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.