Part 1 - Part 2

Today we only see the restored remains of the Phra Si Sanphet temple. It takes a lot of imagination to get an idea of the once beautiful complex with all its richness. Who better to describe the royal temple and its contents than the western visitors of that time. Below you will find the travel log of three visitors.

Guy Tachard

Guy Tachard (Marthon 1651 - Chandernagor 1712), also known as 'Le Père Tachard,' was a French Jesuit missionary and mathematician. He was sent on two French embassies to the Kingdom of Siam by Louis XIV. The text hereunder is an account of his visit to Wat Phra Si Sanphet on his first visit to Siam from October till December 1685. Guy Tachard's "A Relation of the Voyage to Siam" was initially published in 1688. Orchid Press (Bangkok) reprinted the old book under its "Iteneraria Asiatica", a series of reprints of books containing first-hand descriptions and narratives by travellers in Asia.

The Ambassador had been told so, much of the Pagod of the Palace, and of the Idols that are in it, that he had a great mind to see them and seeing in everything they were ready to please him, a proper day was pitched upon, when they might be all shown to him at leisure, about eight a clock in the Morning he was conducted to the Palace, where the Lord Constance expected him. Having crossed over eight or nine courts, we came at length to the Richest and most celebrated Pagod of the Kingdom.

It is covered with Calin, which is a kind of a very white Metal betwixt Tin and Lead, with three Roofs one over another. At the door of it, there is on the one hand a Cow, and on the other a most hideous Monster. This Pagod is pretty long, but very narrow, and when one is within it, there is nothing to be seen but Gold. The Pillars, Walls, Ceiling and all the Figures are so well gilt, that, all seem to be covered with plates of Gold. The building, is pretty like to our Churches, and supported by thick Pillars. Advancing forward within it you find a kind of Altar upon which there are three or four Figures of beaten Gold near about the height of a Man some of them stand, and others are sitting cross-legged after the manner of the Siamese. Beyond that there a kind of Quire, where they keep the richest and most precious Pagod or Idol of the Kingdom, for that is a name given indifferently to the Temple or the Idol that is within it.

That Statue is standing and the head of it reaches up to the Roof. It is about five and forty foot high and seven or eight broad but what is most surprising, it is full of Gold. Of the bigness it is, the Mass of it must needs contain above an hundred picks of that Metal, and be worth at least twelve Millions fix hundred thousand Livers. They say that this Prodigious Colossus was cast in the same place where it stands, and that afterwards they built the temple over it. It cannot be comprehended, where those people otherwise poor enough could find so much Gold but it must needs touch one to the quick to see one single Idol richer than all the Tabernacles of the Churches of Europe. At the sides of it there are several others less but of Gold also and enriched with precious Stones. However this not the best built Temple of Siam. It is true there are none that have any Figures of so great value, but there are Several that have greater proportion, and Beauty and one amongst others which I must here give a description of. [1]

Francois-Timoleon de Choisy

Francois-Timoleon de Choisy (1644-1724 CE) was the fourth and last son of Jean III of Choisy, Lord of Balleroy. He became an abbot at a young age and led a colourful life as a transvestite named "Mademoiselle de Sancy". After visiting Rome, he fell ill in August 1683 CE, decided to change his life and retired a year at the seminary. In 1685 CE, he accompanied the Chevalier de Chaumont on a mission to Siam, where he was ordained as a priest. He was admitted to the Académie Française in 1687. He received various ecclesiastical preferments and became dean of the chapter of the cathedral of Bayeux from 1697 CE till 1699 CE. He devoted the last twenty years of his life to the writing of his memoirs and his voluminous History of the Church (1703-1723 CE). Hereunder is his account of a visit to Wat Phra Si Sanphet on 30 October 1685.

Then, after having walked a lot, we arrived at the King‘s pagoda. When I went in I thought I was in a church. The nave is supported by tall thick columns, without architectural decoration. The columns, walls, vault, everything is gilded. The choir is closed off by a kind of heavily decorated rood-screen. Above the screen are three idols or pagodas (you know that 'pagoda' can be both the name of a temple and of an idol) of solid gold, as high as a man, and seated in the fashion of the country. They have diamonds on their forehead, fingers, and navel.

The image on the left on entering is the most esteemed. It is the image of their God, who lived 2,000 years ago in the island of Ceylon it was moved to several countries and finally was taken by a King of Siam. The monks say this image sometimes goes for excursions outside the palace, but the desire to do so only comes when one can see nothing. The choir is small and very dark there are at least fifty lamps continually lit there.

But what will surprise you is that at the end of the choir is an image in solid gold, that is to say gold poured into a mould. It may be forty-two feet high by thirteen or fourteen feet wide, and three inches in thickness. It is said there is 12,400,000 livres of gold here. We also saw in other parts of the pagoda seventeen or eighteen figures in solid gold, as high as a man, most having many diamonds on their fingers, emeralds and some rubies on their foreheads and their navels. These images are without doubt of gold we touched and handled them, and although we only got to within five or six feet of the big statue, without touching it, I think it is made of gold like the others to the eye it seemed the same metal.

In addition to these there were more than thirty idols with golden vestments. I have not mentioned the three idols twenty-five feet high, nor the 150 or more of ordinary height, for they only had two or three layers of gold. l only saw two made of silver, and a few in copper. There were also some two feet high, made of a mixture of gold and copper, more brilliant than gold, which is called tambac. I do not find this as beautiful as they make out it is perhaps the electrum of Solomon. I also noticed several trees, whose trunks and leaves were of gold the work is very delicate, and is the tribute which most kings dependent on the King of Siam send
. [2]

Nicolas Gervaise

Nicolas Gervaise (1662/3-1729 CE) was the son of doctor de Fouquet, superintendent of finance and already, at a young age, a volunteer for foreign missions. He left for Siam in 1681 CE. Gervaise studied theology at the College General in Ayutthaya. In 1686 CE, he left the "Société des Missions Etrangères" and returned to France with two sons of the ruler of Makassar, Sultan Fakhruddin Abdul Jalil. On his return, Gervaise started as a parish priest in the diocese of Vannes and became canon of St. Martin of Tours and provost of Suèvres. Much later, he proposed evangelising in the lands around the Orinoco River he was nominated Bishop of Horren and invested in Rome around 1723 CE. The Carib Indians killed Gervaise on 20 November 1729 CE in a branch of the Orinoco River called the Aquira. Hereunder is a detail of Gervaise’s book describing Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

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. [3]


[1] Tachard, Guy (1685). Voyage to Siam. Orchid Press, Bangkok (1999). pp. 180-1.

[2] Choisy, Abbé de. Journal of a Voyage to Siam, 1685-1686. Edited by Michael Smithies. Oxford University Press, 1993. pp. 175-6.

[3] Gervaise, Nicolas (1688). The Natural and political History of the Kingdom of Siam. Translated and edited by John Villiers. White Lotus (1998).

Part 1 - Part 2