DEVOTION TO ST FRANCIS XAVIER (1) – The phalanx relic

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

At least in one aspect, Luis Eduardo Mendia de Castro, Count of Nova Goa, and St Francis Xavier have one thing in common. It is the word “Nova”, nickname in the count and part of the Basque term “Echaberri” (of “echa”, house, and “berri”, new (nova)) that is in the origin of the name Xavier, common in the kingdom of Navarre.

But that is not where the bond is established. Nor is it by hereditary means, as that is a matter for other researches that would lead us to personalities linked to universes as diverse as the arts, literature, archeology, politics or military life.

Let us say that the connection of the Nova Goa family to the illustrious son of Navarre is a matter of devotion. One may even say, a case of extreme devotion.

The story goes that a “very devoted lady” of the Castro family, “married to one of the Viceroys,” at a time when the incorrupt body of the saint was exposed so that his feet were kissed, as is the tradition every ten years, at the moment of the kiss the mentioned lady took the opportunity to pluck a phalanx of the saint’s little finger, carefully placing it in her mouth. And so a relic emerged “that still remains in the family and is very respected by all of us,” as Mendia de Castro asserts. Sheltered in a silver sarcophagus, the relic is in place, as one would imagine, and for its safeguard, which only the gods know.

From time to time, the family adds the saint’s nickname to a new offspring, to honor the secular veneration. This is the case of the cousin Francisco Xavier. There was also a priest in family already deceased, “my father’s brother,” the only person allowed to move the relic, “and only on one of those special days when everyone could worship and pray around her.”

Besides the phalanx, the Nova Goa family has in its possession other smaller relics, among them, pieces of the tunic of the saint. The earl remembers his student days, when he carried one of these tissues with him inside his shirt to succeed in the exams. “We thought it worked, and that faith was important,” he adds.

Mendia de Castro prides himself on being able to trace its origins to an era before the formation of the Condado Portucalense (foundation of Portugal). More precisely, in the person of Maria de Alvarez de Castro who in 1065 married Fernando Sanchez natural son of Sancho I, king of Aragon and Navarre. Originally from the north of Spain, “these people walked after side by side,” all over Iberia peninsula.

For his suggestion, we make a leap to 1300. Now the protagonist is Dom Pedro Fernandes de Castro, “Lord of Lemos county,” who had two children from a second marriage, “the oldest being my ancestor, the Count of Trastamara.” Our count tells us, as an additional curiosity, that this knight had a son of another lady, Dom Alvaro Pires de Castro, from whom would descend Dom João de Castro, “the great viceroy of India.” Inês de Castro, who married in 1320 with D Pedro I king of Portugal, was the sister of Álvaro Pires de Castro. “Let’s say I can consider the martyred Ines as one of the family’s aunts,” he finishes.


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