Mary’s Journey in Asia

In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first European explorer to reach Asia by sea when he landed at Kozhikode (Kerala, India), and a new chapter in Christian history in Asia began with the Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510.

Although it is generally believed that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in India, scholars agree that the first Europeans to arrive in India were actually Italian Franciscan missionaries who arrived at Quilon (Kollam) on the Kerala coast in the early 13th century. . However, they did, at least, travel by land.

Sometimes supported by the Pope and other times by their own initiative, the friars were the most daring missionaries and explorers of the 13th century in the heart of Asia: China and India. Numerous stories have come down to us about their journeys, where they reported important cultural impressions of the cities they visited.

In 1245, Giovanni di Pian di Carbine was sent by Pope Innocent IV as ambassador to the Mongol Khan. He returned to Italy and wrote an account of these distant lands, the Yastoria Mangalorum, one of the first editions by Western man. Friar Guillermo de Rubruck was another Franciscan who was equally notable for his cultural sensibilities about Asian peoples in the 12th century.

He marched towards the Crimea with the intention of spiritually helping the Christian prisoners of the Tartars. In 1251 he was at Karakorum, where he established contact with the Great Khan. He stayed in the city for six months to meet the European community of artisans in the service of the Mongols. After his return in 1254, he wrote the Inteneraru, an account of his journey.

Nevertheless, the main encounter with Christianity came in the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese, in India and Southeast Asia. For the Portuguese, trade, conquest and Christianization went hand in hand.

Franciscans first established themselves in Goa after the conquest of Goa

Goa, which the Portuguese first gained control of in 1510, became the Asian hub of their overseas operations. The beginning of organized Catholic missions in Asia can be traced back to the Portuguese conquest of Goa.

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When they reached Goa, the Portuguese realized the exceptional importance of the spice trade. Alfonso de Albuquerque, the first Portuguese viceroy of Goa, saw that he could wrest this trade from the Arabs and Turks only if he conquered Malacca and found a way to the Spice Islands. In 1511, Malacca fell to the Portuguese, and in December of the same year, Albuquerque sent an expedition in search of the Moluccas.

The Portuguese traveled along the coast of Sumatra, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores, where they turned north and reached Banda in mid-1512. This voyage marked the beginning of contact between the Portuguese and the Indonesians to the Moluccas. These contacts took various forms including military, commercial and religious.

Among the religious orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans accompanied the first expeditions of the Portuguese to the East from 1498. The Franciscans first established themselves after the conquest of Goa. Friar Antonio de Louro founded the Monastery of San Francis of Assisi, which became the head of Franciscan institutions throughout the East. In the middle of the 15th century, the Franciscans established the Province of the Mother of God along with their Provincial House at Daughim in Goa.

The Jesuits arrived in Goa in 1542 under the leadership of St. Francis Xavier, the great apostle of the East and patron of missions. Within ten years, he had spread his activities far and wide into places where the Catholic Church had never been known; Died on the fishing coast of South India, Ceylon, Mylapore, Bassein, Moluccas, Malacca, Japan, and Sanchien (Changsewan) Island off the coast of China.

Missionaries who landed in Asia brought many images and statues of the Virgin Mary. They promoted devotion to the Mother as they were all ardent devotees of different Marian cults: the Franciscans and the Jesuits of the Immaculate Conception, the Dominicans of the Virgin of the Rosary. Thus, the image of Mary had a significant impact on Asia in the 16th century and played an important role in the Church’s mission to evangelize and civilize the people in the following centuries.

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Not only religious orders were ardent followers of Mary, but Portuguese sailors also brought images of Our Lady with them during their voyages. Devotion to Our Lady of Navigators, also known as Our Lady of Seafarers, Our Lady of NavigatorsIn the 15th century Europeans, especially Portuguese navigators, prayed for a safe return to their homes.

They looked to the Virgin Mary as their protector during storms and other dangers. This title given to the Virgin Mary was a widespread devotion in South America, especially in the Portuguese colonies. Many churches in Brazil are dedicated to Our Lady of the Navigators.

The most important shrine dedicated to Mary in South India is the Arogya Mata temple at Velangkanni. According to legend, a Portuguese ship caught in a storm at sea was saved by seeking Mary’s help. Arogya Annai Church was built at Velankanni to fulfill the vow made by the sailors.

Besides, Our Lady of the Conception became the patroness of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1640. He was the de facto sovereign of the country. His liturgy, under the above designation, was encouraged by the Council of Trent. Thus devotion to the Immaculate Conception grew throughout the 18th century, leading to the creation of numerous wooden and ivory figures.

A characteristic feature of popular devotion to the Virgin Mary in Asia is that it transcends religious affiliations and cultures.

The ease with which ivory was imported from Siam, Cambodia, China, and especially Ceylon led to the production of a large number of images of virgin ivory. Ivory was considered the best material for images of the Virgin Mary, being white and precious. Worshiped in private oratories – and hence reduced in size – they were held to provide indispensable personal protection. They are the work of local artists with mostly Indian features, decoration of clothes and costumes or >

After the Portuguese lost commercial dominance in the East, the British East India Company took over. The Portuguese left, but the Virgin Mary stayed, embraced and transformed. She wears different clothes and changes her appearance, she appears in different places, in the forest (Our Lady of Lawang), in caves (Gova Maria Sentangsono, Gova Maria Gereb) and on the beach (Our Lady of Laurentuca). She intervened and helped in catastrophic situations such as plague, famine (our Lady of Health, Bangalore), and shipwrecks (our Lady of Pandal, Mother Sindathirai).

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She is worshiped not only in South India and Southeast Asia, but also in China, Japan, the Philippines, and pilgrims travel long distances to seek the Virgin Mary’s blessings at all the sanctuaries throughout Asia.

A characteristic feature of popular devotion to the Virgin Mary in Asia is that it transcends religious affiliations and cultures and she is worshiped by Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Taoist devotees. She transcends religious boundaries.

It seems ironic that in Christ’s setting, Mary is always seen as an obstacle to mutual understanding between Catholics and Protestants, whereas in many interfaith contexts, Mary is a unifying symbol. Mary stands as a bridge between religions that unites diverse devotees.

It is this role of Mary as an interfaith bridge in Asia that inspired the Center for Marian Studies (UK) and the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (Singapore) to organize an online research conference: More Universal than Catholic? Mary in Asian Religions.

The May 10-12 conference will gather a number of scholars exploring the multiple understandings of Mary in Asia and where Asian diasporas spread their Marian devotion. What is Mary’s status in ritual practices, festivals and artistic expressions, and in tourism discourse and practice?

These and other significant topics will be explored during this three-day conference, which will focus on contemporary forms and meaning of devotion to the Mother in Asia, with an effort to demonstrate how the cult of Mary is still alive. At the popular and theoretical level.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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