THE JESUIT CHURCH OF SAN PAOLO
The ruins of the Jesuit Church of San Paolo are not discovered as yet, but should
be situated somewhere within the Portuguese settlement, off the city island in the southern
area at present Tambon Samphao Lom (1). Phraya Boran Rachathanin indicated on his
map drafted in 1926, "Wat Portukes Yesuwid Nikai" (Monastery of the Portuguese
Jesuit Sect) rim the Chao Phraya River (former old Lopburi River).

We find a more or less identical position on
de la Loubère's map published in 1691. As
the river was the major means of transportation in ancient times, the ruins of the church
should be located close to the river bank at par with the Dominican Church. The mound
of
Wat Pho Chai has been thought for decades, as being the location of the Jesuit Church
of San Paolo by scholars, until excavations performed by the Fine Arts Department in
2008 concluded it was a Buddhist monastic site. [1]

Since the early 16th century there were contacts between Portugal and Siam. Portuguese
ships arrived at the port of Ayutthaya and with the time Portuguese merchants,
shipbuilders and soldiers of fortune came to settle. The first Dominican missionaries
arrived in 1567 in Siam. After the Burmese-Siamese war of 1569, new priests arrived
and the Roman Catholic parish grew.

Friar Pedro de Morejon, a Spanish Jesuit, received in 1625 the tasks to seek the release
of some Spanish prisoners held in Siam (See the essay “
Paella and Silk: Spanish
encounters with Ayutthaya”) and to help start a Jesuit mission. His companions were
Friar Roman Nixi, a Japanese, and Friar Antonio Cardim, a Portuguese priest. The latter
had Laos as destination. Fr. de Morejon left Manila in January 1626 and arrived in
Ayutthaya in March. His mission on behalf of the Spanish Governor of Manila was
successful and he returned the same year with the released prisoners. Fr. Nixi took care
of the Japanese in the church they had built, most probably in
the Japanese settlement of
Ayutthaya.

In 1627, a new Superior, Fr. Giulio Cesare Margico, an Italian, was sent to Ayutthaya.
He arrived in August and brought with him a letter from the Governor of the Philippines,
expressing satisfaction at the happy solution of the Spanish incident.

The small Jesuit community came to an end in 1632. Friar Cardim, sick and seeing no
possibility of entering Laos, returned to Manila in 1629. An apostate Christian
calumniated the two remaining Jesuits and had them thrown into prison. The Japanese
came to the rescue of their countryman and freed Friar Nixi. Fr. Margico died in prison
in 1630, poisoned by the apostate. Nixi remained alone with the Japanese and shared
their fortune. During the flood season of September -November 1632, the Japanese
settlement was suddenly attacked at night by the Siamese. Nixi could escape to Nakhon
Sri Thammarat and left Siam. With his departure the first Jesuit residence came to an end.

The founder of the second Jesuit residence was Fr. Tomaso Valguarnera (1608-1677)
from Sicily. He arrived from Macau in 1655 and remained in Siam for fifteen years. In
1663 Friar Cardosa was sent to Ayutthaya to take the place of Fr. Valguarnera as
superior. A Portuguese pilot, Sebastiao Andres, arrived in Ayutthaya around the same
time as Friar Valguarnera and died only seven months later, leaving his property valued at
14,000 “Scudi Romani” to the Society for the foundation of a college. Fr. Valguarnera
executed Andres’ last wishes and founded in 1670 the “Collegio San Salvador”. In 1670
Valguarnera was appointed apostolic visitator of the Japanese and Chinese Provinces,
but returned to Siam in 1675 because the Christians (many Japanese) urgently requested
a priest of the “Society of Jesus”. He built a residence and the San Paolo church in the
Portuguese settlement (2). Valguarnera died there in 1677 and was replaced shortly after
by Mgr. Pallu. The church of San Paolo for the Jesuit sect (locally called Ban Jesuit) was
one of the three parishes set up in the Portuguese settlement; the two others being:
San
Petro for the Dominican sect (locally called Ban Jacobin) and a church for the Franciscan
sect.

The most important member of the Jesuit residence in Ayutthaya after Valguarnera must
have been surely Friar Jean Baptiste Maldonado, from Mons (presently in Belgium). He
was in Ayutthaya from 1673 until 1691 (3), and for many years the Superior. During the
period 1655 - 1709 about thirty other Jesuits passed through the residence. Sixteen of
them were just passing through on their way to China, or having been expelled from
nearby missions. The actual members of the residence were rarely more than four. Most
of the time there were only two. At the beginning of the eighteenth century there remained
only Fr. Gaspar da Costa, and when he died in 1709, there was a period of one or two
years that no Jesuit lived in the residence.

Constantine Phaulkon (4) abjured Protestantism on 2 May 1682 in the Jesuit Church
under influence of the Fr. Antoine Thomas from Namur (presently in Belgium) and Fr.
Jean-Baptiste Maldonado. He converted to Catholicism and sought to promote, perhaps
more for personal political reasons, than religious conviction, the Catholic cause in Siam.
Phaulkon married a few days later Maria Guyomar de Pinha, a catholic of mixed
Japanese-Portuguese-Bengali extraction at this place. [2]

In March 1767 the Portuguese settlement and the
St Joseph church were attacked,
isolated and surrounded by the Burmese. The Christians fought bravely, but they were
few and short of ammunition. The situation being hopeless the Portuguese settlement,
surrendered to the Burmese on 21 March. For two days the churches and property were
protected in order to persuade the French Bishop Brigot with his Christians to surrender.
After the Bishop surrendered on 23 March, the St Joseph church and seminary, as well
as the San Petro and San Paolo churches, were plundered. The catholic priests were
taken prisoners and during the month of May sent to Tavoy in Burma. Towards the end
of May the Jesuit priest fell sick with dysentery and died in Bang Chang near Samut
Songkhram. Bishop Brigot wrote that
“he was buried with the roar of the guns of the
galleys and from the walls of the city, so that he was honored with greater honors
than a Burmese officer.”
And so came to an end the old Jesuit mission in Siam.

Footnotes:

(1) Free translated the "Capsized Junk" sub-district.
(2) The Jesuit Mission of Siam was part of the Province of Japan, and hence depended
on the Provincial who was residing in Macau. The parish of Ayutthaya was part of the
Malacca diocese. This diocese had been erected in 1558 as a suffrage of Goa and was
part of the Portuguese Royal Padroado of the King of Portugal.
(3) During the period 1684 - 1687 friar Maldonado was sent to Cambodia.
(4) Constantine Phaulcon (Konstantin Gerakis) also known as Chao Phraya Wichayen,
came from Cephalonia (at that time a Venetian possession). After working for the English
East India Company he came to Madras and Bantem, arriving in Siam about 1678.
Through his linguistic and trading abilities he entered the service of the Phra Khlang
Kosathibodhi (the brother of Kosa Pan), and in 1683 the service of King Narai. [2]

References:

[0] Most of the text was cited from the document “The Jesuits In Thailand - Part I (1607
- 1767” written by Pietro Cerutti, S.J - www.sjthailand.org.
[1] Blog from Bidya Sriwattanasarn (
http://bidyarcharn.blogspot.com) -
http://siamportuguesestudy.blogspot.com/2010/06/lost-of-ancient-monument-of-jesuites.
html - retrieved 08 June 2010.
[2] Three military accounts of the 1688 "Revolution" in Siam (Jean Vollant des Verquains
- History of the revolution in Siam in the year 1688, Desfarges - Account of the
revolutions which occurred in Siam in the year 1688, De la Touche - Relation of what
occurred in the kingdom of Siam in 1688), Itineria Asiatica - Michael Smithies (2002) -
page 100.
Text and photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - July 2009
(New data added June 2010)
Incorrect position of San Paolo Church - Source:
Picture displayed at Dominican Church site)
The Quest for the San Paolo
A trial by the author to locate the lost
Portuguese church.