In the middle years of the 16th century, when this gentleman, Ignatius de Loyola, founded the Jesuit Order, the more venerable Augustinians (founded in the 5th Century), Benedictines, (in the 6th) and Franciscans (in the 13th) already had a long-established lock on many of the activities of the Roman Catholic Church.
Opportunities in Europe being limited, the Jesuits sought to grow their power and influence by turning to the Evangelization of the Orient and the New World – and they quickly became known for their willingness to go anywhere, and suffer extreme privation, to propagate The Faith.
This is a painting of one of those intrepid Jesuits of the period. Not quite what you'd expect of a priest, is it?
By 1541, they were established in India.
By 1551 there were making inroads into Japan.
And in 1554, the Jesuit priests Manuel de Nóbrega (on the stamp above) and José de Anchieta (in the portrait below) were able to celebrate mass in their newly-constructed collegio.
This is how it looks today:
And it is now situated in the heart of this city, modern São Paulo:
Half a century later, in 1606, the first of South America’s remarkable Jesuit missions was constructed across the border in what is now Paraguay.
It was a remarkable success.
And similar establishments soon sprouted up throughout the region.
Referred to by the priests as “indian reductions” (reducciones de indios), because they reduced the amount of land occupied by the Guarani Indians and drew the tribesmen into settlements where they could more easily be converted, taxed and governed, the missions grew and flourished.
Jungle utopias or theocratic regimes of terror?
That depended upon whom you were talking to.
The Guarani undoubtedly benefited to a certain extent, because the Jesuits protected them from colonists who were always trying to enslave them.
But, it’s questionable if they wouldn’t have been much better off if both the colonists and the Jesuits had never come at all.
The Guarani were natural craftsman, and soon became skilled in construction and artistic techniques. The interior above is an actual interior from one of the few churches surviving from that time.
And here you have it, photographed from the outside.
Over the course of the next 180 years, the Guaranis and their Jesuit mentors generated a rich heritage of churches, religious sculptures and paintings.
But, in time, the royal governments back in Europe began to perceive the missions as an impediment to progress. They cared less about the propagation of the faith than they did about exploiting the land and its resources. And they wanted to exploit it for them, not for the greater glory of the Roman Catholic Church.
Ultimately, the Jesuits were forced to abandon the lands ruled by Spain and Portugual.
For more in-depth information about how it came about, go here:
After the Jesuits left (1767) the missions slowly died out, becoming victims of slave raids or being absorbed into European society.
Some have continued to be inhabited as towns.
Most have been abandoned and remain only as ruins.
The feature film The Mission, with Robert de Niro, gave Hollywood’s version of the story back in 1986.
And won a prize at Cannes.
If you’ve never seen it, you might enjoy watching the trailer:
The waterfalls behind two of the scenes are at Iguaçu, a place I’ve written about earlier here on our blog:
Leighton – Monday