Circa 1560 CE
Portuguese forces based in Goa, India, raided the town of Jaffnapatam, Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). They looted the temples and pagodas and torched the town. One of the items they stole was a reliquary containing a tooth of Buddha – the Enlightened One.
The Buddhist community was distraught and the King of Pegu (present day Myannmar) sent an ambassaor to Goa and offered to pay an astronomical ransom of 300,000 – 400,000 cruzados for the return of the sacred relic. The Portuguese Viceroy of Goa, Constantino de Braganza was inclined to accept the ransom and return the tooth. He argued it would help with the States needs. Strenuous discussion between the political and religious groups, primarily the Jesuit priests took place in Goa during the spring of 1561.
For context, in the previous winter of 1560 the King of Portugual, at the urgings and admonitions of Francis Xavier, had established the Inquisition in Goa. New Inquisitors along with a zealous archbishop Gaspar Leao Periera had arrived in Goa. It was the beginning of a long reign of terror unleashed on the Hindus, Jews and Muslims in Goa and would last for ~ 250 years.
With the Inquisition in the backdrop, the zealous Jesuits warned that accepting the ransom in exchange of the tooth would be a serious sin, encourage idolatory of the heathens (yes, Hindus were called heathens, idolators and barbarians) and dishonor the (christian) lord. Perhaps they even believed that by destroying temples, pagodas, and now the tooth, it would showcase the power of the christians and compel the natives to convert in fear.
The Viceroy worried that he could be a target of the Inquisition and could be burn’t at the stake if he did not go along, and relented.
In front of a large crowd of townspeople, including the Ambassador from Pegu, the Viceroy handed the tooth to the Archbishop, who placed it in a mortar and pounded it to a powder. He cast the powder in a fiery brazier. The Jesuits must have really worried about the sacred powers of the tooth, cause they even took the ash and charcoal from the brazier and dumped it in the middle of the river Gomti (present day Mandovi).
Fast forward 452 years to the present.
During Sunday mass in Rome, Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit priest unveiled bone fragments of Peter. The fragments were showcased in a jewel box inside a bronze display case. The Pope even “clutched the case in his arms for several minutes.”
Isn’t this hypocrisy? The Christians blamed the Hindus of idolatory and destroyed the Buddha’s tooth; yet today they venerate bones suspected from one of their own. Vatican experts and archaelogists doubt the authenticity of the fragments which were held for many years in a shoebox in an attic of a worker. But the Pope considers them sacred with nary a thought of idolatory.
Credits: Both pics are from the Rijksmuseum Online collection and available for free use.
- J Gerson da Cunha, Memoir on the History of the Tooth-relic of Ceylon, pp 43-45, Thacker, Vining & Co, Bombay, India (1875); (available on Google Books).
- DC Wojciehowski, Relics, Religion and Rivalry, Manushi, 142: pp 14-20; presented at Conference of Religions in the Indic Civilisations, Center for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, India 18-21 (Dec 2003); (PDF).
- Pope Francis Displays Peter’s Bones
- Vatican Relics
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- Mangeshi Devasthan, Goa
- Badami Cave 3, Art of the Chalukyas