Capuchin Missions in the Medieval Nepal

A picture of three crosses on the mountain
A picture of three crosses on the mountain
By Rev. Devilal ShresthaMay 6th, 2024


In the 18th century, Capuchin missionaries arrived in Nepal and served for 54 years in the Kathmandu valley. They were the earlier Christian missionaries after Jesuit missionaries in the history of Nepal. They were the first missionaries to establish churches in Nepal. However, after Prithivi Narayan Shah conquered the kingdoms of the valley in 1769 AD, missionaries were forced to leave the country due to concerns about foreign imperialism and the changing political situation. Scholars argue that King Prithivi Narayan Shah was anti-Christian, suspected of foreign imperialism and banished missionaries due to their friendly relationship with Malla kings. The expulsion of missionaries was influenced by the changing political scenario. This study confined on the historical study of capuchin missionaries in the Kathmandu valley, focusing on qualitative research design. It doesn't deal with other aspects of research. 

Keywords: Missionaries- missions- activities- expel.


Historically, Capuchin missionaries entered the Kathmandu valley as a Jesuit order, using the valley as a pass-way to Tibet. However, their missions were unsuccessful in Tibet and Nepal. In Tibet, Capuchin missionaries took over the Jesuit mission works. They were allowed to begin their mission work in the Kathmandu valley. They played a significant role in medieval Nepal, but many of their works are not extensively explored or descriptively described. This area of study is timely, as it provides insights into their identity, arrival, mission activities, and eventual shut-down.

It makes sense to review the earlier papers (both published and unpublished) that are linked to this research before starting the study. The reviews that follow assist in identifying the research gap, produce research-related ideas, and examine narrations specifically relevant to the study. According to Regmi (1965), John Cabral, a Jesuit missionary, was the first European to travel to Nepal in 1628. While Capuchin missionaries cared more about helping those in need, Jesuit missionaries were more concerned with their adherents. He also discusses the difficulties faced by the Capuchin missionaries due to local Brahmin opposition and the financial problems. He also discussed the difficulties that missionaries experience while traveling. According to Lindell (1997), Capuchin missionaries first arrived in the Kathmandu valley on February 21, 1707, and their service as missionaries in medieval Nepal lasted for roughly 54 years. With the Malla rulers, Capuchin missionaries enjoyed good ties. They were permitted to carry out the missionary activity in the kingdoms by the monarchs of the Kathmandu Valley.  The introduction of Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries in the Kathmandu valley is discussed by Perry (2000). She discusses how Capuchin missionaries participate in the missions. She discusses the interactions between kings and missionaries. She also discusses a few potential explanations for the closure of the Capuchin missions in Kathmandu. Petek, which was translated into Nepali by Dhakal in 2003, describes the advent of Capuchin missionaries in the Kathmandu valley in three distinct phases. He also discusses the relationships between missionaries and the rulers as well as the resistance that missionaries faced from Brahmins. He provided information on the activities of Capuchin missionaries in Tibet, Nepal, and India. He discusses several letters sent back and forth by missionaries and the sending church.  Prithivi Narayan Shah and Capuchin missionaries have ties, according to Whelpton (2005). He underlines that the atrocities committed by King Prithivi Narayan Shah were witnessed by Capuchin missionaries. He claims that missionaries witnessed the Gorkha's merciless campaign on Kritipur. According to Rongong (2012), churches were founded in the Kathmandu valley by Capuchin missionaries. They had cordial relations with the rulers. He has made references to data that Perry and Lindell explore in their works. Gurung mentions the entrance of Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries in the Kathmandu valley in 2021. Additionally, he asserts that missionaries gave a spyglass and telescope to King Pratap Malla. He also mentions the challenges faced by missionaries due to animosity from the local Brahmins, a lack of resources, and a labor deficit. According to Vaidya (2020 updated), Sur Pratap Shah (brother of Prithivi Naraya Shah) suffered injuries in the second battle of Kritipur in 1764 and received medical attention from missionaries. Kirkpatrick (2021) covers the natural surroundings, faiths, customs, manners, historical background, and legal system of the kingdom of Nepal in the late 1700s. He pays particular attention to Michael Angelo, a Capuchin missionary who was a doctor.  He talks about the important role that missionaries played in helping the injured during the Gorkha onslaught against Kriipur in relation to the Capuchin mission. The roles and activities of Capuchin missionaries in medieval Nepal are mentioned by Shrestha (2022). He also discusses the effects of various actions. He contends that Capuchin missionaries had no political purpose and instead were more concerned with meeting the needs of those around them. His discussions of the activities and contributions of Capuchin missionaries in medieval Nepal are well known. He has also discussed the differences between Capuchin and Jesuit orders of missionaries.

Most of the aforementioned published literature have not specifically and in-depth examined the missionary efforts of Capuchin missionaries, which represents a research deficit. Less emphasis has been placed on Capuchin missions and more on Nepali Christianity in general. In Petek's work, Tibet's Capuchin missions are discussed more than Nepal's. More information regarding the Capuchin missions in the Kathmandu valley was covered in a work by Shrestha, although it has not yet been published. In this light, discussing the work of Capuchin missionaries in the Kathmandu valley is significant, especially in an academic setting.

The study seeks to investigate on the following issues: How did Capuchin Missionaries come to Kathmandu Valley? What kind of mission activities did they do? Why was the Mission closed down?  


This research is based on the qualitative analysis. Explanatory, descriptive, analytical and informative methods have been used in the research. The interview was conducted for the research as primary sources. The interviewees were selected from the different fields. They were from university professors, Roman Catholic scholar and protestant leaders. From Roman Catholic scholar, Dr. George Thirumulachalil was selected. And, from Protestant church leaders Pastor Om Praksh Subba (Chairman of Nepal Christian Society), and Indra Thapa (Associate Chairman of Rastriya Grijaghar Mahaguthi Trust) were selected. Prof. Dr. Jagadish Chandra Regmi, Professor of Tribhuvan University had been interviewed for the purpose.  Both formal and informal discussion were held in the related subject.  For the secondary sources, the researcher has used the library research methods. Published books, articles, journals and internet sources have been frequently used. Unpublished material, like Ph.D. and Master's thesis have been used as resource materials. All the collected information has been thoroughly analyzed, summarized and classified in order to reflect the information in this research. The study is limited mainly on the historical investigation of Capuchin Missionaries. The study does not deal on the doctrinal differences between protestant churches and Roman Catholic Church. Also, this study does not explore predominantly Capuchin missionaries' social, political, legal, economic and other aspects. Rather, this paper is developed, from the historical aspect. According to the faith, the writer is from the protestant evangelical church community. 


Etymologically, the English word capuchin is a noun which was first recorded in the late 16th century. The term capuchin denotes a friar belonging to a strict and autonomous branch of the Franciscan.  The term was derived from the Italian term capuche which means hood. The friars were named Capuchins because of their sharp-pointed hoods (, 2018). According to the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE), Capuchin means a friar belonging to a branch of Franciscan order that observes a strict rile drawn up in 1529. The friar so named because of their sharp-pointed hoods (Oxford Dictionary of English, N.D.). It is obvious that the term Capuchin came from the Italian word for the hood which the friars wore.  Since missionaries of this order adopted the hood, the name of this movement was designated as “Capuchin.” Officially, Capuchins are called the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Friar Minor means lesser brothers (, retrieved 05/07/2023). A missionary is a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, such as education or hospital work. He is person strongly in favor of a program and set of principles who attempts to convince or transform others. Simply stated missionary is a person who is sent on a mission to do religious or charitable work in a territory or foreign country (, retrieved in 07/07/2023). The Capuchin Order was missionary in nature. They were missionaries who travelled to different parts of the world with a mission to change society. 

The historical source supports that during the reign of Malla kings, in the 17th century, Christian missionaries entered into Kathmandu valley. The first Christian missionary to visit Kathmandu was Jesuit order (Roman Catholic), father Joao Cabral (Portuguese by nationality) in 1628. And, second Jesuit missionary to visit Kathmandu valley was father Grueber in 1662 (Regmi, 1965). Since then, there were many missionaries who visited Kathmandu valley. But, none of them were able to build mission in the valley. Historical source supports that Capuchin missionaries from the Congregation of Propaganda gathered for a special meeting in Italy in 14th March 1703, to discuss about the missionary work in Tibet. And, then, six missionaries traveled to Tibet in 6th May 1704 from Italy. And, out of six, two missionaries (four of them were died) were able to arrive in Tibet in 12th June 1707. This was the year the missionaries passed through the Kathmandu valley. This was the first Capuchin missionaries' visit to Kathmandu valley. The very purpose of their arrival was to do the missionary work in Tibet. But, as they passed through, they were invited by the kings of the valley to come, and do the mission work in the kingdoms. That was how, with permission of the kings, the Capuchin mission was begun in Kathmandu valley from January 1715 onwards. During the 1715 to 1769, there were 29 Capuchin missionaries working inside the Kathmandu valley. Out of twenty nine, twenty-six of them were priests, and three of them were lay brothers. All those missionaries of men (Shrestha, 2022). 

Routes of Capuchin Missionaries to Kathmandu 

In order to arrive in Kathmandu valley, they used two routes which were frequented by other Europeans going to India.  These were land route and a sea route. The land route was through West Asia to the Persian Gulf and from there by boat. The land route traveled from Italy to Turkey, Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. There were two land routes, northern and southern. The northern route went through the mountains and then the desert and along the Tigris River. The southern routes went through the Syrian Desert to the Euphrates and down to the Gulf. . In their travels, missionaries used larger caravans containing hundreds of camels and hundreds of people (Lindell, 1997). The sea route went from Europe around the bottom of Africa to Bengal. Seas were more dangerous. The ships were small, crowded, and uncomfortable. In each ship, there were fifty to one hundreds passengers packed along with tons of necessities for travel. To reach the Bay of Bengal from the western European ports, the journey took eight months. Ten percent of the ships were lost due to natural calamities and wars. Loss of life was common in the voyage. In spite of all those challenges, Capuchin missionaries used mostly see routes.  It is recorded that there were more than twenty Capuchin missionaries’ trips. (Lindell, 1997).  After they arrived to Bengal, they travelled to Patna, Bihar.  In those days it took around thirty days to reach Patna from Bengal. In Patna there were French, Dutch and English traders. There Capuchin missionaries built their resident which became a center to Capuchin missions that enabled them to travel to the Tibet missions through the Kathmandu valley. To come to Kathmandu valley, missionaries used the route through Mithila, Darbhanga (East Bihar). During this time, these places were independent kingdoms.  From there the missionaries travelled through the Kamalau valley to reach Sindhuligadi. Following this route they travelled the Sunkoshi valley crossing many hills to Sankhu, Kathmandu. That was how, they used kuti road to go to Tibet. 

The very purpose of the arrival of Capuchin missionaries was to evangelize, and take care the believers who were there in Tibet. Kathmandu was not in the focus of their mission in the initial stage. But, as they passed through Kathmandu valley, they build relations with the Kings of Kathmandu. And, also the missionaries were invited by the kings to come and do the mission works. They were committed to go and begin missions in new places. They were committed to serve people in the needs. 

Mission Activities of Capuchin Missionaries in Kathmandu Valley 

Capuchin missionaries continued their religious activities wherever they went. As they began to reside in Kathmandu valley their religious work continued in their everyday lives. The religious activities were a life-style for them. They were devoted in conducting their daily religious activities. 

In all three kingdoms of the valley the kings had permitted missionaries to practices their religious activities. They gave them opportunity for worship and preaching and time to teach people about God. They were considered respectable people in the kingdom. (Regmi, 1965). They preached the Gospel to the people of Kathmandu valley and even to the kings of the kingdoms. According to George Thirumalachalil, the primary focus of their mission was based on evangelism. They evangelized everyone in the kingdoms. They evangelized the rulers, nobles and Brahmins. They evangelized all classes of people, including common and poor people of the valley. They evangelized children, women and old aged people. Further he said, the overall focus of their all mission activities were to communicate the Gospel to the people of Kathmandu valley (Thirumalachalil, 2020).  In their residents they separated one room as a chapel in which they organized worship services. They held services every day. They gave their much time to personal meditation, prayers and reading the scriptures. As they moved around in the valley, they preached to the people. They educated people. They were friendly to the people as they did their religious activities. They communicated the messages of Jesus to everyone everywhere they went. All throughout of their stay in the valley, they kept engaging every day in such activities. They had enthusiasm and earnestness in all these activities (Lindell, 1997). They were able to bring some local Newari families in the faith of Jesus. Newari people were, as per the historical record, the first people who come to know Jesus through the mission of Capuchin missionaries in the kingdom of Kathmandu. Even some of them had accepted Jesus, through the ministries of Capuchin missionaries, when they were doing trade in Tibet. (Thirumalachalil, 2020). They baptized all those who believed. They were able to baptize thousands of children with severe illness and those who had reached the point of dying during the plague/epidemic. They visited them, prayed over them, and baptized them (Lindell, 1997). Around 80 adults were given baptism. All of them were Newars. Some of them were landless and ordinary people. Many adult people heard the gospel but a few of them were converted to the Christianity (Perry, 1990). When they were expelled from the valley in 1769, there were 60 believers who accompanied the missionaries to India. (Lindell, 1997). They were local Newars who decided to go with missionaries. The kings had given freedom to the local people to adopt this new religion without any fear, but Brahmins were against such activities of missionaries. 

During their ministries in the valley, they conducted nine Christian marriages of local converts. Those marriages were probably the first Christian marriages in the valley. The missionaries conducted marriages with prayer and encouragement from the teaching of the Bible. These families had children. Later they died as Christians and were buried in Christian cemeteries (Perry, 1990). The king of Bhaktapur allowed the missionaries to place big crosses on the roof of their house. This was the first time this kind of permission had been given. (Regmi, 1965).  The cross was made of iron and put on the top of their large four-story house. There was another occasion when the king permitted them to put three larger crosses on the mountains surrounding the valley. This was done in order to make a visible witness of Christianity to all the people of the valley (Perry, 1990).

From 1715 onwards missionaries established mission centers in Kathmandu, Bhatgaon and Patan. The Kathmandu valley was one of five major mission centers (Chandernagore, Patna, Lhasa, Tron-gne and Kathmandu) of the Capuchin mission (Lindell, 1997). This was a center wherein missionaries used a center to take rest and become reenergized before traveling on to Lhasa. However, the mission in Lhasa was shutdown in 1745 (Lindell, 1997). Henceforth, they principally engaged in the Kathmandu valley. Missionaries were able to plant churches inside the valley. Since local people were converted into their religion, missionaries began to invite people for fellowship. They were able to build churches in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Missionaries stepped in the kingdom of Lalitpur (one of the kingdoms in Kathmandu valley) in 1734, but the mission was active only after 1744 (Regmi, 1965).  A church in Kathmandu, near the Thamel area, was dedicated to the 'Our Lady’s Assumption' on 24 March 1760.  There was also a church in Bhaktapur (one of the kingdoms in Kathmandu valley) which was dedicated to the 'Annunciation of our Lady' (Perry, 1990). Establishment of churches was one of the significant activities of missionaries in the valley. What happened to those churches later? After expel of the missionaries from the kingdom, all the buildings were completely demolished.  Nothing was left of the buildings (Thirumalachalil, 2020). In all three kingdoms of the valley, there were cemeteries. In Kathmandu, along with the church there was cemetery. In Bhadgaon, a cemetery existed along with a church. And, in Lalitpur, there was a cemetery between the north side of Patan and the Bagmati River. This was place where in Father Della Penna was buried in 1747 with in inscription written in Latin and Newari on the gravestone to missionaries who died, they gave them Christian funeral ceremony (Perry, 1990). 

Besides, medical care was one of prominent social activities of Capuchin missionaries. During the devastating epidemics, missionaries worked to alleviate suffering in 1716 there was a devastating epidemic of small-pox. This disease spread throughout the kingdoms of the valley. The disease killed around twenty thousand lives. Missionaries worked hard to relieve people from the disease (Regmi, 1965).  They also organized medical service during the war of Gorkha and Kritipur in 1766. Even the chief-commander of Gorkha soldiers Surapratap Shah, brother of Prithivi Narayan Shah (the King who united Nepal as one Nation) was wounded and was cured by the treatment of missionaries. This work of missionaries was helpful tool to build relations with the Shah King. 

The Capuchin missionaries brought a printing press from Rome to Lhasa.  They used this printing press in their various ministries in Lhasa. After the mission in Lhasa was shut down in 1745, it is uncertain how the printing press was used. According to historians, missionaries came to the Kathmandu valley after the missions was shut down in Lhasa. In this point, the printing press might have been used for the ministry in Nepal (Thirumalachalil, 2020). These writings of the Capuchin missionaries are considered as one of the important sources of Nepalese history.  They contributed in the areas of history, geography, ethnology and religion.  One of the missionaries Joseph Rovato, wrote on ‘The Decline and Fall of the Malla Dyasty,’ and the rising power of Prithivi Narayan Shah.’  In the book “An Account of the Kingdom of Nepal” Kirkpatrick used the Rovato source (Gurung, 2021). These writing clearly stated the geo-cultural and socio-political situation of medieval Nepal. Most of current historians who have written about medieval Nepal has referred the writing of these missionaries. Hence, the missionaries’ writings have been a valuable source for understanding the history of Nepal.

In the reign of Jagajjaya Malla there was a drought and famine (Uprety & Acharya, 1994).  Many people in the valley were going through challenging situation. Food was scarce and the living cost was high. Local people were greatly affected (Regmi, 1965). In such situations, missionaries extended their help to the ordinary people in the community. They had a healthy relation with the Malla kings. And, they appealed to the Kings for land and resources for their local followers. This act of missionaries was very kind for welfare of their local followers. Local followers were cared by them. 

In the period of Malla reign in the medieval Nepal, there were some evil practices. Sati Pratha was one of terrible social evils that existed.  Lindell mentions that missionaries helped to prevent some cases of wives immolating themselves on the funeral pyres of their dead husband (Lindell, 1997). They spoke against this system of the community. They helped to reconcile many broken families, especially when husband and wives were separated (Lindell, 1997). They provided counseling for those families and helped restore broken relationships. Lindell also mentioned that many times missionaries admonished the kings, nobles, and common people for their unjust deeds, cruelty, and sin. They asked them to repent for their unjust deeds and to seek God’s forgiveness (Lindell, 1997). 

Causes of the Shut-Down of Capuchin Mission in Kathmandu Valley 

The closure of the Capuchin mission in Nepal in 1769 was due to a variety of factors. The following are a few of the factors that pushed Capuchin missions out of the Kathmandu Valley. 

  • Misunderstanding with Shah king

After ministering almost 54 years (from 1715-1769) in the Kathmandu valley, the mission of Capuchin missionaries ended. They were not able to resume the ministry in Nepal until 1950. They labored hard to serve people in the valley. They did all the possible works for the society. The Malla kings were happy with the mission activities. There was a good relationship between the missionaries and the kings. But, as the missionaries could build a good relationship with the Malla kings, but, particularly with the Shah King after 1769, they failed (Pandey, N.D.). While they were still working in the valley, they were earlier itself invited to come and work in the kingdom of Gorkha by the Shah King. But, they were unable to go there (Regmi, 1965). 

  • Absence of Conversion of the Elite Families

Throughout their mission activities, they were able to bring people into faith, but they were not able to bring the nobles and the kings into their faith. While they were able to make good relations with nobles and the Kings they were not able to connect them with the Gospel. Even after the Gorkha conquering Kritipur, missionaries were able to maintain good relations with the Shah King and his team. But, they could not bring them into their faith. If the nobles and kings had followed their faith, the impact would be different for those people who became followers. This was another cause of the failure of their ministries in the medieval Nepal (Gurung, 2021). 

  • Suspicions towards Capuchin Missionaries 

According to Perry, missionaries tried to provide a help to the king of Kathmandu in the war with the Gorkha, requesting the Indian British government to intervene. This action caused suspicion in the eyes of the Shah King and his battalion. This created a hard situation for the mission activities in the valley (Perry, 2000). Lendell says missionaries were also suspected as agent of British. In those days, India was already colonized by British. For Prithivi Narayan Shah, he had to save his kingdom from foreign imperialism by any means possible. He saw a danger in allowing missionaries to live and do their activities inside the newly conquered kingdoms. Hence, the decision was made to expel missionaries from the kingdom. For them on there was no way to continue to live and minister in the valley. This was another cause of failure of the mission activities in the valley (Lindell, 1997). 

  • Absence of Leadership Training for New Believers 

Missionaries respected the local people by learning the Newari language. They also wrote Christian messages in Newari language (Regmi, 1965). This act of missionaries helped local people to understand in their own language. By this they were able to convert some local people into their faith and give them baptism. But, in terms of developing local leaders, they did not succeed. After 54 years of their ministry in the valley, they were not able to build local people as leaders in the mission (Gurung, 2021). If local people had been trained indigenously as leaders, the ministry could have continued after the missionaries left the country. When the situation in the country was unfavorable for foreigners, they could have handed over the responsibilities of the mission to local leaders. But, even after a long period of ministries, they did not train leaders locally. Rather, in their moving to India, the local believers had to accompany them. The local believers were faithful to their newly adopted faith but they were not trained to lead the mission. They were unable to dare to stand alone in their newly adopted faith. Because of this they had to leave the country along with the missionaries.

  • Political Issue 

The decision of expelling the Christians from the country was based on a political issue (Thirumalachalila, 2020).  It was not because Shah King was anti-Christian or even a religious issue. The political scenario around Nepal and the world was imperialism. King Prithivi Narayan Shah was a smart and visionary ruler (Perry, 1990). He did not want to take a political risk in allowing missionaries to do their activities continue in the kingdom. The Shah King had already kept the cordial relation during Kritipur war. And even before the conquered of the valley, he had given an invitation for missionaries in the kingdom of Gorkha by seeing the work of missionaries in the Kathmandu valley.  From this aspect, it was not a religious issue that caused the expulsion of the missionaries.  Rather it was political issue that forced them to leave the valley. This became another cause of the failure of the Capuchin mission activities (Thirumalachalila, 2020). 


After the Jesuit missionaries arrived, Capuchin missionaries entered the Kathmandu Valley. They were the first to convert local people, and establish churches in the Kathmandu valley. They carried out their task from 1715 until 1769. In Nepal, there were 54 years of operations. They had carried out observable mission activities throughout this time. They had engaged in religious and nonreligious activities. The Malla monarchs permitted them to practice their religion in the valley. The rulers extended an invitation for them to settle in their kingdoms. It is significant to highlight that the missionaries enjoyed good relations with the monarchs, nobility, and commoners of the Kathmandu valley. They even had a good relations with King Prithivi Narayan Shah.

They faced a variety of difficulties. They had to contend with local Brahmin opposition. They had financial difficulties. They had health issues. In the service of their missions, many of them gave their lives. Only a small number of them were able to return to their nation. This was indeed sacrificial living. Historically, their contributions to the community were immeasurable in the time of wars and epidemics. In the area of literatures concerning the Medieval Nepal, their role is still noteworthy. Hence, understanding the history of medieval Nepal requires knowledge of this historical incident involving Capuchin missionaries. There is no doubt that learning more about this historical occurrence helps us to comprehend Nepal in the middle ages. In particular, the work of Capuchin missionaries provides excellent insights regarding the people, customs, and circumstances of medieval Nepal. 

It is evident that the expulsion had nothing to do with the missionaries' religious beliefs and instead was a result of the shifting political situation of the time. They were compelled to leave the country. Nepali Christians (Newar converts) also opted to travel with the missionaries rather than staying behind and carrying out the mission themselves. Additionally, all missionary activities in the Kathmandu valley were stopped.


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