Luis de San Vitores
Priest, Missionary, Martyr
November 12, 1627 -
April 2, 1672
Feastday: October 6
Diego Luis de San Vitores (November 12, 1627 – April 2, 1672) was a Spanish
Jesuit missionary who founded the first Catholic church on the island of Guam.
He is responsible for establishing the Spanish presence in the Mariana Islands.
of a nobleman, he was baptised Diego Jerónimo de San Vitores y Alonso de
Maluendo. He was born on November 12, 1627 in the city of Burgos, Spain to Don
Jerónimo de San Vitores and Doña María Alonso Maluenda. His parents attempted to
persuade him to pursue a military career, but San Vitores instead chose to
pursue his religious interests. In 1640, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and was
ordained a priest in 1651. Believing his calling was to serve as a missionary to
non-Christians, San Vitores was granted his request and assigned to a mission in
In 1662, San Vitores, stopped in Guam on
the way to the Philippines and vowed to return. Three years later, through his
close ties to the royal court, he persuaded King Philip IV of Spain and Queen
Maria Ana of Austria to order a mission in Guam be established.
Chamorro named Choco, a criminal from Manila who was exiled in Guam began
spreading rumours that the baptismal water used by missionaries was poisonous.
As some sickly Chamorro infants who were baptized eventually died, many believed
the story and held the missionaries responsible. Choco was readily supported by
the macanjas (medicine men) and the urritaos (young males) who despised the
In their search for a runaway companion
named Esteban, San Vitores and his Visayan companion Pedro Calungsod came to the
village of Tumon, Guam on 2 April 1672. There they learnt that the wife of the
village chief Matapang gave birth to a daughter, and they immediately went to
baptise the child. Influenced by the calumnies of Choco, the chief strongly
opposed; to give Mata'pang some time to calm down, the missionaries gathered the
children and some adults of the village at the nearby shore and started chanting
with them the tenets of the Catholic religion. They invited Mata'pang to join
them, but he shouted back that he was angry with God and was fed up with
Determined to kill the missionaries,
Mata'pang went away and tried to enlist another villager, named Hurao, who was
not a Christian. Hurao initially refused, mindful of the missionaries' kindness
towards the natives, but when Mata'pang branded him a coward, he became piqued
and capitulated. Meanwhile, during that brief absence of Mata'pang from his hut,
San Vitores and Calungsod baptised the baby girl, with the consent of her
When Mata'pang learnt of his daughter's
baptism, he became even more furious. He violently hurled spears first at Pedro,
who was able to dodge the spears. Witnesses claim that Calungsod could have
escaped the attack, but did not want to leave San Vitores alone. Those who knew
Calungsod personally meanwhile believed that he could have defeated the
aggressors with weapons; San Vitores however banned his companions to carry
arms. Calungsod was hit in the chest by a spear and he fell to the ground, then
Hurao immediately charged towards him and finished him off with machete blow to
the head. San Vitores absolved Calungsod before he too was killed.
Mata'pang took San Vitores' crucifix and
pounded it with a stone whilst blaspheming God. Both assassins then denuded the
corpses of Calungsod and San Vitores, tied large stones to their feet, brought
them out to sea on their proas and threw them into the water.
Mission to Guam
in Mexico en route to Guam, San Vitores had difficulty encouraging the Spanish
Viceroy to fund his mission. However, with his close ties to the court San
Vitores was able to secure support for his missionizing campaign. In 1668, Padre
Diego Luis de San Vitores set sail from Acapulco to Guam. San Vitores named the
Chamorro archipelago, "Islas Marianas" (Mariana Islands) in honour of the Queen
Regent of Spain, Maria Ana of Austria, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The
missionary landed on Guam in the village of Hagåtña and was greeted by Chief
Kepuha. Kepuha's family donated land to establish the first Catholic mission on
Guam. On February 2, 1669 Padre San Vitores established the first Catholic
Church in Hagåtña and dedicated it to the sweet name of Mary, "Dulce Nombre de
After Chief Kepuha's death in 1669,
Spanish missionary and Chamorro Nobility relations worsened and the Chamorro -
Spanish War began in 1671 led by Chief Hurao. After several attacks on the
Spanish mission, a peace was negotiated. Though San Vitores chose to emulate
Saint Francis Xavier, who did not use soldiers in his missionization efforts in
India, as his model priest, he recognized that a military presence would be
necessary to protect the priests serving Guam. In 1672, San Vitores ordered
Churches built in four villages, including Merizo. Later that year, Chamorro
resistance increased, led by makahnas and kakahnas (indigenous priests and
priestesses) from the Chamorri (upper caste) who would lose their leadership
position and status under a Roman Catholic mission organisation and
male-dominated Spanish society.
On 2 April 1672, Mata'pang and Hurao
killed San Vitores and his Visayan assistant, Pedro Calungsod. San Vitores had
baptized Mata'pang's newborn daughter without the chief's permission;
Mata'pang's wife consented to the baptism according to some accounts. Some
records state that Mata'pang had believed holy water used in baptism had caused
the recent deaths of babies due to European diseases.
The death of the Spanish mission leader
led to Spanish army reprisals against Chamorro chiefs who had decided to defend
their power from Spanish subjugation. Bounties were offered for these chiefs and
many were hunted down. Under Spanish military governors, Chamorros who were
anti-Spanish were massacred in their villages. European plague and warfare
eventually contributed to the defeat of the anti-Spanish Chamorros. The Chamorro
- Spanish Wars lasted more than 25 years.
Vitores Martyrdom Site is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic
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