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Madura Mission

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As shown in the "Atlas Geographicus S.J.", the ancient Jesuit missions in India under the Portuguese were divided into two provinces — that of Goa comprising the west coast down to Calicut exclusive, and the interior districts of the Deccan and Mysore, while the Malabar province occupied the south of the peninsula, that is the Malabar coast on the west, and the Coromandel coast on the east as far north as the River Vellar, including Cochin, Travancore, Madura, Tanjore, San Thome, and other contiguous districts. The term "Madura Mission" refers to that Jesuit missionary movement which had its starting point at Madura and extended thence over the eastern half of the peninsula. At the outset it may be remarked that the districts comprised under the Madura Mission were totally removed from Portuguese political or state influence, so that even the prestige of the Portuguese name can hardly be regarded as having reached there, to say nothing of the machinery of the State. The fact is a standing refutation of the unhistorical charge that the spread of the gospel in India was due to political influence and the use of coercion, for in no part of the country did the efforts of the missionaries meet with greater success than in Madura.

The Madura mission owes its origin to Robert de Nobili, who commenced at Madura, in 1606, that peculiar method of propagating the faith which has made his name famous.

This policy consisted in conforming to the ways of life in vogue among the Brahmins, in order to remove their prejudices against him, to exhibit himself as noble, as learned, as ascetical as they; by this means to excite their interest and esteem, and to draw them into ready intercourse with himself; then by degrees to progress from indifferent subjects to religious matters, beginning with those points which were common, and gradually passing to those which were distinctively Christian; showing how Christianity offered to Hindus a purified and perfect religion, without requiring the abandonment of native social usages or the loss of racial rank and nobility. ("East and West, Dec., 1904.) (See MALABAR RITES.)

Shortly afterwards Father Antony de Vico, and Father Manoel Martins began imitating his mode of life and working on the same lines with considerable success. Father Vico died in 1638 and was succeeded by Fr. Sebastian de Maya, who in 1640 was imprisoned at Madura in company with de Nobili, while Father Martins remained at Trichinopoli. In 1640 a new departure was made by Father Balthasar da Costa who began working specially for the lower castes. The success was such that in 1644 the total number of converts in the Madura, Trichinopoli, and Satiamangalam districts rose to 3500, that is to say 1000 of the higher castes, and 2500 pariahs. At that time there were five priests working on the mission. Subsequent progress was still more gratifying, for in 1680 the number of converts altogether was reckoned at no less than 80,000. The number of workers, however, did not increase in proportion; they generally amounted to seven, eight, or ten, and only as late as 1746 reached to fourteen. Among these the most successful were Father Balthasar da Costa and Manoel Martins already mentioned, Andrew Freyre, Bl. John de Britto, Francis Laynes, Venance Bouchet, Peter Martin, and Father Beschi. The last named, who worked from 1711 to 1740, found himself in conflict with the Lutheran pioneers of Protestant missionary enterprise who started work at Tranquebar in 1706, and against whom he wrote several controversial works.

The expulsion of the Jesuit Order from Portuguese territory in the year 1759 put an immediate check on the supply of missionaries, but the fathers already in the mission, being outside the Portuguese dominions, were able to continue their work though wlth diminishing numbers. The entire suppression of the Order in 1773, however, brought the Jesuit regime to an end. Three years later (1776) a new mission of the Karnatic was established by the Holy See, under the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions, which, taking Pondicherry as its centre, gradually extended its labours inwards as far as Mysore, and to the old Madura session. Under the Foreign Mission Society the remaining Jesuit Fathers continued to work till they gradually died out. Not much in the way of missionary work was done by the Goan clergy, who took the place the Jesuits in certain stations; and the results previously gained were in prospect of being almost totally lost. In the year 1836 the Karnatic mission was erected into the Vicariate Apostolic of the Coromandel Coast; and as the Foreign Mission Society could not for want of men come to the rescue of Madura, they willingly accepted the appointment of the Jesuits in the same year — the Society having been restored in 1814. In 1846 the Madura Mission was in turn made into a vicariate Apostolic with Mgr Alexis Canoz as its first vicar Apostolic; but the portion north of the Cauvery was retained by Pondicherry. In 1886, on the establishment of the hierarchy, the Madura Vicariate was made the Diocese of Trichinopoly. In 1893 Tanjore was taken away and given to the Padroado Diocese of Mylapore. In the same year the Trichinopoly Diocese was finally made suffragan to Bombay.


BERTRAND, La Mission du Madure, 4 vols. (1847-54); IDEM, Lettres des nouvelles missions du Madure, 4 vols. (1839-47); IDEM, Lettres edifiantes et curieuses de la nouvelle Mission du Madure, 2 vols. (1865); SAINT CYR, Les nouveaux Jesuites dans l'Inde (1865); WHITEHEAD. India. a Sketch of the Madura Mission (London, s.d.); GUCHEN, Cinquante ans au Madure, 2 vols. (1889); LAUNAY, Histoire des Missions de l'Inde. 5 vols. (1898), COUBE, Au pays des Castes (1888): STRICKLAND, The Jesuits in India (Dublin, 1852): IDEM, The Goa Schism (Dublin, 1853); STRICKLAND AND MARSHALL, Catholic Missions in S. India (London, 1865); SUAN, Monseigneur Canoz (1891); DE BUSSIERE, Histoire du Schisme Portuguais dans l'Inde (1856).

About this page

APA citation. Hull, E. (1910). Madura Mission. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Hull, Ernest. "Madura Mission." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph P. Thomas. Dedicated to Blessed John de Britto.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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