On Monday, 25 July 1583 (N.S.), the village of Cuncolim in the district of Salcete, territory of Goa, India, was the scene of the martyrdom of five religious of the Society of Jesus: Fathers Rudolph Acquaviva, Alphonsus Pacheco, Peter Berno, and Anthony Francis, also Francis Aranha, lay brother.
Rudolph Acquaviva was born 2 October, 1550, at Atri in the Kingdom of Naples. He was the fifth child of the Duke of Atri, and nephew of Claudius Acquaviva, the fifth General of the Society of Jesus, while on his mother’s side he was a cousin of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Admitted into the Society of Jesus 2 April, 1568, he landed in Goa 13 September, 1578. Shortly after his arrival he was selected for a very important mission to the court of the Great Mogul Akbar, who had sent an embassy to Goa with a request that two learned missionaries might be sent to Fatehpir-Sikri, his favourite residence near Agra. After spending three years at the Mogul court, he returned to Goa, much to the regret of the whole Court and especially of the emperor. On his return to Goa, he was appointed superior of the Salcete mission, which post he held until his martyrdom.
Alphonsus Pacheco was born about 1551, of a noble family of New Castile, and entered the Society on 8 September, 1567. In September, 1574, he arrived in Goa, where he so distinguished himself by his rare prudence and virtue that in 1578 he was sent to Europe on important business. Returning to India in 1581, he was made rector of Rachol. He accompanied two punitive expeditions of the Portuguese to the village of Cuncolim, and was instrumental in destroying the pagodas there.
Peter Berno was born of humble parents in 1550 at Ascona, a Swiss village at the foot of the Alps. After being ordained priest in Rome, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1577, arrived in Goa in 1579, and was soon appointed to Salcete. He accompanied the expeditions to Cuncolim, and assisted in destroying the pagan temples, destroyed an ant-hill which was deemed very sacred, and killed a cow which was also an object of pagan worship. He used to say constantly that no fruit would be gathered from Cuncolim and the hamlets around it till they were bathed in blood shed for the Faith. His superiors declared that he had converted more pagans than all the other fathers put together.
Anthony Francis, born in 1553, was a poor student of Coimbra in Portugal. He joined the Society in 1571, accompanied Father Pacheco to India in 1581, and was shortly afterwards ordained priest in Goa. It is said that whenever he said Mass, he prayed, at the Elevation, for the grace of martyrdom; and that on the day before his death, when he was saying Mass at the church of Orlim, a miracle prefigured the granting of this prayer.
Brother Francis Aranha was born of a wealthy and noble family of Braga in Portugal, about 1551, and went to India with his uncle, the first Archbishop of Goa, Dom Gaspar. There he joined the Society of Jesus, 1 November, 1571. Being a skilled draughtsman and architect, he built several fine chapels in Goa.
These five religious met in the church of Orlim on the 15 of July, 1583, and thence proceeded to Cuncolim, accompanied by some Christians, with the object of erecting a cross and selecting ground for building a church. Seeing an opportunity of doing away with these enemies of their pagodas, the pagan villagers, after holding a council, advanced in large numbers, armed with swords, lances, and other weapons, towards the spot where the Christians were. Gonçalo Rodrigues one of the party, levelled his gun, but Father Pacheco stopped him, saying: “Come, come, Senhor Gonçalo, we are not here to fight.” Then, speaking to the crowd, he said in Konkani, their native language, “Do not be afraid”. The Pagans then fell upon them; Father Rudolph received five cuts from a scimitar and a spear and died praying God to forgive them, and pronouncing the Holy Name. Father Berno was next horribly mutilated, and Father Pacheco, wounded with a spear, fell on his knees extending his arms in the form of a cross, and praying God to forgive his murderers and send other missionaries to them. Father Anthony Francis was pierced with arrows, and his head was split open with a sword. Brother Aranha, wounded at the outset by a Scimitar and a lance, fell down a deep declivity into the thick crop of a rice-field, where he lay until he was discovered. He was then carried to the idol, to which he was bidden to bow his head. Upon his refusal to do this, he was tied to a tree and, like St. Sebastian was shot to death with arrows. The spot where this tree stood is marked with an octagonal monument surmounted by a cross, which was repaired by the Patriarch of Goa in 1885.
The bodies of the five martyrs were thrown into a well, water of which was afterwards sought by people from all parts of Goa for its miraculous healing. The bodies themselves, when found, after two and a half days, allowed no signs of decomposition. They were solemnly buried in the church of Our Lady of the Snows at Rachol, and remained there until 1597, when they were removed to the college of St. Paul in Goa, and in 1862 to the cathedral of Old Goa. Some of these relics have been sent to Europe at various times. All the bones of the entire right arm of Blessed Rudolph were taken to Rome in 1600, and his left arm was sent from Goa as a present to the Jesuit college at Naples. In accordance with the request of the Pacheco family, an arm and leg of Blessed Alphonsus were sent to Europe in 1609. The process of canonization began in 1600, but it was only in 1741 that Benedict XIV declared the martyrdom proved. On the 16th of April, 1893, the solemn beatification of the five martyrs was celebrated at St. Peter’s in Rome. It was celebrated in Goa in 1894, and the feast has ever since then been kept with great solemnity at Cuncolim, even by the descendants of the murderers. The Calendar of the Archdiocese of Goa has fixed 26 July as their feast day.
Along with the five religious were also killed Gonçalo Rodrigues, a Portuguese, and fourteen native Christians. Of the latter, one was Dominic, a boy of Cuncolim, who was a student at Rachol, and had accompanied the fathers on their expeditions to Cuncolim and pointed out to them the pagan temples. His own heathen uncle dispatched him. Alphonsus, an altar-boy of Father Pacheco had followed him closely, carrying his breviary, which he would not part with. The pagans therefore cut off his hands and cut through his knee-joints to prevent his escape. In this condition he lived till the next day, when he was found and killed. This boy, a native of either Margao or Verna, was buried in the church of the Holy Ghost at Margao. Francis Rodrigues, who was also murdered, used to say, when he was reproached by the fathers for slight faults, that he hoped to atone for them by shedding his blood as a martyr. Paul da Costa, another of those who died at the hands of the pagans, was an inhabitant of Rachol, and had been distinguished by his desire of dying for the Faith. Speaking of these fifteen courageous Christians, Father Goldie says:
For reasons which we have now no means of judging, the Cause of these companions of the five Martyrs was not brought forward before the Archbishop of the time, nor since then has any special cultus, or the interposition of God by miracle, called the attention of the Church to them. But we may hope that their blood was in the odour of sweetness before God.