portuguese stock. The first chronicle covers the foundation of only the first seven monasteries, at locations dotted throughout the Portuguese penetration of the Persian Gulf. These Augustinian foundations came in quick succession at Goa, Hormuz, Bassein (near Mumbai, India), Tana, Chaul, Damau, Mombasa (now part of Kenya), Malaca and Mascate.
An Augustinian concentration in Goa and on the Indian mainland followed only later, when Portuguese forces and their declining naval power were expelled from Moslem territories in the Gulf. As well as detail the trials and tribulations of these Augustinian missionaries in travelling to and persisting at their assignments, the manuscript by Felix of Jesus O.S.A. gives a detailed impression of the style of Christian ministry and Portuguese society in the Near East during that period. These Portuguese outposts were not colonies, and the Augustinians were not expected to be missionaries in the generally-accepted later meaning of the word. More than anything else, the Portuguese established armed and fortified trading centres, and the priests were expected to minister to the Portuguese living there, and to any local inhabitants living under Portuguese protection.
Any general attempt to evangelise the surrounding – and often hostile - Moslem population was not expected of them. Furthermore, if they made such an effort, there was no guarantee of support or protection from the Portuguese military, regardless of the fact that local Moslem leaders would also oppose it. The role of the clergy was often ambiguous in the eyes of the local people, for, as much as the clergy attempted to restrain the more harsh behaviour of the Portuguese traders and military personnel, at the same time the clergy were often placed in the unenviable position of being the mediators between the leaders of the Portuguese garrison and the local people. As such, the priests risked earning the ire of either party – or of both parties. The outcome of some of these encounters was the loss of life of the Augustinians, as happened at Mombasa in August 1631.
Even the journey to reach these outposts was often hazardous. It is known, for example, that the entire Augustinian group sent out from Portugal in 1589 was drowned at sea when the ship, San Antonio, sank. This manuscript of Felix of Jesus O.S.A. has to be accepted as a product of the Church culture of the time and place in which it was written. For example, to Felix of Jesus O.S.A. the Dutch and the English who strove to upset the papal division of the undiscovered world between Spain and Portugal, were not simply Protestant, but Protestant heretics. In the intolerant ecclesiastical culture of the day, ecumenism was not only unpractised but also virtually unheard of. And there was the additional complication of the Inquisition being active in Goa under Jesuit control, when there was animosity between the Jesuits and the mendicant orders such as the Augustinians and Franciscans.
By 1776, i.e., almost exactly two centuries after their arrival in the Near East, the Portuguese Augustinians had twenty-eight monasteries there. For these Portuguese Augustinians, this ministry in the Near East was participation in one of the greatest and most gruelling missionary epics of the sixteenth century. Much of the investment of their lives and talents accrued in no lasting benefit for Christianity. Possibly, however, their contribution served as part of an object lesson for the Church, which then drew back from its policy of placing Catholic evangelisation almost totally in the hands of the monarchs of Portugal and Spain. Subsequently, the Roman Curia reserved to itself the ultimate responsibility for evangelisation in new lands. It instituted a new Vatican “department” in 1622, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (usually referred to simply as “Propaganda”), which in 1967 was re-named the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. With these factors in mind, you are invited to read the other pages in this part of Augnet, which cover some of these individual mission outposts in some detail.
(Continued on the next page.)Photo GalleryFor the Augnet photo gallery on the Augustinian Vicariate of India (including Goa), click here.
Link Map of India. A shaded relief map, produced in 1996. http://www.1uptravel.com/worldmaps/india2.html