Fiery Cross of Goa

Nobody alive today has seen the Fiery Cross of Goa. Has it ever really existed?

Fiery Cross of Goa

Golden cross
(Click photo to enlarge)

Let's make one thing absolutely clear: The cross shown on the left is NOT the fabled golden Goa Cross. It is simply a photo of my Pectoral Cross, which I bought from McKay's.

Goa is a small state on India's west coast. Run by Portugal for about 450 years until annexed by India in 1961, Goa is by far the wealthiest place in India, boasting a GDP per capita 2½ times that of the rest of the country.

Travel brochures will tell you many more interesting facts about Goa. However, verifiable facts about the supposed Fiery Cross of Goa are pretty thin on the ground.

The story goes something like this:

Se Cathedral
Sé Cathedral, Goa, dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria
Photo by Ondrej Zvacek

An 18th century pirate called Olivier le Vasseur (also known as La Buse 'the buzzard') operated in the Indian Ocean.

In April 1721 near Réunion Island, just east of Madagascar, he raided a Portuguese ship called Virgen del Cabo (Virgin of the Cape) on its way from Goa to Lisbon. The loot consisted of treasures belonging to the Bishop of Goa and the Viceroy of Portugal, including gold and silver bars, chests of gold coins, diamonds, pearls and silks. There were also religious icons from the huge Sé Cathedral which included a solid gold cross, so bright that it was called the Fiery Cross of Goa.

This cross was seven feet tall, encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. It was so heavy that three men were needed to carry it.

The haul was divided amongst the pirate crew but Vasseur kept the golden cross. He had a house in the Northwest Seychelles (at Bel Ombre) and there he buried the cross before he was captured by the French a few years later, tried and sentenced to death.

Skull and Crossbones

Just before sunset at 5 p.m. on 7 July 1730 at Saint-Denis on the north cost of Réunion, Vasseur was hanged. As he stood before the noose, he tossed a scrap of paper into the crowd, shouting "Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!" (but in Portuguese, of course).

The paper contained a cryptogram in 17 lines of Greek and Hebrew letters, clues to the location of the buried spoils.

And there the story ends until two hundred years later, when in 1947, an Englishman named Reginald Cruise-Wilkins, picked up the trail and began deciphering the code.

Employing the ancient esoteric knowledge privy to Freemasons, plus the Zodiac, the Clavicula Salomonis (Key of Solomon), and bits of an old Greek poem about the Labours of Hercules (slaying lions, the nine-headed Hydra, and several other little jobs that earned him immortality), he cracked most of the code.

He died in 1977 and his son John is currently trying to fathom out the few remaining riddles. We wish him well in his endeavours. We also wonder if he will return his finds to Sé Cathedral.

Hard facts

A few points worth noting about this story:

  • "The loot consisted of treasures belonging to the Bishop of Goa..."

    Gold bar

    Well it's true that by the Middle Ages, the Church had amassed a great deal of wealth so it is quite plausible that a substantial shipment of gold was sent from Goa to Lisbon. (See the Money of God.)

    What is surprising, however, is that there is no mention of any fabulous diamond-encrusted solid gold cross in historical inventories of the cathedral or anywhere else. The Fiery Cross of Goa didn't seem to exist before this story.

  • "This cross was encrusted with diamonds, rubies and emeralds."

    But why were so many diamonds considered worth recording in this story? The diamond was not a particularly valuable jewel until the 19th century. (See Why Diamonds Are Forever)

  • "It was so heavy that three men were needed to carry it."

    Gregg Valentino
    Gregg Valentino with his 28" biceps can lift 300 lb. You would need 30 more men like him to lift a 7-foot gold cross

    Fact: Gold was, and is, a useful currency. But currency is only useful if it can be traded. Gold is heavy (nearly twice as heavy as lead and nearly 20 times heavier than water) but can be traded relatively easily if the gold bars are a reasonable size. It makes no sense to convert such large tangible assets into something that is too cumbersome to trade with.

    How cumbersome? Some accounts say the cross was seven feet high. Seven is a lucky number that adds to the mystique of this cross, but the reality is different.

    If we assume the typical ratio of a cross, the horizontal arm for a 2 m high cross would be about 1.5 m. A reasonable width and thickness would be perhaps 25 cm x 25 cm giving a total volume of 218,750 cm3. Pure gold has a density of 19.32 grams per cubic centimeter, which means the cross would weigh 4,226 kg (9,317 lb).

    A four-ton cross carried by just three men? 

  • "Le Vasseur was hanged just before sunset"

    Fact: France was no different to other countries in having the tradition of hanging at dawn, not sunset.

    Are there any official records to indicate that the execution of Vasseur actually took place at all?

  • "As he stood before the noose, he tossed a scrap of paper into the crowd..."

    Just a few words before I Goa

    But before a person is hung, the hands are tied behind the back. This is not only to prevent the condemned lashing out at the hangman, but also to prevent the automatic reaction of the hands reaching for the noose.

    With hands tied behind the back it is difficult to imagine how Vasseur could have tossed a scrap of paper to the crowd.

  • "The paper contained a cryptogram of 17 lines, clues to the location of the buried spoils."

    It has been said that the paper was authenticated at the National Library in Paris, but there are no references to support this.

    The location of the treasure, according to the riddle, is in a dangerous place. Venturing to the spot without sufficient regard to the tides would result in drowning.

    Pirates are not particularly brave; they are just well armed with weapons and evil intent. They rob people weaker than themselves and run when the authorities chase them. In other words, they are natural cowards. So is it likely that Vasseur would risk his life by venturing to such a dangerous place?

  • "Reginald Cruise-Wilkins... employing the ancient [mystical methods] ... cracked most of the code."

    If mystical and supernatural methods have been used, and given the vast amount of gold metal involved, why has no dowser yet discovered this cross?

  • "He shouted "Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!""

    Why not "Shiver mi timbers, matey!"
    ...or the more likely utterance of somebody about to be hanged: "Aaaaaarrggghhh!"

Sadly for treasure hunters, Vasseur's promise (if we can trust the promise of a pirate) is no authority to retain what might be found since it was not Vasseur's in the first place. Theft does not legally transfer ownership to the thief. 

But it's an interesting story anyway.

The Middle Ages saw the 'Age of Exploration' in which Portugal voyaged to distant lands in search of wealth. Many expeditions carried Christian missionaries, who converted Goans from Hinduism to Christianity. At the same time, the conquistadors converted ownership of Goan gold.

The Church's wealth also grew during this time through the government's support.

We read of a similarly unlikely item in Dan. 3:1 – the gold statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, which had a height of "threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits". In today's measurements that's 27.4 metres high by 2.74 metres wide. We don't know the thickness, but something that's ten times higher than it is wide, would most likely be more or less the same thickness. If a statue with a volume of 206 cubic metres was solid gold, then we're looking at about 4,000 tons of gold. Given gold's softness and malleability, the statue would collapse under its own weight.

The Bible doesn't say it was solid gold, and the above calculations suggest it was only gold plated or painted. Further, an image of a man ten times higher than his width would look too daft to be worshipped. So it's probable that the statue was reasonable proportioned and mounted on a high plinth.

Either way, the pride didn't do Nebuchadnezzar much good.

World leaders today – politicians, business leaders, celebrities, clergy, website owners (yes!) and just about everybody who tend to babble on (Babylon?) – similarly set themselves on a pedestal.

When people are conned into believing these leaders are great, they not only vote for them in elections but many join campaigns, contribute funds, and generally worship them. And they do this out of awe; not like Nebuchadnezzar's subjects who felt they might get favours for supporting him, or punishment if they didn't.

It's easy to carelessly adore the unworthy.

The Seychelles gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1976 and as far as is known, have retained English law in regards to treasure. This means that only after three hundred years have passed since the initial burial (i.e. beyond 2021) may the treasure hunter benefit from the find.

Landowners have sole title to items on their property and any digging without the landowner's permission cannot benefit from the Treasure Act. Not that it matters in this case, since it's highly unlikely that any treasure exists. But the law stands. Unauthorised digging is illegal whether anything is found or not.