GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (62)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Cacela and Cabral spent the rest of their sojourn in Bhutan in an ambiguous situation. They were guests and simultaneously prisoners. Faced with the prohibition, the priests requested authorization to evangelize, which was granted to them immediately. They were further promised that they could build a church in Paro. They had, in the meanwhile, installed a chapel in one of the halls of the fortress monastery that would eventually become a real attraction. The king himself, accompanied by the superior monks, visited it and inquired about the symbology of all those objects, new to his gaze. Despite the thefts of which they were victims, the priests had some religious objects with which they decorated the new space. One of the lost objects, “a picture of the Virgin Madonna” would eventually be rescued from the hands of thieves by a monk who was also able to retrieve a Bible, as can be seen in the following passage from the Relation: “After the robberies, we still found ourselves with all the apparatus that we brought to the altar and all the images … plus a Bible that we also had.”

Certainly in order to please them (because he didn’t like to keep unhappy such a special “prisoners”) the monarch put to their service, “to learn about the religion of the foreigners”, a few more monks, one of them only twelve years old, “a skillful and naive boy” and another of nineteen years old. With all due diligence and much hope the priests kept preaching and were often visited by people who showed keen interest. One day an old peasant went to the chapel with them willing to stay there so as to obtain pardon for “a sin that made him very disconsolate.” After all, he would eventually confess, he had mortally hit a man with an arrow and felt a great remorse for it. Cacela tells us that others had promised to bring their children to the Portuguese priests to teach them, even if it meant embracing a new religion. One of them, immensely grateful, had attributed the improvement of the health of a sick child to a relic offered to him by João Cabral. The requests for holy water were common “with which they say they treat their ailments.” Cacela also points out the great curiosity of the monks, who brought him offerings of milk and fruit to place next to the images of the saints, the Virgin and Jesus Christ present inside the chapel, prostrating themselves before them, “kissing with devotion the foot of the altar.”

On the other hand, Cacela complains of the songs and prayers – “to the sound of various instruments with which they are always occupied” – coming from the interior of the pagoda that was next to the king’s house, “where the demon’s warfare is continuous,” highlighting the fact that it was a unique case. In his words: “… outside of it there are no other pagodas, if not very rare, and walking along these hills the first sixteen journeys we find no more than on the top of a mountain, a porch of stones, one on top of the other, poorly done with some paintings of the devil and some idols.” Among the mentioned “paintings of the devil” would certainly be the famous phallic symbol, symbols of fertility that we talked about a few weeks ago.

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