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MYANMAR CATHOLIC CHURCH FOUND IN HISTORICAL RECORDS (1287-1900)
By Monica – Res paper
The most ancient sign of Christianity in Myanmar can be found on the mural painting of Roman and Greek crosses inside Kyansittha cave in Bagan which had been established during the time of Bagan Dynasty (9-13 AD). Nestorians were among the Mongol soldiers who had marched into Bagan in 1287 AD. Basing on this mural it can be said that Christians had set foot on Myanmar soil ever since the end of 13th century.
King Min Bin from Rakhine had employed Portuguese soldiers and erected Myuk U or Myo Haung fortress. There were Portuguese mercenary soldiers under the King Tabinshwehtee. They were being accompanied by some Jesuits for their spiritual assistance.
Philip de Brito, a Portuguese, reached Rakhine in 1599 and served the King Minrazagyi. He had been delegated by the King to occupy Than Hlyin with guards. He did not fail to offer annual tribute to the Kings of Rakhine and Taungngu. He built a church at Than Hlyin for his conferrers and raised Catholicism. The priests were the Jesuits.
In 1613, King Mahadamaraza conquered Than Hlyin, executed de Brito and deported the prisoners of war to Ava. The Catholic prisoners and their descendents were known as “Bayingyi”.
In 1721, Fr. Sigis Mondo Calchi, a Barnabite together with Fr. Giuseppe Vittoni arrived from Italy and began their mission in Pegu and Ava. King Taninganwe of Ava, in 1723, invited Fr. S. Calchi to his imperial city, Ava. Fr. S. Calchi’s report, after the audience with the king, to his Superior General in Italy reads;
After giving permission to build churches and to preach the Word of God, His Majesty had helped us with donations to build the church. The King wished to have contact especially with the Pope. He desires other missionaries and men expert in the arts of painting, weaving cloths, making glass, astronomers, mechanics, geographers, etc. Please send us some of your subjects who are good, well-disciplined, chaste and mild ….
When Fr. S. Calchi passed away in 1728, Fr. Pio Gallizia and Fr. Giorgio Rosetti came from Italy to continue the mission. King Taninganwe allowed them to construct a church and a school at Than Hlyin. Fr. P. Gallizia was nominated as Bishop in 1743. He was consecrated in Italy and returned to Myanmar bringing some more missionaries together with him. Wars waging among the feudal lords hindered them from reaching the Bayingyi villages in upper Myanmar. Not to waste the time they presented an Italian-made watch, with Myanmar words inscribed on the dial, to Thamainhtaw, King of Pegu. In 1745, Bishop P. Gallizia and his co-workers had been assassinated due to misunderstanding.
Fr. Paolo Nerini and Br. Angelo Cappello in Than Hlyin obtained the authorization from Banyadala to build a school and a dispensary. Fr. P. Nerini built a church and a school and Nicolas de Aquilar, an Armenian trader had donated the expenses. Next to the school was the boarding house. Peguans, Burmans, Armenian and Portuguese boys totaling about forty students had been admitted. Latin, Arithmetic, Geography and Nautical sciences were among the syllabus modeled after the Barnabite high schools in Europe. Than Hlyin, at the then an important sea port was the reason to train the students in navigation. Latin was the classic literature and Portuguese was the commercial language of Europe. Therefore, the curriculum could be considered as the most updated of the time.
In 1767, Fr. Giovanni Percoto founded a school at Monhla for teaching. The construction had been assisted by Chevalier Millard, French Captain of the King’s bodyguard. The school embraced about 150 students including the poor and some orphans.
To their Superior General in Italy Fr. G. Percoto wrote, “If we send four boys to Rome to be instructed, the voyage and everything would cost us more than what we request you to maintain and instruct one hundred”.
King Sinphyushin invited Fr. G. Percoto to teach the royal pages. No less important than Latin, the classical literature of Europe was Portuguese, the commercial language of the Far East. For this reason, it can be said that the royal youths had been already accessed to an education of international standard since 18th century.
Bishop G. Percoto, in 1773, sent Fr. Melchiorre Carpani to Rome to cast Myanmar alphabets and do the printing. In his letter to the Prefect of Propaganda Fide he wrote, “I will send through Fr. M. Carpani, Myanmar Primer Books, translated manuscripts and also rules, practice and conduct of Buddhist monks”.
Fr. M. Carpani arrived at Rome in 1776 and engraved Myanmar types in lead by the help of Propaganda Fide press. Under his supervision Myanmar Fundamental Grammar had been published, not only the first Myanmar Grammar to be printed but was the first printed book in Myanmar. This work introduced the Europeans to Myanmar literature, alphabets, culture and traditions. ##