GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (85)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

After ten years of activity, the mission in Ngari, Western Tibet, had been deactivated, but that was not the reason why the courageous priests were defeated.

In June 1636, Father António Pereira arrived in Agra from Goa, who a month later, accompanied by the experienced Alain dos Anjos, left for Srinagar, in the foothills of the Himalayas, willing to go from there to Tibet if conditions permitted.

On September 17, visitor Francisco de Castro proposes to the provincial of Goa the transfer of the resources collected for the Tibetan mission in Agra to that of the Great Mogol. However, Anjos would eventually die in Srinagar, leaving a vacancy that would be filled in January of 1637 with the arrival of Stanislau Malpichi who joins António Pereira there. The hope of reopening the mission remained unshakable! In Srinagar, just a few days’ walk from the lap of Mana, the adventurous priests were a step away from Tibet, although it was a giant step.

That spring, the king of Guge – acting on behalf of the king of Ladakh, our well-known Sengge Namgyal – calls for the return of the Portuguese missionaries. However, cautious, and still awaiting a higher order, Pereira and Malpichi do not abandon the small village of Srinagar. The long-awaited order from Rome would not arrive until 1640. And with the order new reinforcements arrived, ready to reopen the mission. They were Tomé de Barros, Inácio da Cruz and Luiz da Gama, led by Manuel Marques (who else should it be?).

That summer, Malpichi and Marques leave for Tibet but are taken prisoner in Mana’s lap, and run away. Marques, however, has the misfortune to be recaptured and will no longer see his Portuguese land in the East. After all, the Tibetan king’s invitation had been nothing more than an insidious ruse.

On August 25, 1641, Gama, Barros and Cruz are already back in Agra and the following year the priests receive a letter from the unfortunate Manuel Marques imprisoned in Tsaparang. Upon reading it, they find out that Tibetans adamantly refuse to release their countryman, and the truth is that he would end up dying on an unknown date in a, again, cloistered and xenophobic Guge.

Manuel Marques was the first Jesuit (with Andrade) to arrive in Tibet and the only one to remain there forever. After his death, there will be no more Portuguese Jesuits in that distant corner of the world, which does not mean that the Society of Jesus had renounced its evangelizing task. Under the orders of the Superior General, the Tibetan mission will be reborn in 1709-1715 with the Italian Ippolito Desideri who will arrive in Lhasa accompanied by his superior, the Portuguese Manoel Freyre.

Unlike the transalpine, Freyre soon fell into the sanctified capital of the Lamaists, having returned to India. Freyre and Desideri – who would remain in Tibet for many years and solidify the modern Tibetology initiated by António de Andrade – had previously passed through Shigatse, where they came across Estêvão Cacela’s tomb. Two other Jesuit missionaries, Gruber and D ’Orville, had previously (1661) visited Lhasa.