WAT PHRA SRI SANPHET BY NICOLAS GERVAISE
Extract of Nicolas Gervaise's "Histoire Naturelle et Politique du Royaume de Siam", originally published in 1688. White Lotus (Bangkok) published an
English translation of the old book with the title "The Natural and political History of the Kingdom of Siam" with an introduction by John Villiers.
Text by Tricky Vandenberg
January 2012
Nicolas Gervaise was born in 1662 or 1663 in Paris (Department Seine). He
was the son of doctor de Fouquet, superintendent of finance and already at young
age a volunteer for foreign missions. He left for Siam on 19 January 1681 (1).

Gervaise studied theology at the
College General in Ayutthaya and studied at the
same time the Siamese language. In one of his letters dated 20 November 1684
he requested to have sent his clerical title in order to be ordained priest. It is
believed he did not received priesthood in Siam. [1]

In 1686 (2), he left the “Société des Missions Etrangères” and returned to France
with two sons of the ruler of Makassar (Eastern Indonesia), Sultan Fakhruddin
Abdul Jalil [Tumenanga-ri-Lakiung] of Gowa (1677-1709) on a ship of the
French East-India Company.

On his return, Gervaise started as a parish priest in the diocese of Vannes (3),
became canon of St. Martin of Tours and provost of Suèvres (department Loir-
et-Cher). [1]

Much later he proposed to evangelize in the lands around the Orinoco River; he
was nominated Bishop of Horren and invested in Rome around 1723. Gervaise
was killed by the Carib Indians on 20 November 1729 in a branch of the
Orinoco River called the Aquira. [1]

The text here under is an extract of Gervaise’s book and gives a description of
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet. Given the details he describes, he should have got the
opportunity to visit the monastery during his stay in Siam.
The pagoda in the palace in the capital city contains such riches that all foreigners who see it are amazed. At the back of the temple is an image of
pure gold that is forty-two feet high, even though it is seated with legs crossed in the Siamese fashion. It was made on the spot and the pagoda
where it is now worshipped was not built until after it had been put in place.

During the most recent wars fought against the Siamese by the Peguans they cut off one of its arms and, had it not been so heavy, they would
have happily carried off the whole of it Siamese piety made sure that this outrage done to their god was soon put right, but unfortunately the gold
that was used to make the new arm is much paler than that of the rest of the body, and this difference greatly diminishes the beauty of the image.

There are also other smaller images, some made of solid gold and others of silver, and more than a hundred much smaller ones covered with
gold-spangled robes and with fingers and toes laden with diamond rings. The lamps and the chandeliers that light this temple and all the objects
used in the cult of the deity who is worshipped there are also of the finest gold to be found anywhere in the Indies.


Footnotes:

(1) In the introduction in Ref 2 is mentioned that he was already an ordained priest, which was certainly not yet the case at his young age; and that he went to
Siam with Mgr François Pallu, bishop of Heliopolis in 1683, what was likely also not correct. Some sources state that Gervaise arrived in Siam on 4 Jul
1682.
(2) Date of return to France changed to 1686 instead of 1685 as in Ref. 1. The two Makassar princes went to France after the revolt of the Makassar on 14
September 1686. Year confirmed in the introduction of Ref 2.
(3) A commune in the Morbihan department in Brittany in north-western France. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Vannes was erected in the 5th century.

References:

[1] http://archives.mepasie.org/notices/notices-biographiques/gervaise - data retrieved 23 January 2012.
[2] The Natural and political History of the Kingdom of Siam - translated and edited by John Villiers - White Lotus (1998) - page 184.
(Pagode de Siam - by Jan Luyken, book illustrator of the
Amsterdam Museum for Guy Tachard)