Repercussions from the Far East: A Comparison of the Catholic and Nestorian Presence in China

  • Thomas Ertl (Author)
    Vienna University

Identifiers (Article)


In the middle ages, Franciscan monks from Western Europe and Nestorian monks from Syria traveled to the Far East to spread the gospel and to establish their churches in the region. Although they shared similar goals, Franciscans and Nestorians employed different methods of persuasion, so the results and legacy of their missionary work differed considerably. The Nestorians were remarkably successful in the Far East, as proven by the gravestones in the Mongolian steppes; in their home countries, ironically, they were increasingly marginalized. In contrast, the Franciscans and other European travelers to the Far East did not achieve similar missionary success and scarcely left a mark on the region after the mid-fourteenth century. The travelogues and letters they composed for their audiences at home, however, had a great impact, both on late-medieval European ambitions to open up the world and on the return of the Catholic mission in seventeenth-century China. In summary, the Nestorians’ legacy was stone monuments in the East and the Franciscans left inspiring texts in the West. A comparison of the respective practices of Christian missionary activity in the Far East may further recognition of how medieval cross-cultural travel affected both the regions of origin and the regions of destination in various ways. Therefore, even though the Christian presence in the Far East vanished in the late middle ages, it had lasting consequences for the societies from whence the missionaries came. It not only broadened the West’s knowledge of the Far East but also influenced the renewal of Christian missions in the region from the seventeenth century onwards.


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Type, method or approach
Comparative Study
Medieval, Missionary History, Cultural Exchange
How to Cite
Ertl, T. (2015). Repercussions from the Far East: A Comparison of the Catholic and Nestorian Presence in China. The Journal of Transcultural Studies, 6(2), 38–63.