St. Joseph's Church is located off the City Island, in the south area at Tambon
Samphao Lom. The church is situated on the south bank of the Chao Phraya River,
bordered by Khlong Takhian in the west and Wat Phutthaisawan in the east. It was the
center of the Vicariate Apostolic of Siam for a whole century (1666-1767).
The "Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith" (1) sent three Apostolic
Vicars, Monseigneur Pierre Lambert de la Motte, from the "Société des Missions
Etrangères de Paris" (2) shortened MEP, accompanied by the Fathers Jean De
Bourges and Deydier, to carry out missionary work in China and Indochina (3). The
group left Marseilles on 26 November 1660 and reached Mergui in Siam 18 months
later (4). They arrived in Ayutthaya on 22 august 1662.
The bishop and the two fathers went to stay in the Portuguese settlement of Ayutthaya; in
their mind a temporary stopover on their long trip to Cochinchina. Because of the
persecution raging in Cochinchina, it turned out to be for Mgr. Lambert de la Motte his
permanent residence. They were welcomed by ten Portuguese and one Spanish priest,
serving the local Christian community at that time estimated at 2.000 souls.
Unfortunately for the French priests the relations with the Portuguese missionaries
already resident in Siam were to deteriorate. The "Padroado" (5) in Lisbon ordered the
Portuguese priests in 1662 not to recognize the authority of the "Propaganda Fide".
Priests of the "Propaganda" were to be prevented from reaching their mission, and if
possible seized and sent to Lisbon. The Archbishop of Goa, as well as any missionary,
even non-Portuguese but depending on the "Padroado" system, had to look on the
newcomers as intruders and usurpers of the legitimate religious authority. The MEP
priests were considered to have been sent by the "Propaganda Fide" to break the
monopoly of the Portuguese "Padroado" (6). This situation obliged the French
missionaries to leave the Portuguese settlement and they went to stay in the
Cochinchinese settlement. 
On 27 January 1664 the other Apostolic Vicar Mgr. François Pallu, Bishop of
Heliopolis, M. Laneau, M. Haingues, M. Brindeau and a lay assistant M. De Chameson
Foissy arrived in Siam and joined Mgr. Lambert in Ayutthaya after 24 months overland.
The two bishops, five priests and one lay assistant organized a synod the same year. The
assembly planned to institute an apostolic congregation composed of three orders and
this congregation would be named "La Congrégation des Amantes de la Croix" (The
Lovers of the Holy Cross) and decided to publish the instructions to the Apostolic Vicars
given by "Propaganda Fide". The group decided also to issue "Instructions to
Missionaries" and agreed to establish a seminary.
Two years after arriving in Ayutthaya the two French bishops felt that Siam with its
policy of religious tolerance was a most convenient base for their (persecuted) missions
of Cochinchina, Tonkin and China. They asked Rome for jurisdiction over Siam and
officially requested the establishment of a seminary to King Narai on 25 May 1665, with
the aim of educating Asians so that they could be ordained and work locally in their
The Siamese King granted the French bishops a large spot near the Chao Phraya River
in the Cochinchinese quarter called "Ban Pla Het" in 1665. In 1665-1666 they built a
seminary in Ayutthaya, (the "Seminary of Saint Joseph", later renamed the "Seminary
of the Holy Angels") with the approval of the king. King Narai requested that ten
Siamese students be incorporated in the seminary in order to learn European knowledge.
Otherwise, the students of the seminary came from Goa, Macao, Cochinchina and
The first hospital at the "St. Joseph Settlement" was founded by Mgr. Lambert in 1669
and was supervised by Mgr. Laneau. The same year Rome approved, after long
consideration, the request by the bishops for jurisdiction over Siam through the papal bull
"Speculatores". The transfer of the jurisdiction of the Siam mission from the head of the
Malacca Diocese to the Vicar Apostolic of Siam embittered the opposition of the
"Padroado" still more. It was very difficult for the missionaries of the "Padroado" (read
the Iberians) to accept the rights to superiority of these Apostolic Vicars (read the
French). Conflict and controversy between the two parties arose. In 1672 the
Archbishop of Goa finally admitted that the Kingdom of Siam was outside his
jurisdiction, but continued to claim that the Portuguese settlement, being "Portuguese
land", was still under his jurisdiction. 
In 1673 King Narai granted another piece of land and offered assistance in building the
wooden St. Joseph's Church. The relations of the French missionaries with the court
were excellent. The Siamese King based his reliance on France in a reaction to contain
the growing influence of the Dutch.
The two bishops, Msgr. Lambert and Msgr. Pallu, were given the right by Rome to
nominate the Vicar Apostolic of Siam and nominated Mgr. Louis Laneau. The latter was
consecrated bishop on 25 March 1674 with the title "Bishop of Metellopolis".
The fruit of evangelization was although very small. In the year 1674, there were about
600 Siamese Catholics. That year the "Church of the Immaculate Conception" in
Samsen district of Bangkok was built. The Christians of other nationalities such as
Portuguese, Annamite, and Japanese were more numerous.
In 1675, Mgr. Louis Laneau, nominated Vicar Apostolic of Siam, became superior of
the seminary. In 1680, the seminary moved to a larger location in Maha Pram (Amphur
Bang Ban), also near Ayutthaya, and was named the "Seminary of the Holy Angels".
By order of the General, the Jesuits of Ayutthaya made their submission to the Vicar
Apostolic in 1681. Among the Portuguese Christians a deep antipathy remained against
the French missionaries, an antipathy still deeply felt in the first half of the nineteenth
century among the Portuguese Christians of Bangkok. 
Nicolas Gervaise arrived in Siam on 4 July 1682. He studied theology and the Siamese
language at the seminary. He returned to France in 1685. Between 1685 and 1695 the
original wooden church was rebuilt in bricks in European style.
At the death of King Narai in 1688, disaster occurred. King Narai's attitude towards
Christianity made the French misunderstand that there was hope of converting both the
King and the whole country to Christianity. Phra Petracha, Commander of the Elephant
Corps, on hearing that King Narai nominated his daughter Yothathep as regent on 10
May 1688, executed immediately a long-planned coup, initiating the 1688 Siamese
revolution. Petracha had strong nationalistic feelings and opposed the disembarking of
French troops in Bangkok and Mergui (7). With an anti-French attitude King Phetracha
ousted the French forces from Siam and persecuted all the Christians. Mgr. Laneau and
his missionaries were taken hostage by the Siamese, as guarantors for the execution of
the retreat agreement negotiated between the French and the Siamese. As the French
General Desfarges failed to respect several elements of the agreement, the bishop and
half of the seminary were imprisoned by the Siamese. Mgr. Laneau had his palace out of
the town plundered, and was himself in custody into the "Court of the Royal
Magazines" (8) . This persecution however, was more political than religious.
Catholicism was proscribed as being identified with the French. The Portuguese and
Dutch do not appear to have been molested. 
Mgr. Louis Laneau was released in August 1690 and the activities of the seminary could
resume in 1691. The bishop was able to resume his missionary work until his death in
1696. He was then succeeded by Bishop Louis Champion de Cicé (1700-1727). 
Another persecution occurred during the reign of King Taisra (1709-1733). The
missionaries were forbidden to leave the capital and to use the Thai or Pali language in
their religious teachings.
In October of 1730 a new Phraklang, supported by a brother of the King, started a real
persecution. It suffocated every possibility of apostolate. In October 1731 it reached its
climax when the Phraklang placed a stone inscription at the entrance of the St. Joseph
Church with four prohibitions on it: Forbidden to write Christian books in English or Pali
language, forbidden to preach Christianity to the Siamese, Laotians or Peguans,
forbidden to admit any of these nationalities to become Christians and to say anything
disparaging of Buddhism. With such prohibitions it was a simple matter during the
following thirty years for any anti-Christian official to make trouble for Christians and
missionaries. Moreover, the end of 1743 and the beginning of 1744 saw further
persecution continuing. 
During the inroads of the Burmese in 1766 the Siamese king appealed to Bishop Pierre
Brigot for help against the common enemy. The Christians destroyed the stone with the
King’s prohibitions. The French settlement became a bastion and refuge for fleeing
Christians, growing into a considerable garrison.  In March 1767 the Portuguese
settlement and the St Joseph seminary were isolated and surrounded by the attacking
Burmese. The French settlement fought bravely, but they were few and short of
ammunition. On 21 March, the Portuguese settlement surrendered to the Burmese. For
two days their churches and property were protected in order to persuade Bishop Brigot
with his people to surrender. After parlaying with the Burmese General and being
promised safety and protection for all persons and property, the bishop surrendered on
23 March. The church and seminary, as well as the Jesuit and Dominican churches, were
nevertheless plundered. The houses near the church were burned down. The fire spread
to the church and seminary which were both reduced to ashes. Bishop Pierre Brigot and
all the missionaries together with their Christians and seminarians were taken prisoners.
During the month of May they were brought toward Tavoy in Burma. 
In 1831 Father Jean-Baptist Pallegoix began restoration of the church, which was
completed in 1847. More additions in the Romanesque style were made during the
tenure of Father René-Marie-Joseph Perros during the reign of King Rama V.
The St. Joseph Church is not very remarkable in architecture, but stands brightly at its
location along the Chao Phraya River. The main interest of the church is its religious
history. The church has been a place of continuous Catholic worship in Thailand for over
300 years. Hundreds of Christians and many of the missionary priests serving them, were
buried at the local churchyard.
(1) The "Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith" (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide - shortened "Propaganda") was the
congregation of the Roman Curia responsible for missionary work and related activities, founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV's bull Inscrutabili Divinae,
with the double aim of spreading Christianity in the areas where the Christian message had still not arrived and defending the patrimony of faith in those
places where heresy had caused the genuineness of the faith to be questioned. Propaganda Fide was therefore, basically, the Congregation whose task it
was to organize all the missionary activity of the Church. At the time of its inception, the expansion of colonial administrations was coming to be largely in
Dutch and English hands, both Protestant countries intent on spreading these religious doctrines and Rome perceived the very real threat of Protestantism
spreading in the wake of commercial empire. (Ref: www.mv.vatican.va retrieved on 19 July 09)
(2) The creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was initiated when the Jesuit Father Alexandre de Rhodes obtained in 1650 an agreement by Pope
Innocent X to send secular priests and bishops as missionaries to the Far East. Alexandre de Rhodes received in Paris in 1653 a strong financial and
organizational support from the "Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement for the establishment" of the "Paris Foreign Missions Society". He found secular
clergy volunteers in Paris in the persons of François Pallu and Pierre Lambert de la Motte and later Ignace Cotolendi, the first members of the Paris Foreign
Missions Society, who were sent to the Far-East as Apostolic vicariate. Due to the strong opposition of Portugal and the death of Pope Innocent X the
project was stalled for several years however, until the candidates to the missions decided to go by themselves to Rome in June 1657. On 29 July 1658, the
two chief founders of the "Paris Foreign Missions Society" were ordained as bishops in the Vatican, becoming Mgr. Pallu, Bishop of Heliopolis, Vicar
apostolic of Tonkin, Mgr. Pierre Lambert de la Motte, Bishop of Berytus, Vicar Apostolic of Cochinchina. The Society itself ("Assemblée des Missions")
was formally established by the "Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement" in 1658. Its creation coincided with the establishment of the French East India Company.
(3) On 9 September 1659, the Pope defined the territories they would have to administer: for Mgr. Pallu, Tonkin, Laos, and five adjacent provinces of
southern China, for Mgr. Lambert de la Motte, Cochinchina and five provinces of southeastern China.
(4) In the midst of this conflict, when the first missionaries of the MEP started their trip to Asia, they could not, of course, think of taking the normal route by
sea from Lisbon as did missionaries of the "Padroado", but went overland through Syria, Persia and India. Portugal would have refused to take
non-Padroado missionaries by ship, and the Dutch and the English refused to take Catholic missionaries.
(5) The traditional colonial powers of Spain and Portugal had initially received from the Pope an exclusive agreement to evangelize conquered lands, a
system known as "Padroado" in Portuguese and "Patronato" in Spanish. After some time however, Rome grew dissatisfied with the "Padroado" system,
due to its limited means, strong involvement with politics, and dependence on the Kings of Spain and Portugal for any decision.
(6) Doubts were raised by Rome regarding the efficacy of religious orders, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans or Jesuits since they were highly vulnerable
in case of persecutions, and were also poorly capable of developing a less-vulnerable local clergy. Sending bishops to develop a strong local clergy seemed
to be the solution to achieve future expansion.
(7) In 1687 a French expeditionary force to Siam took possession of Bangkok and Mergui, and France came close to possess an Indochinese empire.
(8) Mgr. Louis Laneau of the Society was involved in these events, and was imprisoned for two years with half of the members of the Seminar.
 A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Thailand (2002) - Fr. Surachai Chumsriphan.
 The Jesuits In Thailand - Part I (1607 - 1767) by Pietro Cerutti, S.J.
 The History of Japan 1690-92 by Engelbert Kaempfer.
 A History of Siam - W.A.R. Wood (1924) - Chalermnit Press.
 www.newadvent.org - retrieved 19 July 2009.
 www.catholic-hierarchy.org - retrieved 19 July 2009.
 Discovering Ayutthaya - Charnvit Kasetsiri & Michael Wright (2007) - page 171/173.
|The Vicar Apostolic of Siam 
Louis Laneau, M.E.P. † (4 Jul 1669 Appointed - 16 Mar 1696 Died)
Louis Champion de Cicé † (19 Jan 1700 Appointed - 1 Apr 1727 Died)
Jean-Jacques Tessier de Quéralay † (1 Apr 1727 Succeeded - 27 Sep 1736 Died)
Jean de Lolière-Puycontat, M.E.P. † (28 Aug 1738 Appointed - 8 Dec 1755 Died)
Pierre Brigot, M.E.P. † (8 Dec 1755 Succeeded - 30 Sep 1776 Appointed, Vicar Apostolic of Verapoly)
|Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - July 2009
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Williams-Hunt Aerial Photos Collection
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