While visiting friends in Singapore last summer, we all decided to drive into Malaysia for a day. We navigated our way to the city of Melaka and explored for the afternoon, which happens to be my favorite way to travel. No plans, no guidebooks, just exploring.
As we wandered around, we were drawn to an old building at the top of a hill. Through reading signs at the site and researching later, I learned that it was St. Paul’s Church, originally built in 1521, and rebuilt in 1566.
The ruins of St. Paul’s church stand at the summit of St. Paul’s hill near the remains of A Famosa fortress. The site was originally occupied by the “Chapel of the Annunciation”, which was built in 1521 by Duarte Coelho in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for saving his life in the South China sea. In 1548 the Archbishop of Goa in India handed over the church to the Jesuits, who began renovating it in 1566. The present building was completed in 1590, with the tower on the right side of the sacristy added in 1593.
The church is renowned as the place where the body of Francis Xavier, the pioneering Catholic missionary of Southeast Asia, was laid to rest for a period of eight months after his death at sea (from arch 22nd, 1553 to December 11th, 1553). The open grave in the church, now covered by a wire mesh, marks the place of Francis’ temporary burial.
Xavier had been an active missionary in the Maluku region of Indonesia from 1546-47. His work there paved the way for permanent missions in the years to come. Afterward, Xavier continued his missionary activities in Japan. He was such a success that the Catholic Church considers him to have converted the most number of people to Christianity since Saint Paul.