Alexandre de Rhodes

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Alexandre de Rhodes

Alexandre de Rhodes, S.J. (Vietnamese: A-Lịch-Sơn Đắc-Lộ) (15 March 1591[1] – 5 November 1660) was a French Jesuit missionary and lexicographer who had a lasting impact on Christianity in Vietnam. He wrote the Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, the first trilingual Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary published in Rome in 1651.[2][3]


Alexandre de Rhodes was born in Avignon, now in France. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Rome on 24 April 1612 to dedicate his life to missionary work. He arrived in Indochina about 1619. A Jesuit mission had been established in Hanoi in 1615; Rhodes arrived there in 1620. He spent ten years in and around the Court at Hanoi during the rule of Trịnh Tùng and Trịnh Tráng. While he was in Vietnam, he wrote the first Vietnamese Catechism and he published the first Portuguese-Latin-Vietnamese dictionary. This dictionary was later used widely by many Vietnamese scholars to create the new Vietnamese alphabet, using the Latin script – still used today and now called Quốc Ngữ (national language). Rhodes in his reports said he converted more than 6,000 Vietnamese, almost certainly an inflated number, but he nevertheless did win converts.

Map of "Annam" drafted by Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) showing "Cocincina" (left) and "Tunkin" (right).

In 1624 he was sent to the East Indies starting in Cochin-China. In 1627 he travelled to Tongking, Vietnam where he worked until 1630, when he was forced to leave. He was expelled from Vietnam in 1630 as Trịnh Tráng became concerned about the dangers of the Catholic religion.

From Vietnam Rhodes went to Macau, where he spent ten years. He then returned to Vietnam, this time to the lands of the Nguyễn Lords, mainly around Huế. He spent six years in this part until he aroused the displeasure of lord Nguyễn Phúc Lan and was condemned to death.

Latin-Vietnamese catechism, written by Alexandre de Rhodes.
A page from Alexandre de Rhodes' 1651 dictionary, Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum.

As his sentence was reduced to exile, Rhodes returned to Rome by 1649 and pleaded for increased funding for Catholic missions to Vietnam, telling somewhat exaggerated stories about the natural riches to be found in Vietnam. This plea by Alexandre de Rhodes is at the origin of the creation of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1659. As neither the Portuguese nor the Pope showed interest in the project, Alexandre de Rhodes, with Pope Alexander III's agreement, found secular volunteers in Paris in the persons of François Pallu and Pierre Lambert de la Motte, the first members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, who were sent to the Far-East as Apostolic vicars.[4][5][6]

Alexandre de Rhodes himself was sent to Persia instead of back to Vietnam. Rhodes died in Isfahan, Persia in 1660 and was buried in the New Julfa Armenian Cemetery.

Daily conversation in Vietnam "resembles the singing of birds", wrote Alexandre de Rhodes.

He wrote several books about Vietnam including:

  • Histoire du royaume de Tunquin, (History of the Kingdom of Tonkin) published in Rome in 1650
  • Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum (Vietnamese – Latin – Portuguese dictionary), published in Rome in 1651
  • Rhodes of Viet Nam: The Travels and Missions of Father Alexandre de Rhodes in China and Other Kingdoms of the Orient (English translation published in 1966).

He wrote Tunchinensis historiæ libri duo (pub. 1652) and La glorieuse mort d'André, Catéchiste (pub. 1653), and Catechismus (pub. 1658).

Rhodes spent twelve years in Vietnam studying under another Jesuit, Francisco de Pina.[7]

In 1943, the French colony of Indochina issued a 30c postage stamp honoring him. In 2001 Vietnamese artist Nguyen Dinh Dang created a painting in homage to Alexandre de Rhodes and Nguyen Van Vinh.[8]


  1. Current scholarship suggests Rhodes may have been born in 1593. See Eduardo Torralba, S.I., "La Date de naissance du Père de Rhodes: 15 mars 1591, est-elle exacte?", in Bulletin de la Societé des Etudes Indochinoises, n.s. 35 (1960), 683–689, about the disagreement regarding the date of de Rhodes' birth. While some sources, including the Catholic Encyclopedia, indicate that the date was 1591, specialists such as Torralba, Peter Phan, Claude Larre, Pham Dinh Khiem, and Joseph Dehergne give the later date of 1593.
  2. Wörterbücher: Ein Internationales Handbuch Zur Lexikographie by Franz Josef Hausmann, p.2583 [1]
  3. Researches Into the Physical History of Mankind By James Cowles p.501 [2]
  4. Viet Nam By Nhung Tuyet Tran, Anthony Reid p.222
  5. An Empire Divided by James Patrick Daughton, p.31
  6. Asia in the Making of Europe, p.229–230
  7. "Customs and Culture of Vietnam".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The Introduction of Roman Writing Into Vietnam (The transcendental Death of Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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