Written more than 250 years ago, this record of father Ippolito Desideri’s stay in Tibet extending over a period of fiver years provides the first accurate general description of Tibet in all its particulars the flora, products of the soil the inhabitants and their special customs the constitution of the family, the nuptial and funerary rites the social organization and finally a complete exposition of Lamaism derived from the author’s study of the canonical books and their commentaries and from a daily and familiar intercourse with the doctors of lamiasm and the life of the Lamaseries made possible by his knowledge of the Tibetan Language.
Divided into four books the work describes the author’s journey of three and a half years from Rome to Lhasa and his mission work there the nature character, customs and civil government of Tibet Tibetan religion and its hierarchy and his return by a different route to Europe and of other missions in which he was engaged from some time.
Born at Pistoia in 1684 Ippolito desideri took the habbit of St Ignatius of Loyola in Rome and was ordained on 28 August 1712. on 27 September of the same year he left Rome for India as Apostolic Missionary. On 4 November 1727 he returned from India in charge of various commissions for the holy see. He passed way on 14th April 1733 aged forty eight.
The foundation of the first catholic mission in Tibet dates from 1625 father Antonio de Andrade being its founder.
It was a rumour constantly cropping up in mogor that the unknown and inaccessible regions beyond the Himalaya mountains sheltered Christian communities the scattered remains of evangelization in centuries long past. Father Antonio Monserrate had heard of them from travelling Jogis as early as the eighties of the sixteenth century and in 1602 they had been the occasion of Bento de Goes journey.
As reports of a similar nature had not ceased to come in what could be more natural then a wish to inquire on the spot and in case the rumours should prove to be true a desire to assist those neglected brethren of the faith? Even in 1599
when the negotiations that eventually led to the dispatch of goes were being conducted the Italian father Antonio Mazzavelli had volunteered to be the first worker in this new field. But circumstances had been unfavorable.
Quite unexpectedly there now presented itself an opportunity for a journey into the heart of the Himalaya mountains and thence into Tibet. On 30th March 1624 Father de Andrade, together with brother Manuel marquis had left Agra to follow the great Mogul on his journey to Kashmir. Arriving at Delhi he learned that a large party of Hindus were about to start on a pilgrimage to a famous temple in the mountains at a distance of about two and a half months’ journey from Agra. Here was an opportunity These pilgrims might serve for protection and guidance in the first part of the journey meditated. On the morning fixed for the departure, Andrade, his companion, and two servants joined the caravan. A Hindu disguise, in which even the Delhi Christians failed to recognize him, was to see him through the first difficulties.
Travelling by the shortest route, probably through the valley of Ganges by Hardwar, “the Gate of Vishnu,” the principal shrine of those northern parts, the caravan passed through Srinagar in Garhwal and reached Badrinath, one 61 the most sacred and most frequented Hindu temples of India. An account of the adventures and discoveries during the first part of this journey lies outside the scope of this chapter, and we will only record that Andrade and his companion negotiated the perilous Mana pass at an altitude of 18,390 feet, and in the beginning of August safely arrived at Chaparangue or Tsaparang, the capital of what was then the kingdom of Guge, in the valley of the Langtchen-Kamba, or Upper Sutlej.
The arrival of the stranger caused no slight commotion. At first, the king, unable to believe that a man, not a trader, could undertake such a journey, was somewhat displeased, but after the first interview at which the missionary explained the reason of his coming, both he and the queen showed themselves quite pleased. A religious conviction prompting such deeds of daring did not fail to impress him. Andrade availed himself of this favorable disposition to further the object of his journey of exploration. He became aware that there were no forlorn Christians to be assisted, but a new mission field might be opened among the pagan population of these remote regions. The following document bears witness to the success with which he carried through these initial negotiations. It was given in writing under the king’s seal when probably in the last week of August Andrade was allowed to leave under promise of a speedy return.
We the king of the kingdoms of Potente rejoicing at the arrival in our lands of Padre Antonio Franguim to teach us a holy law take him for our Chief Lama and give him full authority to teach the holy law to our people. We shall not allow that anyone molest him in his and we shall issue orders that he be given a site and all the help needed to build a house of prayer. Moreover we shall give no credence to any malicious accusations of the moors against the Padres because we know that as they have no law they oppose those who follow the truth. We earnestly desire the great Padre to send us at once the said Padre Antonio that he may be of assistance to our peoples.
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