Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg, Missionary to India, 1719 (February 26)

About the Commemoration

Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (Bar-tol-oh-MAY-us TZEE-gen-balg) was born in Pulsnitz, a little town in Saxony, June 10, 1682, the son of poor, devout parents. As a child he showed great ability in schoolwork and music. He studied at the University of Halle, then the center of the Pietistic movement in the Lutheran Church under the influence of August Hermann Francke. In 1705 Ziegenbalg responded to the call of King Frederik IV of Denmark to take the gospel to India. On July 9, 1706, Ziegenbalg and his associate Heinrich Plütschau (1676-1752) arrived in Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India, the first Protestant missionaries to that country.

Despite the hostility of the local Danish authorities as well as the Hindu religious leaders, Ziegenbalg and Plütschau carried on their work, baptizing their first converts on May 12, 1707. In 1712 a printing press was set up, and Ziegenbalg published important studies on the Tamil language and wrote voluminously on Indian religion and culture. Several of his manuscripts, including The Genealogy of the Malabar Gods, were sent to Halle, but they were never printed. His translation of the New Testament into Tamil (1715) was revised by a successor, Johann Fabricius, and is still in use. The Church of the New Jerusalem, built and dedicated by Ziegenbalg and his associates in 1718, is still used today.

During his brief lifetime (he died when he was thirty-six), Ziegenbalg had to endure poor health, lack of support from the Church, opposition of the civil authorities, and many misfortunes. Plütschau returned to Germany in 1714. The Copenhagen Mission Society ,with the admirable goal of not making the new church a transplanted form of European Christianity, wanted its missionaries simply to preach the gospel and not to involve themselves in other matters. Ziegenbalg insisted, however, that the care of souls also implies a concern for the physical and mental welfare of the people and that such service is implicit in the preaching of the gospel.

The low point of Ziegenbalg’s life was a period of four months between 1708 and 1709, spent in a stifling prison cell on the charge that by converting the Indians he was stirring up rebellion. The last three years of his life, however, were full of joy: his marriage in 1716, the arrival of a new and friendly governor, the publication of his New Testament, and the founding of a seminary to train native clergy. His cooperation with the Anglican Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (see Thomas Bray, February 15) was one of the first ecumenical ventures. Ziegenbalg died in Madras on February 23, 1719, leaving as his monument a Tamil dictionary and grammar, a Tamil translation of the New Testament and the Old Testament as far as Ruth, some thirty-two tracts on Christian doctrine and duties, two church buildings, the seminary, and a community of 250 baptized Christians.

The work of the Ziegenbalg mission later declined and was in part taken over by Anglican missionaries, but it was the inspiration for missionary efforts elsewhere in the world, and it led indirectly to the flourishing Tamil-speaking Lutheran churches of India today. Dr. Rajah B. Manikam, the first Indian bishop of the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church, was consecrated in Tranquebar in 1956 during the year of celebration of the 250th anniversary of Ziegenbalg’s arrival in India.

Ziegenbalg was included on the German Evangelical Calendar of Names (1962, 1965) and on the calendar in the Lutheran Book of Worship. An alternative date for the commemoration of Ziegenbalg is the date of his arrival in India, July 9, or the date of his first baptisms, May 12. Evangelical Lutheran Worship remembers Ziegenbalg on November 7 together with Father Heyer and Ludwig Nommensen.

Christian Frederick Schwartz (1726-1798), probably the most influential worker in the Tranquebar mission after Ziegenbalg, might also be remembered on this day. He involved himself in the political affairs of his people and was extraordinarily influential, respected for his integrity, and loved for his saintliness. He spent forty-eight years in India. His work was notably ecumenical (the English made him a chaplain at Trichinopoly), yet he remained a faithful Lutheran. He died on February 12, 1798. He is commemorated on the German Evangelical Calendar of Names (1962, 1965) on February 13.

Another important early Lutheran missionary; also sponsored by the Copenhagen Mission Society, is Hans Egede, the Apostle of Greenland. He was born in 1686 in Norway. After studying theology in Denmark, he was a pastor for a time in his native country, but he was increasingly fascinated by the story of the Norse settlers of Greenland, from whom there had been no reports since the fifteenth century. After rebuffs by his bishop and by the King of Denmark, he raised money himself, bought a ship, and arrived in Greenland in 1721. He was disappointed to find only native people and not a trace of a Scandinavian settlement. With his wife, Gertrud Rask, he began missionary work there nonetheless. The mission made slow progress. It met competition with the arrival of Moravian missionaries in 1733 and suffered from an epidemic of smallpox. The selfless service of Gertrud Rask and her husband made a deep impression on the native peoples, however, and the work showed more promise. Rask died in 1735 and in the following year Egede returned to Denmark to train missionaries. His son Poul carried on the work in Greenland. Egede died November 5, 1758, and is commemorated on that day by the Evangelical Calendar of Names.

Yet another Lutheran missionary sent out by the Copenhagen Mission Society was Thomas von Westen, the Apostle to the Lapps, remembered (April 10) on the German Evangelical Calendar of Names (1962, 1966). He died April 9, 1727.

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg; Hans Egede; Thomas von Westen


From the decree on the missionary activity of the Church by the Second Vatican Council

All followers of Christ are responsible in their own measure for the spread of me faith, but Christ the Lord is always calling from among his disciples those whom he wills, so that they may be with him and be sent by him to preach to the nations.

Those whom God calls must answer his call in such a way that, without regard for purely human counsel, they may devote themselves wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response cannot be given except with the inspiration and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Those who are sent enter into the life and mission of him who emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave. They must be ready, therefore, to be true to their vocation for life, to deny themselves, renouncing all that they had before, and to “become all things to all people.” [1 Cor. 9:22]

In preaching the Gospel to the nations they must boldly proclaim the mystery of Christ, whose ambassador they are, so that in Christ they may have the courage to speak as they ought, and not be ashamed of the scandal of the cross. They must follow in the footsteps of the Master, who was gentle and humble of heart, and reveal to others that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

By a life that is truly according to the Gospel, by much endurance, by forbearance, by kindness and sincere love, they must bear witness to their Lord, even, if need be, by the shedding of their blood.

They will pray to God for strength and courage, so that they may come to see that for one who experiences great hardship and extreme poverty there can be abundant joy.

From the English translation of the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, rev. PHP. (In the Liturgy of the Hours, the reading is appointed for February 3, the commemoration of St. Ansgar.)


God of eternal and abounding love, you strengthened your servant Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg in his zeal for a true and living faith, upheld him through conflict and discouragement, and opened his mind to the culture of the Tamil people: Foster in your church such respect for those to whom the gospel is proclaimed, that with conviction, persistence, and love your saving word may be made real to all who do not know you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 98; Revelation 21:1-4; Matthew 28:16-20

Hymn of the Day:Your kingdom come, O Father, to earth’s remotest shore” (LBW 384) or “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him” (LBW 529), a Tamil hymn

Prayers: For the church in India; For schools and orphanages; For those who seek to understand different cultures; For those in frail health; For a spirit of understanding, acceptance, and support for new work in the church; For the church in Greenland; For the church in Lapland.

Preface: A Saint (1) (BCP)

Color: White