1577  — 1628

Nicolas Trigault

Jesuit missionary in China, the first European to see the Nestorian monument of 781.

Trigault was born in Douai, Belgium, where he entered the Society of Jesus in 1594. He prepared himself for the missions by studying mathematics, astronomy, and geography. In 1607 he left Lisbon for Goa, India, and reached Macao by 1610. After some time in Nanking (Nanjing) for language training, he went to Peking (Beijing) to assess the state of the mission there. Appointed mission procurator to go to Rome to explain the needs to the pope and Jesuit superiors, he left Nanking in 1612 and embarked from Macao early the next year. Reaching Cochin, India, he made his way overland to Goa. He entered Rome at the end of 1614. He received papal approval for priests to recite the breviary and with covered heads to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in Chinese. He published a Latin translation of a history of Christianity in China written in Italian by Matteo Ricci.

After traveling extensively in Europe to get support for the China mission, Trigault returned to Macao in Ju1y 1619. He established a mission in K’ai-feng (Kaifeng) and in 1624 a mission in Shensi (Shaanxi) Province, where he was the first European to see the Nestorian monument of 781. Four years later he died in Hangchow (Hangzhou).


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.


  • Nicolas Trigault, De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas suscepta a Soc. Jesu ex P. M. Riccii commentariis libri V (1605), Vita Gasparis Barzei Belgae e Societate Iesu B. Xaverii in India Socii (1610), China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci, 1583-1610, Louis J. Gallagher, tr. (1953), De Christianis apud Japonios triumphis (1623), and Xiru ermu zi (Vocabulary by tones for Europeans), 3 vols. (1626). See also J. Dehergne, Repertoire des Jesuites de Chine de 1552 a 1800 (1973), pp. 274-275; G. Dunne, Generation of Giants (1962), pp. 162-182; L. Polgar, Bibliographie sur l’histoire de la compagnie de Jesus, 1901-1980 (1990), vol. 3, pt. 3, p. 572.

About the Author

John W. Witek

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