Born in Spinazzola in Puglia, Italy, Ruggieri was a civil lawyer in the government of Philip II, king of Naples. Upon entering the Society of Jesus in 1572, he changed his given name, Pompilio, to Michele. He volunteered for the missions in Asia, was ordained a priest in Lisbon in 1578, and a few weeks later left for Goa, India. Alessandro Valignano, the superior of all the Jesuit missions in Asia, set down a new policy of inculturation of Christianity in Asia and assigned Ruggieri to Macao to study the Chinese language and customs. Arriving in 1579, Ruggieri impressed Chinese merchants during short trips to Canton with his ability to speak Chinese, and succeeded in making contacts with Chinese officials. Matteo Ricci joined him in Macao, and with the permission of the governor general, they built a residence and a church at Chaoch’ing (Zhaoqing), Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province, in 1583. This was the first Catholic mission site in China since the medieval period. Two years later Ruggieri founded a mission in Chekiang (Zhejiang) Province, and in 1587 he did the same in Hukwang (Huguang) Province (area today embraced by the four provinces of Huhei, Hunan, Guangdong, and Guangxi). He composed the first Catholic catechism in Chinese and worked with Ricci in compiling a Portuguese-Chinese dictionary. The recently published Chinese poetry he composed reflects a mature grasp of the language.
In 1588 Valignano sent Ruggieri to Rome to propose that a papal embassy be sent to the emperor to obtain his permission to preach Christianity in China. The death of four popes in quick succession prevented Ruggieri from accomplishing that goal. In poor health even when in China, Ruggieri remained in Italy and died at Salerno.
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.
- Michele Ruggieri, T’ien-chu shih-lu (True Record of the Lord of Heaven) (1584).
- Henri Bernard, Aux portes de la Chine (1933) and Le Pere Mathieu Ricci et la societe chinoise de son temps, 2 vols. (1937), 1:33,47,59, 78, 88, 95, 127.
- Albert Chan, “Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) and His Chinese Poems,” Monumenta Serica 41 (1993): 129-167.
- Pasquale M. d’Elia, ed. Fonti Ricciane, 3 vols. (1942-1949), 1:147, 174-177, 264.
- George H. Dunne, Generation of Giants (1962), pp. 18, 28, 48.
- Eugenio Lo Sardo, ed., Atlante della Cina di Michele Ruggieri, S.J. (1993).