TJHRG talk: Unsuccessful ‘Saints’ of the Society of Jesus: Antonio Criminali & Leonard Lessius (16th-20th centuries)

When and Where

Friday, January 28, 2022 10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Online Event


Elisai Frei (University of Macerata)
Eleonora Rai (KU Leuven)


The Toronto Jesuit History Research Group (TJHRG) invites you to attend its first event of 2022.

In the Catholic Church’s tradition, canonizations represent the final step of trials aiming to verify the heroism of virtues and/or the martyrdom of those who died in the “odor of sanctity.” In order to be canonized, those who so die must adhere to specific imitable hagiographical models — i.e., behavioral models of Christian perfection. This joint talk focuses on two Jesuits who came close to, yet were never canonized. The first part describes the ambiguous death of the Italian missionary Antonio Criminali (1520–1549) who was beheaded by a local army on the Fishery Coast (India) in 1549, thus becoming the “protomartyr” of the Society of Jesus. We will analyze the legal reasons why, despite his violent death and the popular devotion that arose around him in India and Italy, Criminali was never canonized. The second part focuses on the Flemish theologian Leonard Lessius (1554–1623), who was considered as a living saint by his brothers of the Leuven College.
Not only legal reasons, but specific strategies of sainthood eventually led the Jesuit Postulation to drop Lessius’ canonization cause. We show that the cases of Criminali and Lessius ultimately depended upon evolving views on sanctity within the Society of Jesus from the Early modern period onward.

PDF iconTJHRG_28 January 2022 Unsuccessful Saints.pdf

Contact Information

Jean-Olivier Richard


Toronto Jesuit History Research Group (TJHRG), Jackman Humanities Institute