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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Bird's eye view of Colombo. Mid-17th Century water colour painting. The Vingboons-Atlas, ARA, The Hague.
Bird’s eye view of Colombo. Mid-17th Century water colour painting. The Vingboons-Atlas, ARA, The Hague.
Colombo

Today, Colombo is the largest city and the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and next to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the official capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo.

In the days of the Sinhalese kings, Colombo was one of the many seaboards frequented by Arab Moors and South Indian traders.

In 1505, when the Portuguese explorers led by Dom Lourenço de Almeida first arrived by chance on the island they called the town “Colombo”.

Some say the name “Colombo” is derived from the classical Sinhalese name Kolon thota (කොලොන් තොට), meaning “port on the river Kelani”.

Another group says the name is derived from the Sinhalese phrase “kola ambia thota” (කොල අඹ තොට) meaning “Leafy mango grove”.

The coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era.
The coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era.

A coat of arms of Colombo from the Dutch Ceylon era has a leafy tree with a dove perched on its branches. In addition, the Dutch have included a dove (Latin: Columba), thus creating a pun on the town’s name.

In the 13th century, the author of the oldest Sinhalese grammar, Sidatsangarava, wrote about a category of words that belonged to early Sinhalese. He lists words such as “naramba” (to see) and “kolamba” (ford, harbour) as belonging to an indigenous source. Hence, “kolamba” may also be the source of the name of the commercial capital Colombo.

On realizing how Colombo was strategically located, and control of Ceylon was necessary for protecting their coastal establishments in India, the Portuguese made a treaty with King Parakramabahu VIII (1484 -1508), the King of Kotte. The treaty enabled the Portuguese to trade in the island’s crop of cinnamon and gave them full authority over the coastline in exchange for the promise of guarding the island’s coast against invaders from other countries across the seas. After expelling the Arab Moors from Colombo and establishing their trading post, the Portuguese built a fort – a small stockade of wood, in 1517.

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Town of Colombo on the large pleasant Island of Ceylon which is rich in Cinnamon. Mirror image engraving afterSchouten's view which looks on the harbour directly from the north.
Town of Colombo on the large pleasant Island of Ceylon which is rich in Cinnamon. Mirror image engraving after Schouten’s view which looks on the harbour directly from the north.

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This part of Colombo is still known as Fort (Sinhalese: kotuwa ; Tamil: koattai). The area immediately outside Fort, a commercial hub even now, is known as Pettah (Sinhalese: pita kotuwa ; Tamil: purakoattai) meaning ‘outside the fort’. Colombo soon became a grand town fortified by twelve bastions.

The Kingdom of Sitawaka (Sinhala: සීතාවක) located in south-central region of the Island, emerged from the division of the kingdom of Kotte following the Vijayaba Kollaya (Spoiling of Vijayabahu) in 1521. King Mayadunne, the chief antagonist of the Portuguese, established the new Kingdom of Sitawaka, with Seethawakapura now known as Avissawella as its capital.

Sitawaka offered fierce resistance to the Portuguese. Before long, King Mayadunne annexed much of the Kotte kingdom and forced the Portuguese to retreat to Colombo. He repeatedly besieged Colombo forcing the Portuguese to seek reinforcement from Goa in India. Over the course of the next seventy years, the Kings of Sitawaka dominated much of the island. Despite its military successes, Sitawaka remained unstable. It had to contend with repeated uprisings in its restive Kandyan territories. With its often devastating conflict with the Portuguese, the Kingdom of Sitawaka collapsed soon after the death of its last ruler, King Rajasinghe I, in 1593.

Following the fall of the Kingdom of Sitawaka, the Portuguese, with Colombo as their capital, established complete control over the coastal area of Ceylon.

In 1638, the Dutch signed a treaty with King Rajasinghe II of Kandy. Through this treaty, the Dutch assured the King assistance in his war against the Portuguese in exchange for a monopoly of the island’s major trade goods. The Portuguese resisted the Dutch and the Kandyans, but from 1639, they were gradually defeated in their strongholds.

The Dutch captured Colombo in 1656 after an epic siege. The 93 Portuguese survivors were given safe conduct out of the fort. Although the Dutch initially restored the captured area back to the Sinhalese kings, they later refused to turn them over. Thus, they gained control over the island’s richest cinnamon lands. They took possession of Colombo and all the other maritime ports on the Island of Ceylon.

The Dutch altered the fortifications of Colombo. They laid out the streets in a more regular grid pattern and are still so today. They reduced and confined the fort to the western part of the town. Since they found the present Pettah area to be the active centre when they captured Colombo, they called it ‘Oude Stad‘ or ‘Old Town’. Thus, they divided Colombo town into two parts.

Johann Jacob Saar, a German sailor, soldier, and author, served 15 years as a mercenary in the service of the Dutch East India Company in Southeast Asia. He spent about eight years in Ceylon. In 1662, he published an acclaimed account of his journey. He wrote:

“In 1656 we cut off the beautiful town of Colombo, the finest houses of the town were entirely demolished, only one-third of the town near the sea was fortified, while on the landside the town was surrounded by water, and when these works are completed which were expected to take ten years, the place will be twice as strong as before.”

The Dutch allowed the walls and fortifications around the ‘Oude Stad’ to remain, but they were subsequently removed. The only remnant that now exists of Portuguese Colombo is a huge boulder of rock that bears a cross and the Coat of Arms of Portugal. This was discovered by workmen in 1875 when the south-west breakwater of the Colombo harbour was being built. It was then removed from its original site and set up in Gordon Gardens adjoining the house of the President.

Joseph Vaz visits Colombo

After the miracle of the rain, when restrictions on his movement was removed, Joseph Vaz sneaked into the territories possessed by the Dutch. He availed himself of the freedom to pay a visit to Colombo.

The Catholic community of Colombo, which flourished under the Portuguese, was now a complete wreck. The Dutch desecrated some of the elegant churches built by the Portuguese and the were now in ruins. They transformed many others into Reformed churches.

All Catholic priests were banished.

The Portuguese Catholic schools were replaced by Calvinist schools. Under heavy penalties, the Dutch forced the Catholic parents to send their children to those schools, where the children were made to lose their faith in the Catholic Church.

On Sundays, all Catholics were forced to attend the Calvinist services.

The Catholics had to practice their faith in the greatest secrecy. Prayer in common was considered a crime, and if found, the Calvinist meted out heavy penalties.

When Joseph Vaz came to the Colombo, the Catholics gathered around him. He beseeched them to persevere in their Faith. He met the Catholics at night, in houses situated in remote areas. Vaz heard their confessions, offered Mass and administered Holy Communion. His words inspired them to face the persecution by the Dutch. Many apostates asked to be reconciled with the Church.

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 Next → Part 13 – Missionaries Arrive from Goa

← Previous: Part 11 – The Miracle of Rain in Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 11 – The Miracle of Rain in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: roystonellis.com
Image source: roystonellis.com

Joseph Vaz began his apostolate in Kandy amidst great difficulties. He devoted himself to the spiritual needs of the Catholics of Kandy. He assembled them for regular Mass and catechism classes, and visited those who were unable to come to the Church due to old age and infirmity. Due to the dearth of priests for many years the once faithful had reverted back to their old customs and superstitions. Now, many of these came to his Church from remote villages as soon as they came to know that a priest was in the city.

In 1695, Nauclairs de Lanerolle, the French Huguenot unable to bear the progress of Joseph Vaz’s ministry, used all his influence to poison the King’s mind against the priest.

King Vimaladharma Surya II was, as mentioned before, a sovereign with a superior mind. He had high regard for Joseph Vaz. The King admired his virtue and his spirit of renunciation of worldly pleasures.

Lanerolle sought an audience of the King. He brought with him a few Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks). During his meeting with the King, the Huguenot focussed on the dangers which were threatening the Kingdom unless the King used drastic steps to stop the advance of the Catholic Religion. He once again asserted that Joseph Vaz was a Portuguese agent beyond doubt, who organized the Catholics and converted Buddhists to the Catholic faith to create a powerful group; then when he had enough number of adherents to his faith, he would raise a rebellion and call the Portuguese from Goa to help him. Lanerolle therefore entreated the King to save his Crown, before it was too late. He asked the King to raze to the ground the church built by Vaz and the Catholics, and expel the priest from the Kingdom of Kandy.

The King replied sternly to the Huguenot, that he was fully convinced that the priest was not a Portuguese spy, but had undertaken a perilous journey and had undergone many hardships only for the sake of bringing spiritual help and solace to the abandoned Catholics of his Kingdom; and it would, therefore, be unworthy of him to persecute a poor man who had sought refuge in his capital.

The rebuked Frenchman was quiet for some time. A few weeks later he came before the King surrounded by more Bhikkhus. He again insisted on the expulsion of Joseph Vaz from the Kingdom of Kandy. He told the King that the strength of his political power was founded on the religious conformity of the people of his Kingdom. He pointed out that at the time of the Portuguese rule, three Kings of Kandy on becoming Catholics, lost their throne because their Buddhist subjects rebelled against them. So, he warned that the same would certainly happen to him if the priest was allowed to convert his subjects to the Catholic Faith. He then went on to advise the King to never tolerate a foreign religion being preached in his Kingdom, least of all the religion of the Portuguese, the greatest enemies of the Kings of Kandy.

The King after listening to the long tirade of the Huguenot, answered him curtly that though it was true that he hated the Portuguese who had fought his father, he anyhow, had high regard for the Catholic Religion, which was anyhow much better than the creed of the Calvinists.

The Bhikkhus then complained that the church built by Joseph Vaz was now much more frequented than the Buddhist temples and wanted the King to stop the priest from preaching his faith.

The King told the Bhikkhus, that they should emulate the Catholic priest: preach and instruct the people about Buddhism, attend to the sick, teach people to give alms to the poor, gain the love of the people, and so on. If they did so, he said, their temples would not be deserted, and the people would flock to the temples, instead of going to the Church built by Joseph Vaz.

The Bhikkus then complained that the servants of the palace whose duty was to bring flowers to the Buddhist temples now refused to do so saying that they had become Catholics.

The king replied that if Catholics in his service were not willing to carry flowers to the temples, he could dispense them from it as there were so many Buddhists who will be too glad to render that service.

Humiliated by the manner of the King, who openly favoured the priest, Lanerolle conspired with some Buddhist chiefs, powerful enough to give orders in spite of the King. They threatened Joseph Vaz and ordered him not to admit the Catholics and others who came to his Church. Joseph Vaz answered them, saying:

“We have an obligation to search and invite the Christians and to see that others become Christians, and it would be a grave sin not to receive those who come in search”.

Instigated by Lanerolle and the few Buddhist chiefs,  rowdies ridiculed, vilified, harassed, the Catholics on their way to the Church. They even went to the extent of plucking away the rosaries from the necks of women and children. But the Catholics did not stop coming to the Church.

This kind of persecution increased day by day and Joseph Vaz became anxious. The King, it is true, was favourable to the Catholics and resisted the solicitations of their enemies, but Joseph Vaz doubted whether the King would protect the Catholics when threatened with an uprising by the Buddhist mob as planned by Lanerolle and of his Buddhist confederates.

When the situation became critical, a remarkable miracle came to the rescue of Joseph Vaz.

The Miracle of the Rain

The rainy season in Ceylon begins usually between the middle of May and the beginning of June, but in the year 1696, there was a severe drought in the central region of Ceylon. As rain is necessary for the cultivation of rice the harvest failed. All other crops suffered as well. The drought caused much hardship to the people in the Kingdom of Kandy.

King Vimaladharma Suriya II requested Buddhist monks to perform Pirith (spiritual chant) to invoke the gods to provide rain and the Hindu Brahmins to conduct special Pooja to invoke Lord Varuna, the Hindu god of rain. Even after a week of ceremonies by the Bhikkus and the Brahmins, not a single drop of rain fell anywhere in the kingdom.

Then the king requested Joseph Vaz to pray to his God for rain. Vaz replied that he “would pray with greater fervor in obedience to the royal command.” He then told the king to “remain firm in faith, and if it would serve divine glory the land would abound with water since all the elements obey His divine commands as the Creator of heaven and earth”.

With firm faith in God, Joseph Vaz erected an altar in the open at a central place. A large crowd surrounded him. After placing a cross on the altar, he knelt down and prayed to God for rain.

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Saint Joseph Vaz praying for rain during the drought of 1696 in Kandy (Source :en.radiovaticana.va)
Saint Joseph Vaz praying for rain during the drought of 1696 in Kandy (Source :en.radiovaticana.va)

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.While he prayed, the sky filled with heavy dark clouds, and an abundant rain poured down. In a short time the deluge inundated the famished Kingdom. Water seeped into the cracks of the parched paddy fields. All the irrigation tanks filled to the brim.

Amid such a torrent the people saw with amazement the altar, the cross, and the spot where Joseph Vaz was kneeling while praying, remained dry. Not a drop of water had fallen on them. The King and the people marvelled, at this phenomenon and called it a miracle.

St.Anthony's Cathedral, Kandy (Source: kandydiocese.net)
St.Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy (Source: kandydiocese.net)

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Now, at the place where this miracle was wrought in Kandy stands St. Anthony’s Cathedral.

This miracle impressed the people, and many Buddhists and Hindus came to Joseph Vaz for baptism. Many apostates who had become Calvinists, after having performed penance reconciled with the Church.

King Vimaladharma Suriya II was so pleased he gave Joseph Vaz protection, and freedom to travel anywhere in the Kingdom of Kandy to preach the Catholic doctrines. Joseph Vaz also obtained the king’s permission to get more priests from Goa.

Joseph Vaz then built a proper church and dedicated it to Our Lady, the Mother of Christ. He used the missionary method of inculturation. He composed a para-liturgy in Sinhalese and Tamil.

Joseph Vaz used his newly acquired freedom to visit all the regions of the kingdom of Kandy. Now he was able to cross the Mahaweli Ganga without any hindrance. At times, he also sneaked into the territories possessed by the Dutch.

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 Next → Part 12 – The Apostle Visits Dutch Colombo

← Previous: Part  10: Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 10 – Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The First Church in Kandy

To keep John occupied, Joseph Vaz taught him enough Latin to recite the divine office intelligently with devotion. He also taught John all that was required to become a priest. He called his servant “my brother” and gave him his own surname “Vaz”.

Joseph Vaz wondered why he was still in prison. Was it because he was a priest or was it because there lurked in the mind of the King some suspicion of his being a Portuguese spy.

As the rigours of imprisonment waned, Joseph Vaz and John constructed a hut of cadjan, in a corner of the prison yard. They built an altar and Vaz put his crucifix on it. He without fear showed himself as a Catholic prostrated and venerated the Cross in public. Every evening he would pray the Rosary and sing the litanies of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one interfered with his devotions.

On Christmas of 1692, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at this Altar. The Dissawe, his guards and other prisoners kept at a respectful distance. When he found no objection from the Dissawe, he continued to offer Mass every morning from the following day onwards.

The small cadjan hut was the first Church in Kandy.

People started noticing what was going on in the small straw hut Church. Almost all the Catholics in Kandy had not seen a priest for over forty years after the death of Father Vergonse, the Jesuit priest. But none of them dared to approach the priest for the memory of the arrest of Antonio Sottomayor was alive in their minds.

Eventually, a Catholic, who embroidered rich clothing for the Kandyan nobles, worked out a plan. He made with great perfection embroidered a silk cloth with gold and presented it as a gift to King Vimaladharma Surya II. The king much pleased with the workmanship asked the artisan to name his price. The artisan threw himself at the feet of the king and said that he wanted no money, but begged the king to allow him to speak with the confined priest on matters related to his soul. Since the king now regarded Joseph Vaz as a devout priest and not a Portuguese spy, he readily gave permission to visit Joseph Vaz.

When other Catholics saw that the King was in a good frame of mind, they too approached him and obtained permission to visit the priest. The King moved by the piety of these Catholics gave permission to all the Catholics to visit the priest in his prison, whenever they liked.

Many Catholics visited Joseph Vaz in his prison and participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every morning. They also came for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and to baptize their children and grandchildren. Vaz also validated the marriages contracted without the presence of a priest. He instructed those who had no proper knowledge of the Christian faith.

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Restricted freedom

Around September 1693, the king freed Joseph Vaz from the prison house. He was, however, prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga (river). The boatmen had orders not to carry him across the river.

Though forbidden, Joseph Vaz crossed the Mahaveli Ganga many times in secret to visit the scattered Catholics in remote regions.. On February 2, 1697 in a letter to the Prefect of his Oratory he wrote: “… Trusting in the help of the King of kings and His promises…”, he crossed the river eight times to administer the sacraments to the sick and dying Christians, living in remote places.

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Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)
Boatmen do not see Saint Joseph Vaz getting on to their boats to cross the Mahaveli Ganga (Source: blejosephvaz.wix.com)

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According to traditional legends the priest could do so because God made him invisible to the soldiers when he was passing through the gates, and also to the boatmen when he entered their boats.

In 1693, the Propaganda Fide asked Bishop Custodio Pinho, Vicar Apostolic of Bijapur to visit and report on the state of affairs of the Church in South India. Bishop Pinho described Joseph Vaz as a man “totally detached from the world”.

Using utmost prudence in his letter dated October 27, 1693, Joseph Vaz advised his Prefect of the Oratory in Goa, when writing letters, not to reveal to others his whereabouts. He also told the Prefect to send him the letters through the Jesuits of the Fishery Coast; to send them open to avoid suspicions and not to mention therein how he had received his letter, neither the place nor the date; not to write to him as to one whose permanent address was surely known, also not to give him any news of the Civil Government because “our work is only to be busy with the service of God and the salvation of souls”. So, to avoid all suspicions, he said, he was not writing to the Prelate nor to the Inquisitor in Goa.

After getting the restricted freedom to minister to the Catholics of the capital, people helped Joseph Vaz to build a simple thatch covered Church, which he dedicated to “Our Lady for the Conversion of the Faithful“. At the beginning, the Dissawe posted some of his men in the Church to keep an eye on the priest. Later, when the priest did not show the least disposition to escape from Kandy, he withdrew his men. However, the regular supply of King’s ration continued.

Joseph Vaz recommends John for Priesthood

On August 14, 1694, two years after leaving Puttalam, Joseph Vaz wrote to the Prefect of his Oratory. In a postscript to the letter, Vaz recommended John to the priesthood since he regarded all men as equal. He wrote:

“Although when he came here, Joao Vaz did not know to read and write, now that God has given him the ability, he reads and prays the divine office in my company”. Then he praises John for his knowledge of Latin, Portuguese (negredas), Tamil and Sinhalese languages. Naturally, John had picked them up in his seven years company of Blessed Joseph Vaz, especially in the prison. Then Blessed Vaz vouches for John thus: “Joao has the will to dedicate himself purely to the service of God as a priest to work for these Christians… he has no canonical impediment. Please ask one of the prelates vs.. the Archbishop of Goa (or any other) to ordain him. So that sent back to Sri Lanka he can work for the service of the missions… inform me if this is agreeable and I will send him to Goa. He has made the vow of poverty… his conduct is upright… and example for me… and as far as I know he will not commit a venial sin even though for this it be necessary
for him to die a thousand times.”

John Vaz thus became the first Gauda of Goa and the first Dalit tribal of India recommended to the priesthood.

Whenever Joseph Vaz faced any pastoral problem, he wrote them down and later sent letters to the Prefect of his Oratory and to Fr. Henry Dolu, a Jesuit in Pondicherry, asking them for guidelines.

When the Prefect of his Oratory asked him to come back to Goa, Vaz wrote that he would gladly obey his Superior as Christ, but with great prudence he made known to his Superior the risk involved if he should do so. He reminded his Superior that though he was free from prison, he was still prohibited from crossing the Mahaveli Ganga. So, he asked the Prefect for helpers from the Oratory.

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 Next → Part  11: The Miracle of Rain in Kandy

← Previous: Part  9 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 9 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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Imprisonment in the Kingdom of Kandy

Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to Espionage was loathed in Kandy and foreigners  were not allowed to enter the city without permission. If any foreigners did happen to enter in a dubious manner, they were not allowed to get out of the kingdom. They were imprisoned in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”) and were held there for four to six years.

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Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. Trampon
Robert Knox (1642-1720) of the East India Company, by P. TramponTramponTramponTrampon

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Robert Knox was an English sailor. His father, also named Robert Knox was a sea captain. In 1657, Oliver Cromwell issued a charter granting the East India Company a monopoly of the Eastern trade. Father and son joined the service of the Company. On January 21, 1658, when the younger Knox was almost 17 years old, both he and his father boarded the ship “Anne” that left London on trade missions to the East Indies.

After sailing for about a  year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives.

After sailing for about a year and nine months, the ship encountered stormy weather in the Bay of Bengal. The ship lost its mast. With torn sails, they put ashore near Kottiar Bay, the estuary of Mahaweli Ganga, in Trincomalee, on November 19, 1659. There, the officials of King Rajasinghe II impounded the ship. The two Knoxes and 16 crew members were taken to the capital as captives. Although the crew was forbidden from leaving the kingdom, they were treated fairly leniently.

At that time, tension prevailed between King Rajasinghe II and some of the European powers.

When the king heard of their arrival in the capital, he sent for them. Sadly, the elder Knox had inadvertently angered the king by not observing the expected formalities in the presence of the king. Later, while the elder Knox was resting under a tamarind tree the king’s men took him captive.

Most of  the sailors engaged themselves in knitting garments.  Others took on animal husbandry, breeding poultry, growing paddy, and even distilling arrack. Young Robert Knox became a lender like the Afghans of old in Ceylon. He did not lend money, instead he gave paddy with 50% interest charged on it.

Some sailors became the favourite boys of the king and were mobilized into his armed forces. Among them, a Richard Varhan was appointed commander of the king’s 970 soldiers’ regiment.

A few married local women and settled down in the country.

In due course, the two Knoxes were separated from the rest of the crew and were kept for some time in a village called Bandara Koswatte close to Wariyapola in the North Central Province. There, both were afflicted with malaria. Eventually, the father died in February 1661 after a long illness.

In 1679, Robert Knox and his only companion, Stephen Ruthland made their final escape through Anuradhapura. They trekked along the banks of Malwatu Oya, then Dutch territory.

On October 16,1679, after being captive for almost 20 years, Robert Knox and his companion reached the Dutch Fort at Arippu, situated about 10 miles (16 km) away from Mannar Island. From there they went to Mannar. From Mannar, they set sail for Batavia. Robert Knox reached London in September, 1680, when he was 40 years old.

In his book “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, in the East-Indies: together with an account of the Detaining in Captivity the author and divers other Englishmen now Living there, and of the author’s miraculous escape,” Robert Knox wrote that from 1658 to 1681 not less than thirty-four Englishmen had been placed under custody like he was held, in the Kingdom of Kandy.

 Joseph Vaz under “House-arrest”.

Robert Knox was held captive by King Rajasinghe II. Now it was his son, King Vimaladharmasurya II, who held Joseph Vaz, John and Antonio Sottomayor as prisoners.

King Vimaladharmasurya II was an educated, and a superior man. He had broader views than the Indian princes of his time. He dreaded the return of the Portuguese to Ceylon. He was in no way hostile to Catholics. He allowed a certain amount of freedom to the Catholics in his dominions to follow their faith.

Joseph Vaz and Antonio Sottomayor found that there was no way to appeal because even a claim for justice against the king’s order was considered high treason.

The guards would not permit them to move even four steps. No food was provided and they spent five days in extreme hunger. Then, out of pity, the guards gave each of them a handful of Finger Millet (Sinhalese: Kurokkan; Tamil: Kel-varaku) once a day.

The three prisoners were kept under strict observation as ordered by the king. After observing them for five days, the guards reported to the king that they found the priest meek and modest, and they could not conclude whether he was a spy or not.

A few days later the King came to see the prisoners. He spoke a long time with Joseph Vaz and went away quite convinced that Nauclairs de Lanerolle’s denunciation was groundless.

So, the King let Antonio Sottomayor free. He then ordered to remove the priest and his servant from the “Maha Hirage” and transferred to the custody of an official called “Dissawe“. Joseph Vaz was provided a comfortable lodging and was well cared for with food provided at the King’s expense. However, he was forbidden to go out of his lodging. It was like the modern day “house-arrest”.

Gradually, the rigours of captivity relaxed. Since the Dissawe and his guards found the priest and his servant to be harmless, they left them alone, and allowed them to walk freely within the jail premises.

What he could not achieve by preaching, he compensated by resorting to the ministry of charity. From the daily ration allotted to him, Vaz reserved for John and himself the bare minimum required for one meal a day and distributed the rest among the poor.

Joseph Vaz Learns Sinhalese

During his travel on the Coromandel Coast and his stay in Tuticorin and Jaffna, he had studied Tamil. Now he took pains to study the Sinhalese language to help him in his apostolic work. Since he already knew Tamil, he translated the Catechism books into Tamil and Sinhalese. He wrote the Stations of the Cross in the two languages. He also prepared a vocabulary in Sinhalese for the use of future missionaries.

They remained under house arrest for more than two years. By his exemplary life, he won the heart of King Vimaladharna Surya II and the Buddhist monks. The rigors of the imprisonment went on diminishing as the months passed.

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Next → Part  10: Beginning of the Apostolate in Kandy

← Previous: Part  8: The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 8 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The Kingdom of Kandy

Located in the central and eastern part of the island, the Kingdom of Kandy known in Sinhalese as Mahanuwara Rajadhaniya, was an independent monarchy founded in the late 15th century. It was initially a dependent kingdom of the Kingdom of Kotte. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Kingdom of Kandy established itself as an independent monarchy. To ensure its survival the Kingdom at various times allied itself with the Jaffna Kingdom, the Madurai Nayak Dynasty of South India, Kingdom of Sitawaka, the Portuguese and finally the Dutch.

The capital of the Kingdom of Kandy has been known by various names. Some scholars suggest that the original name was Katubulu Nuwara. However, the more popular historical name officially is Senkadagala Siriwardhana Mahanuwara (meaning ‘the great city of Senkadagala of growing resplendence’).  This long name is generally shortened to ‘Mahanuwara‘ (meaning ‘Great City’ or ‘Capital’) or simply as “‘Nuwara‘.

The Sinhalese called the region “Kanda Uda Rata” (“the land on the mountain”) and “Kanda Uda Pas Rata” (“the five counties/countries on the mountain”). The Portuguese shortened this to ‘Candea‘ and used it as the name for both the kingdom and its capital. The English transformed the Portuguese word to ‘Kandy’.

The rugged terrain of the  kingdom of Kandy.
The rugged terrain of the kingdom of Kandy.

Through the thick jungles and the many mountains only a few paths led to the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy. Due to the mountainous terrain was easy to defend the few roads. The subjects of the kingdom kept these routes secret, and they were aware that revealing any paths to a foreigner was an offense punishable by death.

The mountains and the thick forests hindered commerce with neighbouring kingdoms and movement of goods to and from ports and harbours. But this encumbrance proved to be an invaluable asset in guaranteeing the safety of the Kingdom of Kandy from attacks by its neighbours and by the marauding foreign colonialists.

The English East India Company
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 - 1707).
First flag of the Honourable East India Company (1600 – 1707).

The English were first of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. The English East India Company was founded in 1600 as The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. It gained a foothold in India in 1612 after the fourth Mughal Emperor Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, granted it the rights to establish a factory or trading post, in the port of Surat on the western coast.

The Dutch East India Company
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 - 1800)
Flag of the Dutch East India Company (1602 – 1800)

In 1602, the Dutch  established the Dutch East India Company or the United East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC).   The States-General of the Netherlands granted the chartered company a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia.

Flag of the French East India Company's coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR ('I will flourish wherever I will be brought')
Flag of the French East India Company’s coat of arms. The motto reads FLOREBO QUOCUMQUE FERAR (‘I will flourish wherever I will be brought’)

France was the last of the major European maritime powers of the 17th century to enter the East India trade. Six decades after founding the English and Dutch East India companies, and at a time when both companies were multiplying factories on the shores of India, the French still did not have a viable trading company or a single permanent establishment in the East.

In 1642, to revive commercial intercourse with the East, Cardinal Richelieu formed a new Company named “La Compagnie des Indes” for the sole purpose of trading in the Indies. Letters patent, dated June 24, 1642, accorded it privileges for 20 years. On December 4, 1642 Cardinal Richelieu died.

In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances, restructured the Company and designated it as La Compagnie française des Indes Orientales (The French East India Company) to compete with the English (later British) and Dutch East India companies in the East Indies. He sent an expedition to Madagascar, discovered by Marco Polo in 1298, and then forgotten.

In 1667, the French East India Company sent out another expedition, under the command of François Caron. The French reached Surat in 1668 and established the first French factory in India. In 1673, the French acquired the area of Pondicherry from the Kiladar of Valikondapuram under the Sultan of Bijapur and thus laid the foundation of Pondichéry.

The French in Ceylon

François Caron had spent 30 years working for the Dutch East India Company, including more than 20 years in Japan. He suggested to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finances that set a firm foot in India, it was necessary to capture some land and hold it in absolute possession. The captured place he said should be unassailable by the natives. Then they could use it as a stronghold for commercial operations with the inhabitants of the mainland. For this purpose, like Albuquerque, he favoured the occupation of the island of Ceylon, then partly occupied by the Dutch. He also pointed out the commercial advantages which France would gain by participating in the spice trade.

The war between King Louis XIV and Holland served as a pretext for the French to attack the Dutch in India and to make an attempt to get for themselves a slice of the wrecked Portuguese Empire.

When Colbert approved Caron’s project, a fleet under the command of Admiral de la Haye, a man with a bad reputation who had quit high civil employment to gratify his passion for warlike operations, was placed at the disposal of Caron to carry out his design.

French Capture Trincomalee

On March 21, 1672, Admiral de la Haye appeared before Batticaloa with a squadron of 14 ships. Seeing Batticaloa Fort well defended, he did not stop there. After saluting the Dutch flag, which salute was returned from the fort, he set sail for Trincomalee.

Having cast anchor in the Bay of Kottyar, Admiral de la Haye landed his troops there because he knew that Trincomalee belonged to the King of Kandy and not to the Dutch.

Overjoyed at the news of the landing of the French, King Rajasinghe II, conceived the plan of an alliance with them to drive out the Dutch.

On March 25, 1672, three days after the French landed in the Bay of Kottyar, King sent a high dignitary of his Court to Trincomalee to welcome Admiral de la Haye and enter into friendly relations with him.

Admiral de La Haye returned the compliment by sending to Kandy three officers, Dorgeret, de La Garde and Fontaine. King Rajasinghe II received them cordially. During the audience, he placed on the neck of each a rich chain of gold and presented them with swords and muskets of the finest Kandyan workmanship. Two of the officers remained in Kandy, the third returned to Trincomalee, accompanied by an ambassador who had full power of concluding with de la Haye a treaty to expel the Dutch from Ceylon.

The King’s ambassador was closely followed by a messenger bearing a Charter by which King Rajasinghe II gifted the Bay of Kottyar and of the surrounding territories to the French.

On May 17, 1672 they planted the French flag both at Kottyar and in Trincomalee taking possession of those places in the name of Louis XIV King of France and of Navarre.

Just when the French finished landing the guns necessary to defend the fortress, a Dutch fleet of 14 vessels under Commodore Rylackoffe van Goens, came in sight. The Dutch officer asked the French to evacuate Ceylon. Admiral de La Haye refused and prepared to defend Trincomalee and Kottyar, and he waited for  King Rajasinghe’s army to arrive to help him fight the Dutch. Thus, three weeks passed.

Meanwhile, the position of the French admiral was becoming more and more difficult. He did not have enough troops. Four hundred soldiers and sailors had become invalids. From some skirmishes with the Dutch, the admiral had already seen how little he could rely on the badly armed Kandyan troops.

The Dutch received reinforcements from Colombo. , Under these circumstances the French admiral deemed it more prudent to give up the contest, at least for the time being.

When the King requested Admiral de la Haye to remain in Ceylon, he replied that he would return soon with a larger army and in the meantime he was sending to Kandy, Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle who would stay at the King’s Court as ambassador of King Louis XIV, the King of France.

Admiral de la Haye weighed anchor on July 9, 1672, and the Dutch fleet positioned in battle order, saluted the French flag. Admiral de la Haye set sail for Mylapore, then known as St Thomé or San Thome, on the Coromandel coast. He left behind a few soldiers to guard the garrison at Trincomalee. The French soldiers who had been left behind, had no other alternative than to cede Trincomalee and the garrison to the Dutch fleet.

Monsieur de Laisne Nauclairs de Lanerolle

Nauclairs de Lanerolle was a worthless person. He was a Huguenot, a rabid protestantprotestant

Lanerolle’s conduct from the very beginning clearly showed that he had been ill-chosen to represent the interests of France in the Kingdom of Kandy. He made himself obnoxious to all by his stupid vanity.

It was the custom in Kandy that no one could pass in front of the royal palace except on foot. There was certainly nothing disparaging in it, a simple show of respect to the King. Lanerolle and his suite had to pass through that street to reach the quarters, which the King had allotted for him and his men. When asked, Lanerolle refused to dismount. Uttering profanity (words of contempt), he rode under the balcony of the King’s apartment. The rascal had forgotten that the French fleet was no longer in Trincomalee and that he was  at the absolute mercy of the King of Kandy. The King was much embittered by the Frenchman’s attitude, but pretended to ignore his bravado.

A few days later, Lanerolle and his men arrived at the palace. The Court dignitaries received them. It was the custom that every foreign envoy should await the royal audience for two hours.

Even though Lanerolle knew of this strange etiquette, yet after a few minutes expressed his surprise that the King did not appear. After having waited for about fifteen minutes, he exclaimed that it was an insult to leave him waiting so long, and left the hall. All the entreaties from the gentlemen of his suite had no effect. Some officials of the Court, wishing to avoid a scandal, tried to stop him. But when the vain Frenchman drew his sword, they let him go, and he returned to his quarters without having seen the King.

The King felt much offended, ordered Lanerolle to be seized and flogged until he fainted. After the flogging was over, Lanerolle and his men were put in chains and cast into prison.

The gentlemen of Lanerolle’s suite managed to explain that they did not approve the conduct of their Ambassador. They said that they had done all they could to prevent this stupid conduct of their Chief. When the Court officials corroborated to this fact, they were set free of the chains, but Lanerolle had to spend six months in prison in chains. After that, there was no more chance of their return to France, and they were kept prisoners in Kandy.

They were supposed to be maintained at the King’s expense, but in reality they were so neglected that in order not to starve, they distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.distilled arrack and sold it to the natives. They bitterly reproached to Lanerolle to have been the cause of their distress, and scandalous quarrels arose among them.

Such was the state of things when Robert Knox came to Kandy.

Nauclairs de Lanerolle, remained in Kandy. He married and settled there and later gained some influence at the King’s Court. He tried to influence some Catholics to embrace Calvinism, among them being the family of the relative of Antonio Sottomayor who had befriended Joseph Vaz.

Joseph Vaz arrested at Weuda

Joseph Vaz hoped to make Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, the centre of his future missionary activities.

In August 1692 after his apostolate of one year and nine months in the Puttalam area, Joseph Vaz along with his servant John and his new acquaintance Antonio Sottomayor left for Maha Nuwara, the capital of the Kingdom of Kandy, ruled by King Vimaladharmasurya II, who had succeeded his father, King Rajasinghe II.

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Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda
Puttalam to Kandy via Weuda

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The distance between Puttalam and Kandy is about 82 miles (132 km). On their way, they had to pass through the village named Weuda situated 18 miles from Kandy. Weuda was an important check-post before entering the capital. In this village, Antonio Sottomayor had a house and was staying there with his family. It took them about eight days to walk from Puttalam to Weuda.

Leaving Joseph Vaz and John with his family, Sottomayor went to Kandy to get the visa for the priest to enter the city. Meanwhile, Vaz started preaching to Sottomayor’s family and their neighbors.

Antonio Sottomayor was not aware that  Nauclairs de Lanerolle had converted his relative to Calvinism. As soon as the French Huguenot, learned that Sottomayor wanted to bring a Catholic priest into Kandy he went to the King’s court. He told the king that Antonio Sottomayor was trying to help a Portuguese spy to enter Kandy in the garb of a Priest.

The king directed his soldiers to arrest Sottomayor first and then go to Weuda and bring the priest and his servant staying in his house.

Joseph Vaz and John bound in chains were taken to the Capital by the king’s soldiers. Charged as Portuguese spies, they were incarcerated along with Sottomayor in the “Maha Hiragé” (“Great prison”).

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Next → Part  9:   The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Prison in Kandy

← Previous: Part  7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe?


. Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj .

The term “Renaissance” is derived from French term “re-naissance” for “re-birth”, and from the Italian term “rinascere” meaning “to be reborn.” The Renaissance period spanned roughly from the 14th to the 17th century. It was the ‘Age of Discovery’. Historians say that this period was the bridge between the Middle Ages and Modern history.

The Renaissance began in Italy in the Late Middle Ages. Later it spread to the rest of Europe as paper became available along with the invention of metal movable types. However, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe.

The Renaissance revolutionized many intellectual pursuits. It brought about a cultural, social and political upheaval. It is perhaps best known for its artistic developments. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and many other notable artists made their contributions during the Renaissance period.

On the cultural front, the Renaissance gave a new lease of life to Latin and the vernacular literatures. On the political front, it contributed to the development of the conventions of diplomacy.

According to historians, the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the latter part of the 14th century due to various factors: the social and civic peculiarities of Florence at the time; its political structure; the patronage of the Medici family to the artists; the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, etc.

King Philippe VI of France

King Philippe VI of France.
King Philippe VI of France.

Bubonic plague devastated Europe in the 14th century.  In 1348, King Philippe VI of France asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris to investigate the origins of the Bubonic plague. According to the learned professors a disastrous conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars caused disease-infected vapours to rise out of the earth and water to poison the air. They declared that susceptible people who breathed in the noxious air became ill and died.

Before the medieval period, people susceptible to infection were the obese, the intemperate, and the over-passionate. Now, the professors said that anyone who comes in contact with water was susceptible to disease. Hot baths, they said, had a dangerous moistening, relaxing effect on the body, and opened the pores in the skin which would allow the plague to enter the body.

From this, we can infer that King Philippe VI of France must have had infrequent baths.

Queen Isabel I of Spain

Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.
Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and León.

Queen Isabel I of Spain (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504), also known as Isabella the Catholic was the queen of Castile. She married King Ferdinand II of Aragon on October 19, 1469, and ruled both Castile and Aragon from 1479 with along with her husband.

In 1484, King John II of Portugal denied the request for aid sought by Christopher Columbus to cross the Atlantic. Two years later, Columbus was in Spain, asking for patronage from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. After at least two rejections, Columbus obtained royal support in January 1492. Although we cannot accept  the story of Queen Isabella offering to pledge her jewels to help finance the expedition, Columbus secured a limited financial support from her.

Queen Isabella had once confessed that she had taken a bath only twice in her lifetime – when she was first-born and when she got married.

During the next two hundred years, whenever the plague threatened, the cry went out: “Bathhouses and bathing, I beg you to shun them or you will die.

By the first half of the sixteenth century, it was common knowledge that French baths would be closed during eruptions of the plague.

Around 1531, Thomas Moulton was a Dominican friar, who called himself a doctor of divinity published a treatise in England titled “The myrrour or glasse of helth.” It was a manual purported to help avoid the Bubonic plague and to maintain good health. The book became one of the best-selling medical books of the Tudor period. In it, he says:

“use no baths or stoves; nor swet not too much, for all openeth the pores of a manne’s body and maketh the venomous ayre to enter and for to infecte the bloude.”

In the 16th century and thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats, and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

In 1538, François I of France had the French bathhouses closed. In 1546, Henry VIII of England officially banned all public baths in Southwark. In 1566, the States-General of Orléans closed the French bawdy houses, which included any operating bathhouses.

Some monastic orders made bathing in hot air and steam part of their regimen, while others forbade bathing except at Christmas and Easter. In certain instances, instead of tearing down the Thermae of old, the Catholic clergy converted them into chapels and churches. Many marble tubs became baptismal fonts, bathing chairs became pulpits, and the pagan springs metamorphosed into holy water.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. As directed by their physicians they struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

Sadly, the best medical advice of the period doomed many people. Dirtier the people were, more were they likely to harbour Pulex irritatu, the flea now believed to have carried the plague bacillus from rats to humans.

Henry IV of France

King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.
King Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.

Henry IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610), also known by the epithet “Good King Henry,” was the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon.

In 1568, when Henry IV was a teenager, Ambroise Paré, the French royal barber-surgeon warned about water coming into contact with the human body. He declared:

“Steam-baths and bath-houses should be forbidden because when one emerges, the flesh and the whole disposition of the body are softened and the pores open, and as a result, pestiferous vapour can rapidly enter the body and cause sudden death, as has frequently been observed.”

Thereafter, people believed this and similar statements that water carried diseases into the body through the pores in the skin. Most kings and queens, the members of the royal households, the aristocrats and the commoners heeded to this advice and refrained from bathing.

Members of the upper classes, the aristocrats, and the royalty cut down their full body bathing habits to just a few times per year. They struck a balance between the risk of contracting a disease by bathing, and emanating body stench. To combat body odour, they changed their linen wear often. Even then, they still stunk. So, they doused themselves with heady perfumes, oils, and scented powders to mask the stench emanating from their bodies.

During the reign of Henry IV, bathing, and certainly in hot water, was considered a veritable health risk.

The king did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench. He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stink that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.”

He usually wore soiled linen, and people had great difficulty in not closing their nostrils against the stench that emanated from his person. His body odour has been described as “stinking of sweat, stables, feet and garlic.” He did not believe in bathing or using perfumes to mask his body stench.

One day when the King heard that the Duc de Sully had taken a bath, he turned to his own physician, André du Laurens, for advice. The physician told the king that the poor man would be vulnerable for days. So Henry IV sent a message to Sully informing him that he should not venture outside his residence, or he would endanger his health. Sully was told that the king would visit his home in Paris so that he would not come to any harm as a result of his recent bath.

The veritable womanizer, the ‘Good King’ Henry of Navarre had many mistresses outside wedlock such as: Charlotte de Beaune Semblançay, Marie Touchet, Diane d’Andoins, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entragues, to name a few.

Gabrielle d'Estrées
Gabrielle d’Estrées

Once, he sent a billet-doux (sweet letter) to Gabrielle d’ Estrées, one of his many mistresses. The letter conveyed the following: “Do not wash yourself, my sweetheart, I’ll visit you in three weeks.”

King James VI and I

King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.
King James VI and I. Portrait by Daniel Mytens, 1621.

King James VI and I (June 19,1566 – March 27, 1625) was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and a great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland. James succeeded to the Scottish throne at the age of thirteen months, after his mother Mary abdicated in his favour.

King James sponsored the translation of the Bible named after him: the Authorized King James Version.

Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648) was an English 17th-century courtier and politician, purported to have authored: “A Description of Scotland” and “The Court and Character of King James I.” However, this attribution has been challenged and so it is unclear whether Weldon was the author of either of these works.

The label “the wisest fool in Christendom,” is often attributed to Henry IV of France, but it was possibly coined by Weldon, to describe the paradoxical qualities of King James.

In “The Court and Character of King James I,” Weldon wrote:

“A very wise man was wont to say that he believed him the wisest fool in Christendom, meaning him wise in small things, but a fool in weighty affairs.”

It is said that the wisdom of King James did not include personal hygiene. The king wore the same clothes for months on end, even sleeping in them on occasion. He also wore the same hat seven days a week, until it fell apart. Moreover, King James refused to wash or bathe because he believed it was bad for his health.

King Louis XIII of France

King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.
King Louis XIII King of France and Navarre by Philippe de Champaigne.

Louis XIII (September 27, 1601 – May 14, 1643) was a monarch of the House of Bourbon.

According to meticulous notes kept by Jean Héroard, the French court physician, King Louis XIII of France born in 1601, was not given a bath until he was almost seven years of age.

He boasted, “I take after my father, I smell of armpits.”

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Next → Part 6 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Renaissance Period Bathe?

← Previous: Part 4 – Bathing in Medieval Europe 

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To Bathe, or Not to Bathe: Part 4 – Bathing in Medieval Europe


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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We all stink. No one smells.
– Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – August 20, 1153)

Antiquity, the Medieval period, and the Modern period are the three traditional divisions of Western history. In European history, the period 5th to the 15th century is known as the Medieval period or the Middle Ages. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late Middle Ages.

In European history, the Early Medieval Period (or Early Middle Ages) lasted from the 5th century to the 10th century. This period has been labeled the “Dark Ages,” due to the relative scarcity of literary and cultural output, especially in Northwestern Europe. However, the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire, continued to survive. And, in the 7th century, the Islamic caliphates conquered regions of former Roman territories.

The High Medieval Period (or High Middle Ages) was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries (c. 1001–1300). During this period, the population of Europe increased and brought about great social and political change from the preceding era.

The Late Medieval Period (or Late Middle Ages) was the period comprising the 14th and 15th centuries (c. 1301–1500). It preceded the onset of the early modern era and, in much of Europe, the Renaissance.

The great social and political change from the High Medieval Period in Europe came to a halt in the early 14th century. A series of calamities such as the Great Famine of 1315-1317 and the Black Death reduced the population to around half of what it was before. The prosperity and growth in Europe came to a halt. Along with depopulation came social unrest and endemic warfare. France and England experienced serious peasant uprisings: the Hundred Years’ War, the Jacquerie, the Peasants’ Revolt, as well as a century of intermittent conflicts.

The Hundred Years’ War was a series of wars waged from 1337 to 1453 between the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, and the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France.

The Jacquerie was a popular revolt by peasants in northern France in the summer of 1358.

The Peasants’ Revolt, also called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381.

To add to the many problems of the period, the Western Schism shattered the unity of the Catholic Church. By and large, these events are sometimes called the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages.

Despite these crises, the 14th century was a period of great progress in arts and sciences.

Icon of St. Gregory the Great by Theophilia (Source: theophilia.deviantart.com)
Icon of St. Gregory the Great by Theophilia (Source: theophilia.deviantart.com)

Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was Pope from September 3, 590 until his death in 604.

Jay Stuller of Smithsonian magazine wrote:

“Gregory the Great, the first monk to become pope, allowed Sunday baths and even commended them, so long as they didn’t become a ‘time-wasting luxury’… medieval nobility routinely washed their hands before and after meals. Etiquette guides of the age insisted that teeth, face and hands be cleaned each morning. Shallow basins and water jugs for washing hair were found in most manor houses, as was the occasional communal tub…”

Icon of St Bernard  of Clairvaux by Benedictine nun in England (Source: newclairvaux.org)
Icon of St Bernard of Clairvaux by Benedictine nun in England (Source: newclairvaux.org)

During the High Medieval Period (c. 1001–1300) the Europeans smelled terrible and they were used to it. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (born 1090), a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order summed up the tolerance of the people to their stinking bodies thus: “We all stink. No one smells.

Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/1182 – October 3, 1226), Italian Catholic friar and preacher considered an unwashed body a stinking badge of piety.

In his article, “A History of Private Life,” the French historian Georges Duby, specializing in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages wrote:

Among the dominant class at least, cleanliness was much prized. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Cluniac monasteries and houses of the lay nobility continued to set aside space for bathsNo formal dinner (that is, no dinner given in the great hall with a large crowd of guests) could begin until ewers had been passed around to the guest for their preprandial ablutions. Water flowed abundantly in the literature of amusement — over the body of the knight-errant, who was always rubbed down, combed, and groomed by his host’s daughters whenever he stopped for the night, and over the nude bodies of fairies in fountains and steam-baths. A hot bath was an obligatory prelude to the amorous games described in the fabliaux. Washing one’s own body and the bodies of others seems to have been a function specifically ascribed to women, mistresses of water both at home and in the wilderness.

“Bathing and grooming were regarded with suspicion by moralists, however, because they unveiled the attractions of the body. Bathing was said to be a prelude to sin, and in the penitential of Burchard of Worms we find a full catalog of the sins that ensued when men and women bathed together… Lambert of Ardres, the historian of the counts of Guines, describes the young wife of the ancestor of his hero swimming before the eyes of her household in a pond below the castle, but he is careful to indicate that she is wearing a modest white gown. … [Public baths] were suspect because they were too public; it was better wash one’s body in the privacy of one’s own home. Scrupulous, highly restrictive precautions were taken in… monasteries. At Cluny, the custom required the monks to take a full bath twice a year, at the holidays of renewal, Christmas and Easter; but they were exhorted not to uncover their pudenda.” (p. 525)

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Frederick II (December 26, 1194 – December 13, 1250), was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages. He was the head of the House of Hohenstaufen. Though based in Sicily, his political and cultural ambitions stretched through Italy to Germany, and even to Jerusalem. His admirers nicknamed him ‘Stupor Mundi‘ meaning ‘Wonder of the World’ while his enemies called him an ‘Anti-Christ whore of Babylon.’

Having enjoyed discussions with Cardinal de‘ Fieschi, Frederick II admired the Cardinal’s wisdom. On June 25, 1243, Cardinal de‘ Fieschi reluctantly accepted election as Pope and took on the name Innocent IV.

The emperor was always at daggers drawn with the popes. Following the election the witty Frederick remarked that he had “lost the friendship of a cardinal, but made up for it by gaining the enmity of a pope.

At that time, the Catholic Church considered bathing a sinful act. In 1250, Pope Innocent IV passed the verdict against Frederick II of being a heathen. The first accusation on his list was the King bathed daily.

Étienne Boileau is one of the first known provosts of Paris. In 1261, King Louis IX named him provost for 10 years.

"Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century" by Étienne Boileau, Provost of Paris (1261–1271).
“Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century” by Étienne Boileau, Provost of Paris (1261–1271).

Around 1270, Boileau brought together the regulations for the police, industry and the trades of Paris in his book “Les métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris: XIIIe siècle” (“Trades and guilds of the city of Paris: the thirteenth century”). This work was a faithful mirror reflecting the smallest details of the industrial and commercial life of Paris in the 13th century.

Here is an excerpt from the book on the regulations governing the Guild of Bathhouse Keepers:

1. Whoever wishes to be a bathhouse-keeper in the city of Paris may freely do so, provided he works according to the usage and customs of the trade, made by agreement of the commune, as follow.

2. Be it known that no man or woman may cry or have cried their baths until it is day, because of the dangers which can threaten those who rise at the cry to go to the baths.

3. No man or woman of the aforesaid trade may maintain in their houses or baths either prostitutes of the day or night, or lepers, or vagabonds, or other infamous people of the night.

4. No man or woman may heat up their baths on Sunday, or on a feast day which the commune of the city keeps. And every person should pay, for a steam-bath, two deniers; and if he bathes, he should pay four deniers. And because at some times wood and coal are more expensive than at others, if anyone suffers, a suitable price shall be set by the provost of Paris, through the discussion of the good people of the aforesaid trade, according to the situation of the times. The male and female bathhouse-keepers have sworn and promised before us to uphold these things firmly and consistently, and not to go against them.

5. Anyone who infringes any of the above regulations of the aforesaid trade must make amends with ten Parisian sous, of which six go to the king, and the other four go to the masters who oversee the trade, for their pains.

6. The aforesaid trade shall have three good men of the trade, elected by us unanimously or by a majority, who shall swear before the provost of Paris or his representative that they will oversee the trade well and truly, and that they will make known to the provost of Paris or his representative all the infringements that they know of or discover, and the provost shall remove and change them as often as he wishes.

Georges Vigarello, the French historian and sociologist, published his book “Concepts of Cleanliness: Changing Attitudes in France since the Middle Ages” in October 2008. In this lucid work he examines how attitudes to and perceptions of human cleanliness, health and hygiene manifested in the history of bathing. He says the use of water for cleanliness has been by no means constant in the Middle Ages. The medieval idea of visible purity, effectively meant the face and the hands only. On pages 21-22, Professo Vigarello says:

“A crier patrolled the streets of thirteenth-century Paris to summon people to the heated steam-baths and bath-houses. These establishments, already numbering twenty-six in 1292 [Riolan, Curieuses Recherches, p. 219], and with their guild, were a familiar feature of the town. They were commonplace enough for it not to be shocking to offer a session in a steam-bath as a tip to artisans, domestic servants, or day-labourers. ‘To Jehan Petit, for him and his fellow valets of the bedchamber, which the queen gave him on New Year’s Day to visit the steam-baths’… What they would find was a steam-bath, with in addition, according to price, a bath in a tub, wine, a meal, or a bed. Naked bodies sweated and were sponged down side by side in the steam from water heated by wood fires. Baths were taken in a room, often separate, crammed with heavy round iron-bound bathtubs. A steam-bath did not necessarily involve immersion, though a bath could be had. There were, for example, six bathtubs at Saint-Vivien in 1380, with three beds and sets of bedding. [C. de Beaurepaire, Noveaux Melanges historiques, Paris, 1904, p. 94]…”

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Next → Part 5 – Did the Kings and Queens of the Early Renaissance Period Bathe?

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A Shortcut to Learn French


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Learn French

THE COMMONEST WORDS IN FRENCH

In 1958, I opted for French as second language for my Bachelors degree, at St. Xavier’s College, Palayamkottai, Tamilnadu, India.

Rev. Fr. Moumas, S.J. (Photo taken in 1979 by T.V. Antony Raj)
Rev. Fr. Moumas, S.J. (Photo taken in 1979 by T.V. Antony Raj)

It was the late Rev. Fr. Moumas S.J., a saintly jovial Jesuit priest from Gascony, who taught me French.

Learning the language was never an easy task. I used to spend a lot of time reading French novels borrowed from the wellstocked college library. In the 1960s and 70s, after graduating, while being employed in Sri Lanka, I used to visit the Library at the Alliance Française in Colombo often, trying to brush up and augment the French I learned in college. During this time, I took down notes and found an easy method to learn French.

Recently, while browsing through my old papers and books, I came across four pages of French words I had picked about 50 years ago. Since I feel that this list would provide a shortcut to you and your children to learn French, I have presented them below. Please pass it on to your friends and their children.

The words in the list occur most frequently in ordinary French, as determined by a word count of 400,000 running words of French prose. The figures after each word indicate its average number of occurrences per 1,000 words. It will be seen that the total is 446.1; in other words, learn these,  and you will know 44.6% of the words of French.

LEARN THEM NOW.

The meanings given are the common English translations.  Others are possible.

à , au, aux, à l’ = to, at, in, to, the, at the, in the, to the = 21.4
aller (v.) = to go = 2.1
autre = other = 1.7
avec = with = 3.4
1avoir (v.) = to have = 13.7
bien (adv.) = well, very = 2.8
bon = good = 1.2
ce, cet, cette, ces = this, that, these, those = 12.0
comme = as, like = 2.5
dans = in, within = 6.7
de, du, de l’, de la, des = of, from, of the, from the = 54.9
deux = two = 1.8
dire = to say, tell = 4.2
1donner (v.) = to give = 1.4
elle; elles = she, it, her; they, them = 8.0
en (prep.) = in, while = 6.3
en (pron.) = of it, of them, some, in the matter = 2.6
enfant = child = 1.1
et = and = 19.1
1etre (v.) = to be = 20.6
1faire (v.) = to make, do, have (something done) = 4.5
femme = woman, wife = 1.2
grand = tall, big = 2.0
homme = man, husband = 2.4
il; ils = he, it, him; they them = 13.7
jour = day = 1.2
le, la, l’, les (art.) = the = 69.4
le, la, l’, les (pron.) = him, her, it them
leur (pron.) = to them, them = 2.6
leur, leurs (adj.) = their
lui (pron.) = (to) him, her, it = 3.8
mais = but = 3.7
2je = I = 15.0
2me = me, to me
2moi = me, I
mon, ma, mes (adj.) = my = 4.5
ne … pas = not = 10.5
notre, nos = our = 1.2
nous = we, us, to us = 4.1
on = one, they, we = 3.9
ou = or = 1.9
Ou … ou,  soit … soit = either …. or
= where = 1.1
par = by = 3.7
pas (neg. adv.) = not, no = 5.6
petit = little, small, insignificant, petty = 1.7
plus (adv.) = more = 4.3
pour = for, in order to = 3.2
1pouvoir (v.) = to be able, can = 1.9
1prendre (v.) = to take = 1.2
que (conj.) = as, than = 12.8
que? (interr.) = what? = 3.0
que (rel. pron.) = who, whom, which, that
qui? (interr.) = who? = 7.6
qui (rel. pron.) = who, whom, which, that
sans = without = 1.8
1savoir (v.) = to know = 1.4
se = himself, herself, itself, oneself, themselves, each other = 8.7
si = If, even, if so = 2.5
son, sa, ses = his, her, its = 8.9
sur (prep.) = on, atop, about, in, on top, over = 3.4
tout = all, every = 6.1
tu, te, toi = you = 1.8
un, une (art.) = a, an = 18.5
un (num.) = one
1venir (v.) = to come =

1.3

1voir (v.) = to see =

2.1

votre, vos = your =

1.3

1vouloir (v.) = to want, wish =

1.5

vous = you, to you =

5.2

y = To it, to them, in it, in them, there =

2.4

Total

=

446.1

 

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