Francis Xavier was born into an aristocratic family in 1506 at the Castle of Xavier near Sanguesa in the Aragon River Valley of the Pyrenees Mountains in the State of Navarre in North Eastern Spain. During the time of Xavier’s early childhood the Spanish throne under Ferdinand and Izabella had annexed the kingdom of Navarre in 1512.
The years of Xavier’s childhood and early adulthood would have been filled with the history and stories of the Spanish Re-conquista and the first stages of world exploration.
In the America’s the Spanish Military expansion was being conducted by the conquistadors. In 1521 Cortez had just finished Conquering the Aztec’s of Mexico and between 1519 and 1535 Francisco Pizarro had completely overthrown the Inca Empire in South America. In the year 1522 one of Magellan’s ships had just finished circumnavigating the globe for the first time. The wealth of gold, silver and trade goods returning to Spain from these conquests was financing much of the Holy Roman Empire.
Being born into this political and historically charged environment to an Aristocratic family in Spain offered all of the advantages a young man could have had. It became Francis Xavier’s choice to commit his life to spreading his faith in the gospel of Jesus as the savior of mankind for the Catholic Church. Francis met Igantius Loyola in Paris in 1529 during his early education after Loyola himself had changed his lifelong ambition to spiritual matters from having been brought up in an aristocratic family where the young men were trained to be good soldiers. Loyola was seven years older than Xavier and at the age of 33 had recently changed his career goals and was going back to school for additional training at the time he met Xavier. Loyola had received a severe and disabling injury during the French War against the Spanish in Navarre which also literally changed the direction of his life's goals from being a military commander to becoming a spiritual soldier for the Catholic Church.
It is noteworthy that Francis Xavier along with Ignatius Loyola became two of the founding members of Jesuit Order (Brothers in Christ) an organization part of whose mission was the reformation of the Catholic Church and the organization of the counter-reformation to assuage the rise of Protestantism in Europe. The original name Loyola came up with for the Jesuit Order was the (Company of Jesus) modeling much of its administrative organization around the ideals of service and discipline he had learned while training for a military career. During the early part of the organization of the Jesuit Order at which time Loyola was writing the constitution of the Jesuit order Xavier had functioned as Loyola's personal secretary.
Formal approval of this new order was given by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. In the year following the foundation of the Jesuits and after consultation with Ignatious Loyola, Francis Xavier was personally selected by Loyola to be the head of missions to Asia for the Jesuits. He left Lisbon on his 35th birthday April 7, 1541 arriving in Goa India thirteen months later in May 1542. After seven years of service in India, Malaysia and the Spice Islands Xavier arrived in Kagoshima Japan on the 15th of August 1549.
Not only was St. Francis Xavier's selected as the head of missions to Asia for the Jesuit Order but he also represented the Crown of Portugal as a political emissary. Both positions required his communications and reports be sent to Rome and Portugal on a regular basis for administrative reasons. Francis Xavier's close personal and spiritual relationship with Loyola was of the nature that Xavier considered Loyola to be his spiritual father and therefore he corresponded with him personally on a regular basis during his mission years in Asia. It is said that the normally stoic Loyola wept copious tears of sadness and remorse when he learned of Xavier's death in China in 1552.
The age of discovery with its technological development of ships capable of the exploration of the world’s high seas had played an integral part in the initial success of Xavier's missionary efforts. These ships carried his correspondence to and from Rome and Portugal as well as bringing provisions and personnel to his Asian missions. By a set of unusual circumstances and the politics surrounding the use of these ships in Japan they would play an even larger role in the plot leading to the eventual repression of Francis Xavier's Christian missions to Japan in the late 16th and early 17th century.
At the beginning of the 16th century the taste for the expansion of Empires was on lips of Royalty throughout Europe and the rush to create Empires would establish the European nations as the dominant practitioners of seafaring for the next four hundred years until the time of the second world war and the emergence of Japan as a world naval power.
For ten years Francis Xavier sailed the high seas to his ports of call in ships similar to the one pictured above. His initial voyage from Lisbon to Goa on the India's west coast took thirteen months to complete. The voyage was made only after numerous hardships and perils presented by the environments through which he passed and by hostile natives.
Francis Xavier traveled with a variety of companions during his missionary years. One of the most notable being the Japanese samurai Anjiro, the man who most inspired him to go to Japan. Anjiro was from the port city of Kagoshima on the Island of Kyushu and was living in exile in Malacca when he met Xavier. Anjiro was likely to have been part of the trading system the Japanese had set up called the domain of the Nanban which encompassed Southeast Asia and undertook trade with China. The Japanese were seeking trade relations throughout this area and already knew they had to deal with coming of the Europeans to Japan. Anjiro's relationship with Xavier would have likely to have been extremely self serving once Anjiro had determined the nature of Xavier's influences and connections to Rome and European Royalty. Anjiro encouraged Xavier to believe that he would be successful in his missionary efforts to the Japanese. Anjiro became Xavier's traveling companion and accompanied Xavier from Malacca in Southern Malaysia to Goa on the eastern coast of India and on his first missionary trip to Japan which landed in the port City of Kagoshima, Anjiro's home port, in the south eastern part of the Island of Kyushu.
Xavier spent the better part of a year in Kagoshima learning the Japanese language and translating scriptures and the catechism into the native Japanese language before leaving for the Kingdom of Bungo in northern Kyushu, where he met the youthful Otomo Sorin, and then to Yamaguchi, Sakai and Kyoto on the Island of Honshu where Xavier's practical experiences in spreading the Gospel to the Japanese would prove to be a much different experience from what Anjiro had lead Xavier to believe it would be.
The timing of Xavier's arrival in Japan and the founding of his Christian missions corresponded closely with the end of Sengoku period and of the Onin wars and the beginning of the efforts to unifty Japan by Oda Nobunaga. The same year (1552) that Xavier left Japan seeking entry into China for his missionaries, Oda Nobunaga became the ruler of the Oda Diaymo in Owari Province and began the unification of Japan by a constant series of military conquests. This was a very turbulent time in Japanese history and the internal politics of the unification of Japan was a complex affair of interactions between warring factions within the country. Oda Nobunaga embraced and encouraged the manufacture and use of firearms, a technology that was brought to Japan by the Europeans, and by doing so completely changed the way in which warfare was conducted in Japan.
The internal political interests of the unifiers of Japan would come into sharp conflict with the apparent interests of Empire building by the Europeans and lead to the closure of Japan to all foreign missionary efforts by the middle of the 17th century.
The beginning of the use of Christian and European Iconography in Japanese Tsuba can be closely linked historically with the missionary efforts of Francis Xavier. The end of the use of Christian symbols within these art objects can also be linked directly to the repression of Christian missionary efforts in Japan by the Tokogawa shoguns, therefore those art objects having Christian symbols which were made for Samurai who had converted to the faith are associated with a very specific time frame of Japanese History. This artistic development occurred in a period of Japanese history which lasted less than a full century from 1543 with the arrival of the Portuguese and the birth of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan to 1637 and the repression of Christian missionary efforts in Japan and the closure of Japan to Foreign influences by the heirs of Ieyasu the Tokogawa Shoguns.
The purpose of our ARTistory commentaries will be to bring additional emphasis to this period in history and the making of Japanese Tsuba with European influences while focusing on the importance of these art objects as collectibles.
To assist in putting Kanayama's art objects into historical Context See:
The life and times of
St. Francis Xavier,
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