1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Monte Corvino, Giovanni di

MONTE CORVINO, GIOVANNI DI (c. 1247–1328), Franciscan missionary, traveller and statesman, founder of the earliest Roman Catholic missions in India and China, and archbishop of Peking. In 1272 he was commissioned by the emperor Michael Palaeologus, to Pope Gregory X., to negotiate for the reunion of Greek and Latin churches. From 1275 to 1289 he laboured incessantly as a missionary in the Nearer and Middle East. In 1289 he revisited the Papal Court, and was sent out as Roman legate to the Great Khan, the Ilkhan of Persia, and other leading personages of the Mongol world, as well as to the “emperor of Ethiopia” or Abyssinian Negus. Arriving at Tabriz, then the chief city of Mongol Persia, and indeed of all Western Asia, Monte Corvino moved down to India to the Madras region or “Country of St Thomas,” from which he wrote home, in December 1291 (or 1292), the earliest noteworthy account of the Coromandel coast furnished by any Western European. He next appears in “Cambaliech” or Peking, and wrote letters (of Jan. 8, 1305, and Feb. 13, 1306), describing the progress of the Roman mission in the Far East, in spite of Nestorian opposition; alluding to the Roman Catholic community he had founded in India, and to an appeal he had received to preach in “Ethiopia” and dealing with overland and oversea routes to “Cathay,” from the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf respectively. In 1303 he received his first colleague, the Franciscan Arnold of Cologne; in 1307 Pope Clement V. created him archbishop of Peking, and dispatched seven bishops to consecrate and assist him; three only of these arrived (1308). Three more suffragans were sent out in 1312, of whom one at least reached East Asia. A Franciscan tradition maintains that about 1310 Monte Corvino converted the Great Khan (i.e. Khaishan Kuluk, third of the Yuen dynasty; 1307–1311): this has been disputed, but he unquestionably won remarkable successes in North and East China. Besides three mission stations in Peking, he established one near the present Amoy harbour, opposite Formosa. At his death, about 1328, heathen vied with Christian in honouring him. He was apparently the only effective European bishop in the Peking of the middle ages.

The MSS. of Monte Corvino's Letters exist in the Laurentian Library, Florence (for the Indian Epistle) and in the National Library, Paris, 5006 Lat.—viz. the Liber de aetatibus', fols. 170, v.-172, r. (for the Chinese). They are printed in Wadding, Annales minorum (A.D. 1305 and 1306) vi. 69–72, 91–92 (ed. of 1733, &c.), and in the Münchner gelehrte Anzeigen (1855), No. 22, part iii. pp. 171–175. English translations, with valuable comments, are in Sir H. Yule's Cathay, i. 197–221. See also Wadding, Annales, v. 195–198, 199–203, vi. 93, &c., 147, &c., 176, &c., 467, &c.; C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, iii. 162–178, 206–210; Sir H. Yule, Cathay, i. 165–173.  (C. R. B.)