Visit almost any Church or Christian house in Goa, and you're certain to find an image of the state's patron saint , Francis Xavier, known locally with considerable affection as Goencho Saib.

He was born on April 6, 1506. The sixth and the last child of Dr. Joao de Xavier and Maria d'Aspilcueta at the Xavier castle in Navarre, Spain.

In his late teens he left for Paris, received his licentiate in 1528. Touched by the inspiring words of Jesus placed forth to him by Ignatius Loyola "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he looses his own soul ?". He promised to serve Jesus in poverty and chastity. Xavier along with seven other young priests, took their vows at Montmartre in 1534, to be founder members of the evangelical Society of Jesus(Compana de Jesu), later known as the Jesuits. He was ordained at Venice in 1537 with Ignatius and four other Jesuits, went to Rome in 1538, and in 1540 (the year the Pope formally approved the Society of Jesus)
Statue of St. Francis Xavier at the Basilica, Old Goa

Around this time, reports were reaching the Lisbon court of the dissolute lifestyle being led by Portuguese expatriates in Goa. The King, Dom João III ( 1521 - 1557), appealed to the Jesuits for help to reverse this moral decline, and when one of the original candidates fell ill, Francis Xavier was asked to lead the mission. He and his delegation arrived a year later, on May 6, 1542, and immediately set to work saving the souls of Goa's wayward colonials.

A new institute named college of St. Paul had been established in Goa for the priestly formation of local candidates. Francis was requested to hold the rectorship of this college; but his heart was longing for the souls who had never a chance to listen to the message of Jesus.

On December 3, 1552, he died of a fever while trying to sneak into China. In death Francis Xavier was as remarkable as he was in life. His body was buried on the deserted island of Sancian, near the mouth of the Canto River, coated with quicklime to hasten its decomposition. However, when the grave was reopened three months later, the corpse was in perfect condition. Reburied in Malacca, it was exhumed again after five months and found to be still incorrupt.

The arrival of Xavier's body in Goa, in March 1554, was greeted by a vast and euphoric crowd. But the church would not formally acknowledge the miracle until a medical examination had been carried out by the viceroy's physician to ensure the corpse had not been artificially preserved. The medic declared the skin firm and the intestines intact, then asked a Jesuit priest to stick his finger into a hole in the chest. When the finger was withdrawn, it was smeared with blood that was "smelt and found to be absolutely untainted".

Saint Francis Xavier was eventually canonized in 1622 and his body installed in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, but not before bits of it has been removed by relic hunters - in 1614, his right arm was dispatched to the Pope in Rome, a hand to Japan and parts of the intestines to southeast Asia. Other relics found their way into private homes. Much the most macabre mutilation, though, occurred in 1634 when a Portuguese noblewoman, Dona Isabel de Caron, bit off the little toe of the corpse's right foot. So much blood spurted into the woman's mouth that it left a trail all the way to her house and she was found out.