St Francis Xavier Church Bangkok Honoring the Apostle of the Indies

St Francis Xavier Church is old Catholic church in Soi Mitrakam Bangkok, dedicated to the Jesuit who spent his life spreading the gospel in Asia, although he never set foot in Thailand.Soi Mitrakam, Samsen is an area known for its Vietnamese immigrants fleeing religious persecution from Vietnam. Two wars with Vietnam in the reign of King Rama III brought more Vietnamese to the area.

With the growing Catholic population there was a need for another church besides the Immaculate Conception Church in Soi Mitrakham. In 1834 King Rama III donated the land and funds for another Catholic church in the area.The church was named St Francis Xavier, after the Spanish- born, French-educated Jesuit who came to the Far East to spread the gospel. He traveled extensively to India, Malacca, Moluccas or Spice Islands (presently the Maluku island group in Indonesia) and Japan.While trying to enter China, he died on Sanchian Island off the coast on 3 December 1522, a day commemorated by the feast of St Francis Xavier.

The original St Francis Xavier Church, a bamboo structure, collapsed in a storm in 1837 and was replaced by new church, this time made from timber.Earlier in 1824, when King Rama III ascended the throne, his younger brother Prince Mongkut was ordained as a monk and remained so for the entire 27 years of the Third Reign. As a monk, Prince Mongkut befriended Monsignor Pallegoix, a French missionary, who was at the Immaculate Conception Church in Soi Mitrakham.The Monsignor taught the Prince Latin who in turn taught the Monsignor Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures. This association was to have far-reaching consequences for the Catholic Church in Bangkok.In 1851 when Prince Mongkut ascended the throne as King Rama IV, he donated land for Bishop Pallegoix to build a new St Francis Xavier Church.

A donation drive was made in 1853 to raise funds for a more permanent church with European architecture. This new St Francis Xavier Church took 10 years to complete.Before he died, St Francis Xavier remarked that if he couldn't enter China directly, he would go to Siam (Thailand) and enter China through Siam.Though he never made it to Thailand, the St Francis Xavier Church in Bangkok stands in his memory, a fitting honor to the Apostle of the Indies.

.The St Francis Xavier Church is one of the old Bangkok Churches covered in Tour Bangkok Legacies a historical travel site on people, places and events that left their mark in the landscape of Bangkok. The author Eric Lim, a free-lance writer, lives in Bangkok Thailand.

By: Eric Lim

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