The Jesuit Order in the age of religious division
The tour begins in front of the Jesuit Church in Lucerne. It is the oldest baroque church in Switzerland, completed in 1677 and dedicated to St Francis Xavier, who was a co-founder of the Jesuit order.
If you look closely at the ensemble of figures above the main entrance, you will see St Francis Xavier depicted with a Native American converted to Christianity.
You can find out more about this in the audio contribution or in the complete text "The Jesuit Order in the age of religious division".
It is no coincidence that our tour begins in front of the oldest baroque church in Switzerland: the Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier, which was completed in 1677, after less than eleven years of construction. If you look up at the imposing facade, just above the main entrance, you can see a symbolically significant ensemble of figures. It shows a successfully converted Native American, kneeling before an oversized Christian missionary who is holding up a mighty cross towards the sky in his right hand. The scene captures the triumph of faith over supposed faithlessness. The missionary is the Jesuit father Francis Xavier, descendant of a noble Basque family, who was actually named Francisco Javier de Jassú y Azpilcueta (1506-1552). Together with Ignatius of Loyola, it was this Francis Xavier who founded the ‘Society of Jesus’, the Jesuit order, in Rome, in 1534. After the Reformation, which had divided Christianity in Europe into several denominations, the order not only represented an uncompromising reading of Catholicism, it was also an intellectual spearhead in the fight against Protestantism. The Jesuits wanted to contribute to the defense, consolidation and expansion of the Catholic faith in the service of the Pope – in Europe, as well as in the overseas colonies of the Catholic powers Spain, Portugal and France.
Aside from missionary work in Asia and the Americas, or as it was called in those days ‘fishing for souls amongst the faithless and the savages’, the Jesuits were primarily teachers and professors in higher education. In fact, after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), dozens of Jesuit-run educational institutions sprang up across Europe. In 1640 the order maintained well over 500 colleges and 24 universities. One of these colleges had been established in 1577 in the city of Lucerne, a town with only 4,000 inhabitants within the city walls. On the initiative of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo from Milan and the powerful Lucerne mayor Ludwig Pfyffer, the Jesuits were to help preserve the city of Lucerne and the areas under its control as a bulwark of the old faith. From that time onwards, Jesuit teaching dominated the college for almost two hundred years. The power of the Jesuit spell oven Lucerne can be seen from the fact that Francis Xavier was chosen as the patron saint of the Jesuit Church shortly after Pope Gregory XVI had canonized him in 1622. In 1654, the town council of Lucerne followed, electing Francis Xavier patron saint of the city and state of Lucerne. This happened although the Basque Jesuit had never set foot on central-Swiss soil.