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INDIA (NORTHERN) / PAKISTAN / BANGLADESH: Vicariati e prefetture Apostoliche nell’ Indostan.



Extremely Rare – a pair of large-format maps respectively depicting Northern and Southern India, featuring the ecclesiastical divisions of the Roman Catholic on the subcontinent, prepared for the Vatican’s State Secretariat by Girolamo Petri, issued within his monumental atlas, ‘L’Orbe Cattolico ossia Atlante Geografico Storico Ecclesiastico’.

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Provincia Ecclica di Goa e Vicariati Aplici nel Dekkan.

Rome: Tipografia della Reverenda Camera Apolostica, 1858.

This pair of extremely rare, excellent maps respectively showcases both Northern and Southern India, and details the ecclesiastical divisions of the Roman Catholic Church on the subcontinent.  The large-format, finely engraved and beautifully coloured works were prepared by Girolamo Petri, a lawyer who served as a senior official within the Vatican’s State Secretariat, the arm of the Holy See responsible for managing its relationships with foreign powers.  The map appeared within Petri’s monumental atlas of the Church’s worldwide ecclesiastical divisions, L’Orbe Cattolico ossia Atlante Geografico Storico Ecclesiastico Opera del Commendatore Girolamo Petri Officiale minutante della segreteria di Stato (Rome, 3 vols., 1858-9).  Petri was commissioned by the Pope Pius XI (reigned 1846-78), the longest ever reigning pontiff, to create this magnificent atlas during at time when the Church was under siege within Europe, but, conversely, while it had major ambitions for expansion overseas, particularity in Asia and Africa.  The uncommonly beautiful atlas was published in only a very small number of examples for the exclusive use of Cardinals and high-ranking administrators, accounting for the great rarity of its maps today.


From 1557 to the 20th Century, all Roman Catholic operations in India were under the oversight of the ecclesiastical Province of Goa.  The present maps show the various suffragen dioceses, which are each distinguished by their own bright colours, marking their seats, as well as other major towns.  While key geographical features are expressed throughout, the maps are otherwise intentionally rather sparing of detail, so as not to visually detract from their purpose, which is the show the ecclesiastical divisions.


The first map, depicting Northern India, shows the region divided into four dioceses, all subject to the Archbishop of Goa, namely: Agra (embracing most of modern Northwestern India and Pakistan), Patna (roughly Bihar, Nepal and Sikkim), Calcutta (roughly Orissa and modern West Bengal) and ‘Dakka’ [Dhaka] (encompassing modern Bangladesh and Assam).


The second map, of Southern India, depicts a region that possesses an ancient and sophisticated history of Roman Catholicism.  It features Goa, the epicenter of the Church in India, as well as the divisions of 13 dioceses across the region, namely: Bombay (Mumbai / encompassing modern Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra); Pouna (Poona / parts of southwestern Maharashtra); Goa (tightly focused on the eponymous Portuguese enclave); Mangalore (modern coastal Karnataka); Mysore (the interior of Karnataka, consistent with the Princely State of Mysore); Coimbatour (Coimbatore / modern southern Karnataka, western Tamil Nadu); Cochin (Kochi / modern northern Kerala); Quilon (Kollam / southern Kerala); Madura (modern southern Tamil Nadu); Pondicherry (the French enclave, plus modern central Tamil Nadu); Madras (Chennai / northern Tamil Nadu and southern Andhra Pradesh); Hyderabad (modern Telangana); and Vizagapatam (Visakhapatnam / northern Andhra Pradesh, southern Orissa, eastern Maharashtra, parts of Madhya Pradesh).  Additionally the map depicts Ceylon (Sri Lanka), with its two Roman Catholic dioceses, Colombo and Jaffnapatnam (Jaffna); and additionally features a large inset, in the lower-left corner, detailing Gujarat.


A Brief History of Roman Catholicism in India


While Roman Catholics have never accounted for more than 1.5% of India’s population, the Church’s influence on the Subcontinent has often been far greater than this statistic would suggest.  Indeed, Christianity has a long history in India.  St. Thomas the Apostle established the first Christian mission in India near modern Chennai, in 52 AD.  From that time onwards, significant Christian communities were established in what is today Tamil Nadu and Kerala.  While these communities were Syriac Christians (as opposed the Roman Catholics), they eventually came to merge in communion with the Roman Church.  During the Middle Ages several European Christian missionaries visited India, gaining converts to Roman Church.  The Holy See established its first diocese in India, at Quilon (Kollam, Kerala), in 1329.  While Christianity never gained mass appeal in India, it was allowed to survive, as the faith was generally tolerated by local Indian rulers. 


The arrival of Vasco da Gama, in 1498, and the subsequent Portuguese presence throughout coastal India greatly augmented the profile of the Church on the subcontinent.  Goa became the capital of the Portugal’s Asian possessions in 1510, and the Portuguese enabled the Church to establish missions across many regions of India. 


In 1534, Goa became a diocese, overseeing all Roman Catholic activities in India.  In 1557, Goa was elevated to an archdiocese, overseeing all Church operations between Mozambique and Japan.  For most of the next century, the Archbishop of Goa was one of the most powerful figures in Asia, controlling a vast archipelago of missions, as well as sources of astounding wealth.  That being said, the Church’s influence in Northern India was limited by their (and Portugal’s) complex relationship with the Mughal Empire. 


The arrival in India of England and the Netherlands, Protestant colonial powers, beginning in the early 17th Century, removed Portugal’s control over most (but not all) of its possessions in India, severely truncating the presence of the Catholic Church.  That being said, many Roman Catholic communities continued to thrive across the subcontinent, even if they never grew beyond representing a small percentage of the Indian population.  


From the mid-18th Century onwards, as Britain’s East India Company (EIC) progressively gained control over India, Company officials not only tolerated, but often encouraged, the presence of Catholic institutions in their domains, seeing them as a ‘civilizing’ Western influence.  This was in sharp contrast the consistent suppression of the Catholic Church in Metropolitan Britain.  The Archbishop of Goa thus continued to wield significant power on the subcontinent.


During the time that the present map was made, all of the Church’s dioceses in India were still part of the Province of Goa.  Pope Pius IX’s reign saw major improvements in the Church’s relationship with the British Empire, including close partnerships between Raj officials and Church operations in India.  The Church operated many missions, schools and hospitals across the subcontinent.  This presence was generally held in good favour by both colonial officials and locals, especially as Catholics were not sufficiently numerous to threaten the established religious order.  Roman Catholicism occupies much the same role in India to this day, although many different archdioceses have since supplanted the dominance of the Goa’s archbishopric. 


Girolamo Petri: Merging Church and Cartography


Girolamo Petri (1806 – 1871) was an important figure in the administration of the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of Pius IX.  He was born in Onano (Viterbo, Lazio), the son of a Vatican civil servant who subsequently became the Governor of Frascati.  Petri trained as a lawyer and took on many cases for the Church until being appointed, in 1847, to serve as a senior official in the State Secretariat, the curia body that oversaw the Church’s overseas operations.  Petri was a great enthusiast of cartography, and it was only fitting that Pius IX charged him with creating the magnificent atlas, L’Orbe Cattolico, of which the present maps were a part.  In creating the atlas, Petri noted that he drew only upon the “most trusted sources”, including maps from the Vatican archives and overseas dioceses.  The atlas was by far and away the finest ecclesiastical atlas created during the 19th Century, featuring exceptionally beautiful examples of thematic cartography.


A Note on Rarity


The atlas L’Orbe Cattolico is a great rarity – we cannot find any examples of the atlas as having appeared in the market during the last 30 years, although a number of examples have been held in institutional collections since the 19th Century.  Moreover, we cannot find any other examples of either of the present maps in sales or auction records going back three decades, making this pair, covering all of the Indian Subcontinent, a special find.


References: Northern India map: OCLC: 72770268; Southern India map: OCLC: 727702678Cf. [Re: Atlas:] Walter Goffart, Historical Atlases: The First Three Hundred Years, 1570-1870 (Chicago, 2003), p. 427-8; J.A.B. Jongeneel, Philosophy, Science, and Theology of Mission in the 19th and 20th Centuries: A Missiological Encyclopedia (1995), p. 264.

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