April 7, 1199: England's King Richard I, the "Lionhearted," dies at age 41. Richard, as one of the three leaders of the Third Crusade, negotiated Christian access to Jerusalem (see issue 40: The Crusades).
April 7, 1498: Franciscan friars arrange an "ordeal by fire" in Florence to settle the dispute between reforming preacher Jerome Savonarola and Pope Alexander VI. Alexander had excommunicated Savonarola for preaching against papal corruption; Savonarola responded by calling for the pope to step down. If Savonarola's friend Fra Domenico could walk safely between two walls of fire, God was supposedly on the Florentine city-manager's side. But Savonarola never sent Domenico out. The crowd rioted, Savonarola's power crumbled, and he was soon arrested, tortured, and executed.
April 7, 1541: On his thirty-fifth birthday, Francis Xavier, cofounder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), sets sail from Lisbon, Portugal, for Goa, India. The first Roman Catholic missionary there, he also traveled to Japan, Sri Lanka, and other countries in Asia. It is hard to say how many people Xavier, the Roman Catholic patron saint of all missions, converted; the figure goes as high as 1 million, but modern scholars peg the number around 30,000. Jesuits claim 700,000.
April 17, 1492: Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella give Christopher Columbus a commission to seek a westward ocean passage to Asia. Though he was also interested in wealth, Columbus saw himself as a "Christ-bearer" who would carry Christ across the ocean to people who had never heard the gospel (see issue 35: Christopher Columbus).
April 17, 1708: Ambrose, Archbishop of Moscow from 1768-1771 is born. In 1771, in the middle of an outbreak of the plague, Ambrose (who is known for his translations ...