Ippolito Desideri, SJ
VATICAN CITY, 1984, for the tercentenary of his birth
featuring the Potala, the great monastery in Lhasa
Fr. Ippolito Desideri, SJ (1684-1733), an Italian Jesuit from Pistoia, was the first European Tibetologist. He studied the Tibetan language, religion and culture during his brief stay in Tibet (1716 to 1721), and pioneered Christian-Buddhist dialog. After he arrived in Tibet he told officials that he wished to live his life there and to preach to them the law of Christ. He found extraordinary favor with the king, prime minister and Dalai Lama, who welcomed him as a friend, allowed him to purchase a home and to pursue higher studies at the Sara Monastery, not far from Lhasa things not normally permitted to foreigners. He left Tibet in 1721 because the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had granted the mission in Tibet exclusively to the Capuchins, and he returned via Nepal to Rome. His copious manuscripts, published only in 1882, still provide a treasure trove for scholarly work.