" Seeking Cathay Fri Benedict Goes Found Heaven
By DAME UNA POPE-HENNESSY The ancient Chinese • alone among peoples prized jade above all earthly sub stances and since the soil and rivers of their country did not yield sufficient for their use, imported from Khotan, or, as it was called by Chinese merchants, the Kingdom of Jade, the supplies they required.
One of the best accounts of the jade industry in this district was written by a Jesuit, Benedict Goes, who travelling the overland route to Cathay in 1603 was held up for eleven months in this high and desolate region. It is owing to his personal observations that we Know a good deal about the sources from which the Chinese had for some eighteen hundred years drawn their consignments of jade.
Born in the Azores in 1561, Benedict, like the founder of his Order, had once been a soldier. We hear of him fighting in Travancore, preaching in Persia, and then serving as a lay brother with the mission of Father Jerome Xavier at the Court of Akbar in Lahore.
When he planned his journey across the mountains and steppes of Asia, the overland route to Cathay had not been traversed by Europeans for over two hundred years, for once the Mongol dynasty had fallen Europeans were no longer admitted to China.
In so far as possible the sovereigns of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) endeavoured to screen their country from the prying eyes of Western visitors, and for a great many years no Christian mission entered Cathay. The insistence on seclusion was the natural reaction from alien domination and was not due to dislike of Christianity as such.
When we remember that Marco Polo spent eighteen years in China without learning to speak or write Chinese, that the first Franciscan friars preached in the Tartar tongue and were patronised by the Mongolian Court, that the " Venetian powder " which enabled the Mongols to subdue the Southern Sungs was brought to them by the Polos, it is small wonder that the real Chinese when they came back into power should wish to exclude foreigners from their domains.
Entry of the Jesuits As .the Ming rule relaxed under the last eunuch-ridden Emperors of the dynasty a few Europeans found their way into China from trading settlements like Macao and from ports in the Moluccas and Japan. St. Francis Xavier's gallant attempt to reach Cüia 4 end, pylis death in 1552, but oilier lesuits" arrived there between 1580 and 1590, and in 1601 Father Matthew Ricci succeeded in establishing a mission in Peking.
The Jesuits recommended themselves to the Imperial Court as astronomers and as the Chinese were intensely interested in planetary calculations and based on them much of their worship they were received with the honour due to wise men the world over.
Travelling in Disguise
It was to • join Father Ricci in Peking that Benedict Goes made his adventurous journey overland. It was carefully planned and he was well qualified by his knowledge of Persian and his familiarity with Mohammedan customs to carry out the enterprise.
Adopting the role of an Armenian merchant and calling himself Abdulla Isai (Servant of the Lord, the Christian) he was accompanied by a priest Leo Grimanus, a merchant called Demetrius, and an Armenian servant, Isaac, who was to prove himself the most faithful of the three.
Provided with passports and four hundred golden coins by Akbar, and with unspecified " wares " from Western India by the Viceroy, Benedict Goes set forth on the road to Cabul. He took pains to look his part, for it was a bearded man dressed in turban, gown, sash and wearing a scimitar, who mounted his horse and rode at the head • of his train of packbearing animals towards the Khyber Pass..
Father Ricci was informed that Goes had left Lahore on the 6th of February 1603 and might be expected in Pekin in a year or perhaps two years' time.
A Present of Jade Arrived at Cabul the merchant found himself delayed for eight months waiting for a caravan to be made up for Yarkand.
During his long detention there arrived from the Mecca pilgrimage the sister of the King of Kashgar whose son was Lord of Khotan. Having run short of money this Princess appealed to the merchants for help, promising to repay any loan with ample interest.
Alive to this wonderful opportunity of winning favour in Khotan Benedict Goes promptly lent her six hundred pieces of gold and refused her bond to repay the loan with interest. He seems to have been impressed that a woman could " for the sake of her blasphemous creed " undertake " the immense journey to Mecca " and it is possible that as they travelled the road to Yarkand they may have talked together of religion.
When the caravan reached its destination the Princess repaid her debt, but not in money for she chose to bestow on the Armenian merchant the most profitable merchandise, it was possible to convey to China—jade, the hard stone so highly esteemed among the Chinese that its purest quality was worth more than fine gold.
The Road to Cathay
The Cabul caravan went no further than Yarkand and there a fresh caravan had to be assembled for the journey on to Cathay.
Though the route thither was well known and had been in constant use for nearly two thousand years, it as not safe for travellers, and an escort for which some merchants paid as much as two hundred bags of musk was provided by the king. The commander of the escort was invested with royal authority over the merchants composing the caravan for whose well being he was held responsible.
Benedict Goes who reached Yarkand in November 1603 found himself marooned there for nearly a year. Leo Grimanus did not stay, but took his place in a caravan returning to Cabul; Demetrius, however, remained on in Yarkand and found the mart there so favourable that he arranged to go no further afield. The long delay at Yarkand gave Benedict Goes plenty of time and opportunity to enquire into the principal industries of the country which he found to be jade-fishing and jadequarrying. The account he gives of the value set on jade at that time is very interesting. He speaks of it as " lumps of a certain transparent kind of marble which we from poverty of language usually call jasper." All the jade consigned from Yarkand to China had first to be submitted to the inspection of the Emperor of Cathay and only after he had taken his pick was it permitted to dispose of the remainder by private treaty. The profit on transactions in jade was so great that it amply compensated for all the fatigue and expense of the journey.
Description of Jade " These marbles," he says, " are called by the Chinese Jusce .(yu she). There are two kinds of it; the first and more valuable is got out of the river of Cotan (Khotan), not far from the capital, almost in the same way that divers fish for gems, and this is usually extracted in .pieces about as big as large flints. The other and inferior kind is excavated from the mountains; the larger masses are split into slabs some two ells broad and then these are reduced to a size adapted for carriage (in other words to a camel load). That mountain is some twenty days journey from this capital. . . .
The extraction of these blocks is a work involving immense labour owing to .the hardness of the substance as well as to the remote and lonely position of the place. They say that the stone is sometimes softened by the application of a blazing fire on the surface. The right of quarrying here is also sold by the King at a high price to some merchant, without whose licence no other speculators can dig there during the term of the lease. When a party of workmen goes thither they take a year's provisions along with them, for they do not usually revisit the populated districts at a shorter .interval." (Hakluyt, Series II, xli.).
Work of the Apostolate During his long stay in Yarkand Benedict Goes must have seen the jade-fishers setting out on their yaks for the river-beds in the mountains by which they camped. It was an hereditary trade and experienced waders could distinguish by their feet the precious boulders from the other rocks that strewed the bottom of the stream.
He must also have visited the shops of the jade-carvers in which Buddhas were made, for he talks of " vases," " brooches," and " artistically sculptured flowers and foliage which have an effect of no small magnificence."
At Yarkand too, he must have mvtaled himself to be a teacher of religion, for writing in February 1604 to Father Jerome Xavier he said there was much excitement in that city of one hundred and sixty mosques owing to the presence within its walls of a Rumi who did not follow the law of Islam.
Somehow the King's vizier had caught sight of the breviary and cross he carried about with him, and had awoken his master's curiosity by describing them. Benedict was ordered to produce these possessions at a royal audience Having inspected the breviary the King commanded Benedict to read a passage aloud from it.
Opening the book at a venture he read the anthem for Ascension Day, Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in Coelum, he then spoke with deep emotion of the ascended Saviour and ended by reading aloud the fiftieth psalm.
The King wished to examine the cross which is described as " elegantly painted on gilt • paper nt and enquired to what' quarter the Christians turned in prayer.
'To all," said Benedict, " for God is everywhere."
He then proceeded to instruct the King in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, whereupon the King exclaimed " Surely it is a Mullah who is speaking! "
The Journey's End
Thankful in the autumn of 1604 to be allowed to continue his journey, Benedict bought a string of horses for himself, his servants, and his loads of jade.
After travelling with the official caravan for over six months he, getting tired of their long halts, decided to hurry on with his servants to China.
Returning merchants told him that they had been entertained by the Jesuit mission in Pekin, and of the good standing of the priests with the Emperor to whom they had presented a clavichord, clocks and pictures.
Seized with eagerness to join his brethren, Benedict journeyed on to the Great Wall of China, passed through the Jade Gate and then rode into the walled city of Soochow.
Here he was detained by Chinese officials .and became almost a prisoner. Learning that he was but four months' distant from his destination he despatched letters to Father Ricci begging him for advice and help to continue his journey.
His letters did not reach Pekin till the autumn of 1606, and then Father Ricci lost no time in sending off a native convert to Soochow. A native, he decided, was more likely than a European to get through to this distant Chinese city. Before leaving Peking the convert, John Ferdinand, was coached to say a few sentences of greeting in Portuguese, for this it was felt would inspire Benedict Goes with confidence that the Chinaman was no false guide.
Like a Miracle
John Ferdinand reached Soochow in March 1607. By this time Benedict had lost hope of help from the mission. He had been ill for some time, there was no one to doctor him, he could not speak Chinese, he had been cheated of his money, and had had to sell the best of his jades in order to keep himself alive. It was like a miracle when a Chinaman appeared by his bedside and spoke to him in his native tongue.
The joy of the greeting was so overwhelming that though unable to rise from his bed he began to intone the Nunc Dimittis in a strong voice.
But John Ferdinand had come too late. " Seeking Cathay," as a contemporary said, " Benedict Goes found Heaven."
Writing shortly before his death to Father Ricci he said that he had gone for years without Confession or Absolution.
" I am dying without this consolation and yet how great is God's goodness, for He does not allow my conscience, to be disturbed with anything of moment in the review of my past life."
The painted cross carried by Benedict and the " letters patent " he had received from Father Jerome Xavier are preserved in the Jesuit Church at Pekin. Three years after the death of this brave Christian adventurer Father Ricci also died and his was the first body to occupy the new Catholic cemetery presented to the mission by the Ming Emprzor Wan Li.