Pope Francis I, Akbar the Great, and the Jesuits

Painting of Akbar the Great with the Jesuits
Painting of Akbar the Great and the Jesuit missionaries

The Jesuits, members of a religious order of Christianity founded in the 16th century, have entered the public spotlight after the election of Pope Francis I, himself a Jesuit. In reading more about the their philosophy, I stumbled across an interesting story about one of their missions to the court of Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire.

The best account of the Jesuits’ visit to Akbar’s palace in India comes from Pierre Du Jarric, who wrote the book Akbar and the Jesuits. Du Jarric (1566-1617) was a French priest of the Jesuit order. Although he was never able to travel as a missionary he compiled the tales of Jesuit missions throughout the world. He was a professor of philosophy and theology at Bordeaux (Source: Gorgias Press).

According to an blurb, the contents of Akbar and the Jesuits describe the various Jesuit missions that visited India during the reign of Akbar (1566-1605) to propagate the gospel. The narrative of this work is based entirely on the letters and reports written by the fathers while on service with the missions. The original book was published within six to nine years after the death of Akbar. This publication is an English translation. You can read parts of Akbar and the Jesuits on Google Scholar.

The most interesting part of the mission is documented in an article from the Economic Times, which notes:

Akbar’s Church, built in the late 16th century, demolished in the mid 17th and finally rebuilt in 1772, stands as a tribute to the secular spirit of the Emperor it is named after. The original structure here was built by early Jesuits who began preaching at a time when the spirit of tolerance was its acme under Akbar, for whom a new religion would have been of immense interest given his open-mindedness to new ideas.

The website of the Archdiocese of Agra, India adds:

Akbar’s Church built in 1598 was the first Catholic Church of Agra and it was the Cathedral of Agra till 1848. The Church was built by the Jesuit Fathers under Akbar’s order. It was a gift from the Mughal Emperor Akbar. In this Church the Mughal Emperors came to pray, especially Jahangir. Emperor Jahangir finding the Church built by his father, Akbar too small, donated a large sum of money for a larger and more beautiful Church to be built.

The act of bridge building as seen in the Jesuit mission to Akbar’s court can serve as an example of the power of interfaith dialogue for Pope Francis I. I hope he enters his papacy in a similar spirit of tolerance as the Jesuit missionaries and Akbar the Great.

Akbar receives the Jesuit's
Akbar receives the Jesuits

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