Born at Pistoja, Italy, Desideri entered the Society of Jesus in 1700 and went to India in 1712. Together with his companion, Manuel Freyre, he left for Tibet in 1714, starting from Delhi in the Mogul Empire, passing through Kashmir and Baltistan to Ladakh, and finally arriving in Lhasa. Desideri traveled all over Tibet visiting the main Buddhist monasteries and schools, studying the religion of the Tibetans and their sacred books, and writing refutations of their errors as well as treatises on Catholic doctrines (all in Tibetan).
Desideri was not aware that in 1704 Propaganda Fide had entrusted the mission in Tibet to the Capuchin Fathers, and indeed up to 1716 he did not meet any Capuchins in Lhasa. After they arrived there was discussion between the Jesuits and the Capuchins both in Tibet and in Rome on the question of jurisdiction. Rome decided in 1718 to give exclusive rights to the Capuchins, and when in 1721 this was communicated to Desideri by his superior general in Rome, he left Tibet for India. He returned to Rome in 1727, where he later died. Desideri was an excellent scholar and a keen observer, and his Tibetan works are now being published.
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.
- G. Toscano, Opere Tibetane di Ippolito Desideri S.J., 5 vols. (1981ff.); L. Petech, I missionari italiani nel Tibet nel Nepal, pts.5-7 (1954-1956; critical edition of Desideri’s Italian letters and works). See also Augusto Luca, Nel Tibet Ignoto: Lo straordinario di Ippolito Desideri S.J. (1684-1733) (1987).