Padroado Conflicts and the New Society of Jesus in 19th Century Madurai

6 min readFeb 7, 2024

Dr. Wei Jiang

Image: M. Kumaresan

Padroado conflicts and Goan schisms

The royal patronage (Padroado in Portuguese) emerged gradually since the fifteenth century as a series of agreements between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Portugal on the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and management of its metropolitan territory and, most significantly, of the overseas lands occupied and annexed by the Lusitan empire. As the Portuguese power gradually faded in Asia, the Padroado system appeared as anachronistic and inefficient, and was challenged ever more by the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fide, namely, the missionary department established by the Holy See in 1622. However, the Padroado was staunchly defended by many communities throughout South Asia. Quite interestingly, these were not only people directly connected with Portugal, but also a range of rather native groups with complex relations with the Luso-Asian history. In the Catholic sources, written in Latin, Portuguese, Italian, French, and English, the defence of the Padroado jurisdiction was often labelled by authors of Roman loyalty as the “Goan schism” or “Portuguese schism”. During the nineteenth century, three Concordats were signed between the Holy See and Portugal, respectively in 1838, 1857, and in 1886, leading to a gradual hand-over of churches from the Padroado jurisdiction to the one of Propaganda Fide. These decisions triggered extensive contention among local Catholics, who resisted in various forms, ranging from minor complaints to a final schism.

Already in the seventeenth century, the Portuguese Padroado and its defenders such as the Portuguese bishops and the Society of Jesus, came into jurisdictional clashes with other European institutions, such as the Spanish patronato, the Roman Congregation of Propaganda Fide, and the Missions Etrangères de Paris and alike.

However, thanks to new means of transportation and communication in the nineteenth century, discussions in public media multiplied in metropolises such as Bombay, Madras, and Colombo, extending also to Portuguese India. Moreover, Lisbon and Rome received by now frequent petitions from pro-Padroado communities in places that appeared remote from a European perspective, such as Tuticorin and Mannar. The modern facilities made possible the creation of Associations of Padroado partisans in the above-mentioned metropolises, and even the dispatch of a delegation to Europe in 1887, undertaken by a physician from Bombay called Pedro Manuel Lisboa Pinto (1587–1598), aimed at retaining the Padroado jurisdiction in British India and Ceylon.

The New Society of Jesus and literature on the Padroado conflicts

With the restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814 after the universal suppression of 1773, the Jesuits could aim to resume the missions they had throughout the world, including South Asia from 1834. However, the New Society of Jesus was re-established in India under new institutional conditions. It was no longer subject to the Portuguese Padroado, but rather acted under the supervision of the Pontifical Congregation of Propaganda Fide. Two Jesuit missionaries played a special role in the discussions on the overcoming of the Padroado, namely the English William Strickland and the Italian Lorenzo Puccinelli (1819–1872). In 1853 Mons. Anastasius Hartmann (1803–1866), a Swiss Capuchin who was Apostolic Vicar of Patna and Administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Bombay, sent the Italian confrere Ignazio Persico (1823–1895) to Rome, so as to promote a revision of the Concordat of 1838 and further limit the Portuguese jurisdiction in the British colonial territories. Persico’s mission found a manifesto in the book, also published in 1853, under the title The Goa Schism: Being a Short Historical Account of the Resistance Made by the Indo-Portuguese Clergy to the Institution of Apostolic-Vicariates in British India. This work was a collaboration between Persico and William Strickland, a Jesuit who had been sent from England to the Madurai mission in 1847. Both authors shared personal experience that they had with the “schismatic priests” in the two Missions. Persico later also published an Italian memoir, calling public attention to the Indo-Portuguese schism.

In the same year of 1853, the Jesuit Lorenzo Puccinelli, belonging to the Madurai Mission, published in Rome three memoirs collected under the title Lo scisma Indo-Portoghese al giudizio degli Imparziali. Puccinelli, based in Tuticorin, had been an experienced missionary on the frontline of the local competition with the Padroado priests on the Fishery Coast. He was sent to Rome in 1852 to report on the unruly Goan priests troubling the Madurai Mission. In Rome he became secretary of the Apostolic Vicar of Verapoly, the Discalced Carmelite Luigi di Santa Teresa Martini (1809–1883), assisting in the discussions on the Catholics in Malabar and their petitions for native bishops. Puccinelli also participated in the Portuguese-Vatican negotiations that led to the Concordat of 1857. In the following decades and until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jesuits in Madurai mission had to deal with a puzzling development of the earlier Padroado unrest, in the form of an unprecedented expansion of Syrian Christianity, through a rather unique Latin branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Independent Catholics and the Jesuit Madurai Mission

In 1888, the pro-Padroado community of the Church Our Lady of Good Death in Colombo, together with communities in Mannar in northern Sri Lanka, declared the establishment of an Independent Catholic Mission, separating from the Roman Catholic jurisdiction then under the Archbishopric of Colombo. In the meantime, this new mission entered the jurisdiction of Archbishop Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvares (1836–1923), an excommunicated Goan Catholic priest who had joined the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malabar. By doing so, Alvares gave origin to an Oriental Orthodox community following the Latin rite, while the Independent Catholic Mission became part of the history of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, by then still ruled from the Anatolian monastery of Mardin by the Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrian Orthodox. Alvares and his fellow Goan priest Luis Mariano Soares (c. 1858–1903) embarked on an ambitious evangelical expansion, moving from the first mission centres in Colombo and Mannar, towards parishes in Bombay, Travancore, and Madras previously entrusted to the Padroado jurisdiction. Their advancement threatened both the local Jesuits, as well as the Anglican ministers of the Church Mission Society, who reported to Rome and London respectively, complaining of the proselytism promoted by the “Goan schismatics” or “Jacobites”, derogatory labels imposed upon Alvares and Soares.

The French Jesuits of the Madurai mission collected meticulous information on the Independent Catholic missionaries. Accordingly, Soares and his fellow priests had constant legal disputes with the Jesuits at Manapad, Periyathalai, Uvari, Kootapuly, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli (especially in a locality called Velappaty), and Dindigul (especially in Muttakapatti), the last of which became a center of Soares’ missionary networks in the Tamil land. Many of these missions had a long history of Padroado conflicts since the early nineteenth century. For instance, in 1853 Dindigul was reported to have 12, 000 Christians, one fourth of which followed the schismatic Goan priest Soares. He had under his possession “three of the largest and the best churches, which were formerly built by the Jesuit missionaries, and which were made over to the present Fathers by the Christians on their return to the country in 1838” (William Strickland, 1852). The Dindigul case shows that the success of Alvares and Soares in Madurai was dependent on the legacy of the local resistance to the Propaganda missionaries since the return of the New Society of Jesus to Madurai in 1838.

About the Author:

Dr. Wei Jiang holds a PhD in historical research awarded by King’s College London and works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Kunsthistorisches Institut, University of Zurich. Her research interests include Early Modern Catholicism in East Asia, canonisation and iconography, and Catholic Independent movements in South Asia. She is about to publish a monograph on “True Catholicism” in Colonial South Asia: The Independent Catholics in Ceylon and India in the late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, forthcoming in 2022).