Agostino (Agostinho) Villa, Giovanni (João) (1752–1803); Corrêa Valente, Manoel (1735–1804)
Two autograph letters sent by Lazarist missionaries at Macau to an influential Portuguese noblewoman, the Countess de Redondo, in 1785.
In 1783, at the instigation of Queen Maria I, Portugal introduced a series of measures which were intended to bolster the economic, political, social, cultural and religious situation in its colony at Macau. Among these were the replacement of the fragile military garrison by a company of 150 soldiers from Goa, and the appointment, by the Queen herself, of Alexandre de Gouvea to the Bishopric of Peking (Beijing). Maria proposed that Gouvea should organize a seminary for the formation of the indigenous clergy in the Diocese of Macau, to be under the direction of the Lazarists (Vincentians), whose work in Goa had impressed her. To this purpose, on his journey from Lisbon to Macau Gouvea recruited two Lazarist missionaries at Goa, Father Manuel Corrêa Valente, a Portuguese, and Father Giovanni Agostino Villa, an Italian. On their arrival at Macau in July, 1784, Gouvea handed over to the Lazarists the Seminary of St. Joseph, which had been vacant since the Jesuits left in July, 1762. Father Corrêa was named superior of the Seminary, the repairs and upkeep of which were paid for by the royal treasury of Portugal. Gouvea established the Seminary’s teaching syllabus, which included instruction in the Latin and Chinese languages, theology, rhetoric, moral philosophy, and mathematics. The Seminary was inaugurated on October 1, 1784, with an initial cohort of 8 Chinese students. Under the skilful rule of the Lazarist priests, who had essentially replaced the Jesuit order in China, this Seminary would supply the provinces of Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Honan, and Beijing with missionaries for more than half a century.
The two letters offered here, one by Father Agostino (Agostinho) and the other by Father Corrêa, were both written in the year after their arrival at Macau, during a period known as the Great Persecution of 1784-1785, one of many such turbulent intervals in the history of Christianity in China. Both are addressed to a patron of the Portuguese mission, the Countess de Redondo.
I. Autograph letter signed Si[gnor]o Agostinho Villa, Indegno Sacerd[ot]e. della Com[pa]gne da Missione, dated at Macau, 23 [January?] 1785; addressed All’ Eccelentissima ed Illma Signora La Signora Contessa de Rodondo (sic), Lisbona; manuscript in black ink on laid paper; 2 pp, quarto (250 x 190 mm); in Italian, in a neat hand; marginal staining, small section of old paper restoration resulting in loss at the end of 6 lines, some insect damage affecting a few words on both pages; address panel on outer fold (250 x 90 mm) with remains of red wax seal.
Father Agostino asks the Countess to assist in obtaining permission to establish another seminary in Macau; reports briefly on a visit to Canton and Peking; laments the state of the “Santa Religion” in China, describing the arrest of several members of the Franciscan Order in the province of Oquann and persecution of Christians; and comments on the election of a member of the Propaganda by the King of Spain.
II. Autograph letter signed Mano[el] Corr[ê]a V[alent]e, Indigno Sacerd[ot]e. da C[ompanhia] da Missão, dated at Macau, 23 December 1785; addressed to Illma. Exma Sra. Condessa de Redondo; manuscript in black ink on laid paper; 3 pp, folio (295 x 205 mm); in Portuguese; old paper restoration at margins (loss of a portion of the postscript), else complete and legible.
Father Corrêa reports on the progress of the mission in China, and on marytrdoms and the persecution of the missionaries and the Christians.