1562  — 1607

Bento de Goes

Bento de Gois

First Jesuit missionary to cross Asia en route to China.

De Goes was a native of Villa Franca do Campo in the Azores. As a young solider in India, he visited a chapel along the Travancore coast and decided to enter the Society of Jesus as a coadjutor brother. He studied Persian and accompanied Jerome Xavier to visit Akbar (r. 1556-1606), the Mogul ruler in Agra, in northern India, There the Jesuits, interested in a land route from India to China via central Asia, learned that a Muslim merchant had recently traveled overland to Khanbaliq (Peking), the capital of Cathay.

With letters of introduction from Akbar, de Goes and several companions joined a caravan that left Agra in October 1602, crossed the Pamirs (the high altitude region in the northwest corner of India), and reached Yarkand (now Shache), in western Sinkiang, which was then the capital of the kingdom of Kashgar. With a new caravan, he went on to Aksu and Sucha (Kuqa) in November 1604. At Yen-ch’i (Yanqi) he met a Muslim merchant who had lived with Matteo Ricci in a hostel for foreigners in Khanbaliq. Convinced that Cathay and China were identical, Goes and a few companions went on their own via Turfan (Turpan) and Hami and entered Suchow (now Jiuquan), Kansu (Gansu) Province, in late 1605. In reply to a letter from de Goes, Ricci sent a Jesuit brother, Chung Ming-li, who arrived less than two weeks before de Goes died.


This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.


  • De Goes’s letters are listed in Carlos Sommervogel, Bibliotheque de la Compagnie de Jesus, 12 vols. (1890-1932), 3:1529-1531. The original account of the trip, in Italian, is in Pasquale M. d’Elia, ed., Fonti Ricciane, 3 vols. (1942-1949), 2:391-445. Henri Bernard, Le Frere Bento de Goes chez les Musulmans de la hlaute Asie, 1603-1607 (1934); Vincent Cronin, The Wise Man from the West (1955), pp. 236-256 (repr. 1984, pp. 226-245); L. Carrington Goodrich, “Goes, Bento de,” in L. Carrington Goodrich and Chaoying Fang, eds., Dictionary of Ming Biography, 2 vols. (1976), 1:472-474; Cornelis Wessels, Early Jesuit Travellers in Central Asia, 1603-1721 (1924), pp. 1-41.

About the Author

John W. Witek

Associate Professor of East Asian History, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., USA