In late 1510 Ferdinand Magellan arrived back in Cochin from the failed expedition to Malacca under Diogo Lopez de Sequiera. Far from setting up a trading post, the Portuguese had been repulsed and left behind 39 hostages to the local potentate, Mahmud Shah.
Albuquerque was planning his second assault upon Goa and had commandeered several merchant ships that were either waiting for cargoes of spices or were already loaded and waiting for the favourable monsoon to sail for Portugal. Magellan and his future brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, argued that the spice ships should be allowed to go about their business, and thus incurred Albuquerque’s displeasure. This altercation may have been partly responsible for Magellan’s subsequent unpopularity with King Manuel, since Albuquerque reported on him to the king.
Albuquerque mustered 34 ships for the attack on Goa, which became the jewel in the crown of the Portuguese Empire in India. He apparently forgave Magellan’s temerity and appointed him captain of one of the fleet that returned to Malacca in 1511 to release Mahmud Shah’s hostages and establish Malacca as the major trading post in the Far East.
We happened to arrive in Goa at what is probably their most important festival: celebration of St Francis Xavier. Just as Albuquerque expanded the Portuguese Empire militarily, Xavier some 50 years later extended the Christian faith as far as Japan. At a time when Catholic evangelists were busy exterminating the culture of native Americans such as Maya, Aztec and Inca, Xavier is credited with converting around 30,000 Asians to Christianity. He met with opposition in Japan, where Christianity was outlawed and driven underground. He died in China and a lasting mystique has grown around his corpse, which is said to be incorruptible. It was buried in Malacca for a couple of years, then uprooted and sent to Goa, the scene of his early ministry. He had built upon the evangelism of St Thomas; doubting Thomas, who refused to believe in Christ’s resurrection until he touched the nail holes in his hands. Xavier’s arms were chopped off to be venerated as relics but the rest of him is still preserved in a glass case in the church named after him.
About once every ten years the remains are put on display and paraded through the streets of Goa followed by an enthusiastic crowd. In the chapel of Bom Jesus the body was placed in an open coffin on an elevated platform. Mirrors enabled one to look down upon the remains but after 500 years there wasn’t much to see. I thought the spectacle rather ghoulish and Robin was also disgusted.
“Golly gosh, let’s go,” she said. I need a drink.