Tibet: the Jesuit Century


Between 1624 and 1721, on five different occasions Jesuit explorers made their difficult and perilous way to Tibet. They had no experience of others to guide them, and no maps. They experienced hardships and dangers that test even modern mountaineers, with all their sophisticated equipment.

The first of these was Antonio de Andrade, who, in 1624, set out from Agra in India and from northern India and Srinagar attained the Mana Pass, where he became the first European to look down upon the plains of Tibet. He then proceeded on to Tsaparang, where other Jesuits followed and established a residence. In 1661 the Austrian Jesuit Johannes Grueber and the Belgain Albert d'Orville, searching for and overland route from China to India, were the first Europeans to reach Lhasa. The expedition of Jesuits Cacella and Cabral (from Cochin in south India to Shigatse, seat of the Panchen Lama) followed in 1626. Finally, and most importantly, came the journey in 1716 of the Italian Jesuit Oppoloto Desideri to Lhasa and the Potala, the seat of the Dalai Lama. For five years he lived with the Tibetans and studied their religion, language, and custom.

Author: Philip Caraman, S.J.

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