Stained glass in the Church of St Francis Xavier, Singapore. Photo: Jerry Tan

Victoria Lim

St Francis Xavier was born in Spain in 1506, joined the Society of Jesus in 1534 and became a priest in 1537. He was the first Jesuit missionary. On his journeys to the East, St Francis passed through Singapore in 1551 where he received a letter from St Ignatius of Loyola who appointed him as provincial of “the Indies and the countries beyond”. He died in 1552 before he could evangelise China. His feast day is on Dec 3.

A legend tells how his ship was caught in a storm at sea in eastern Indonesia. With faith and trust in God, he thrust his crucifix into the waves in an attempt to calm the storm. Although it slipped from his grasp and fell into the deep, the storm abated. The next day, as his ship neared land, a crab with a cross-shaped mark on its back approached him, carrying his crucifix. Retrieving the cross, he blessed the crab.

The crucifix crab (Charybdis feriatus) has been popularly associated with this story. Its main body features bold wide dark lines and a distinctive white cross in the centre of its body. Mostly found in the Indo-Pacific region, it has been spotted here in Singapore waters around Tanjung Chek Jawa in Pulau Ubin in 2005, and Pulau Semakau North in 2017