Book 2, Chapter 14

How six Capuchin Monks arrived sent from the Holy Congregation of Propagation of the Faith arrived in the Port of Loanda to help the Mission,[1] and some of the things that happened   Chapter XIV

Having received the Queen’s letters and those of my Superior and seen in those the state of his infirmity I set out at once with that solicitude which his infirmities required, leaving behind everything which would have hindered or delayed me, and in six days’ time arrived at the Queen’s Court, where I found my superior suffering from fever, which did not prevent him from celebrating my arrival with as much show of joy and consolation as time and the occasion permitted, and in short he not only improved in health but was cured, and the Queen did not fail to minister as a mother to the needs of the invalid suffering from the ills that black people’s soil brings, and also some from Europe, and as I say he recovered his health as was so much to be wished, but hardly hoped for.  Meanwhile there arrived letters from the City of Loanda to say that six Capuchins sent from the Holy Congregation had arrived in that port to help the mission, their names being Father Bernardo da Siena from the Province of Rome, Father Archangello da Bianpano, Father Giovanni Battista da Salisano, and Brother Gabrielle da [175] Velletri from the same Province, and Father Vitorio da Pistoia and Father Archangello da Fiorenza from the Province of Tuscany, who brought a letter from M.R.P. Proc. di Corte who served Father Antonio Romano as he had been declared Prefect of the Holy Congregation of the Congo Mission, and Ginga, and one from His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Barberino Befetto of the Holy Congregation directed to the Missionary Fathers, and another from the Supreme Pontiff Alexander the Seventh to Queen Ginga answering the one she had written, and sent by her Ambassador Father Serafine da Cortona in the year MDCLVII as I have already said.  The copies of these were recorded in the next sheet for the benefit of the reader; before recording them I will not neglect to notify the reader how convinced Queen Ginga was that she would not die, a foolish opinion held by Lords in this Ethiopia, and it is hard to remove this folly from their minds and cure them, because they insist that when someone dies he is hiding from them, and they have little or no belief in the immortality of the soul; she yielded finally to the idea of having to pay death the tribute due; …….cured of such madness I asked the Father I mentioned above for an old habit for him to wear in death, and gave it to him with a great feeling of comfort, and he received it devoutly and with great effect, kissing it very reverently, and gave it to his General to keep among his treasures; the General took the holy habit and wrapped it in precious linen to obey his Lady the Queen although it was against his will which was naturally inclined to evil, and though reluctant to believe he must die, he admitted in spite of himself that not only was the effect obvious but also whose work it was, just as it happened when the Curer of our doubts spoke to St. Thomas.  (added) and as it will also happen to that unfortunate person who has evaded the Catholic Religion and wanted to live out this mortal life full of travail and heartbreak according to the custom of his ancestors and observed their false superstitions.[176]

Copy of the letter from the Pope to Queen Ginga

To Our Dearest Daughter in Christ Our Queen Anna,                                               Alexander PP. VII [2]

(This is untranslatable owing to the condition of the text)


This is the copy of the letter transcribed word for word according to the original.

At this time the Queen was very ill, and as the superior had to leave for the City of Loanda in pursuance of his office I wished her to receive the Pope’s letter in public in spite of her illness and to this end she was brought from her Court to the square opposite St. Anna’s Church, and there received into her hands the Pontiff’s letter with as much show of joy as the time and occasion permitted, and as a sign of spiritual consolation ordered all the firearms to be discharged,waiting until she had recovered her health to pay the compliments which she was not able to pay because of her infirmities, and on the same day she blessed the Church dedicated to St. Anna although mass was not yet said there except on the day of the Saint’s feast on 26 July.  She caused the musketeers’ salvo to be repeated, and followed by the sound of military music, and so two feasts were celebrated on the same day.  Finally, on the 24th day of April,[3] the superior left for Loanda having strongly recommended the building of the Church to the Queen, to her grandees, and also to the whole populace, inspiring them to complete the work they had begun with fervour and devotion for the glory of blessed God and the good of their souls; having arrived in Loanda and taken possession on his office and Prefecture he applied himself with renewed force to his mission, sending more monks, that is father Archangello da Bianzano and Brother Gabrielle da Velletri both from the Province of Rome, who after twenty-six days’ journey arrived at the Queen’s Court where they were received [178] with great joy and celebration although they both arrived ill with fever, a common tribute which each traveller pays to that black country of the interior of Ethiopia.  Their arrival was the twenty-fourth day of June, a day dedicated to the glories of the Precursor of the Incarnate Word; their illness was serious, and it cost each of them 20 blood-lettings as well as other remedies, and it was not a little mercy that they were set free by the shedding of blood, for many pay tribute with their lives,[4] but our loving God waived death’s pretensions and expectations so that they could work in his vineyard.  The Queen did not neglect to visit the invalids every day like a compassionate mother, and to provide them with what they needed for our life on earth, and assigned a barber-surgeon to bleed them, to whom in return for his charity to these Monks she gave a slave valued at 40 Italian ducats and also various things to eat and drink, showing herself a true mother in everything; their illness lasted not for a short but for a long time, as it is not new but long-known that the Ethiopian illness is quick in coming and slow in going, and never manages to leave the person of whom it has become sovereign; if it goes away in the evening it is at the door again in the morning; for this reason, among the inhabitants of this land, it is the custom to ask often after other people’s health although many people may be within reach of the questioner, whether in sight or hearing, they do not neglect to take their spoon-ful of medicine because from one hour to the next the individual may become indisposed just as the hours of the day and night change.

Dear reader, it pleased our loving Lord, true physician of the body and soul, to give health to the Queen for the spiritual and temporal good of her Realm, and when her usual strength had returned she determined to observe all the practices which had been neglected at the feast which was celebrated when she received the letter from the Supreme Pontiff Pope Alexander the Seventh whom may God our Lord preserve, and keep as his lieutenant on earth.  When this was done I sent for all [179] her Vassals to congregate on the fifteenth day of July in the year MDCLXII and also ordered much food and drink to be prepared according to the Ethiopian custom because they never make a feast or anything like one without having a great deal to put in their bellies, dancing, jumping, singing and shouting like madmen not only by day but also by night, nor must this festival for their Queen be celebrated any less, but must surpass all others because she was so much favoured with the title of Majesty of the Vicar of Christ on earth, because indeed everyone wished to show himself a true Vassal to the Queen so they did not hesitate to kill their sheep, cows and hens for the festival day:  these, dear reader, they cooked as soon as they had roughly skinned them and expelled the stones from their entrails and they threw them in the fire with the horns on their heads, and having been cooked in this way the food dispelled the desire to eat.  This is not a new custom with them, but an old one, such as they generally follow in their works, words, gestures and all the rest, and I must say in their favour that I think it would be hard to find anyone in the world like them, and if you have done so, they should share the first place with these people, who hold the fifth science.

On the day, therefore, chosen to solemnise the Pontifical letter the Queen appeared richly dressed accompanied by the grandees of the Court, her Vassals, and innumerable people who had come to the feast, including many who had only come from the desire to fill their bellies and satisfy their greed; the usual guard of musketeers came first, and some soldiers with targes and scimitars [5] and she was followed by a good number of young ladies in attitudes of humility, as if loaded with arms which might be called arrows or spears, as you please, and accompanied by military music; she wore round her neck a beautiful gold brocade purse on a chain, in which was the Pope’s letter and a little statue of our Lady the Most Holy Virgin of the Most Holy Connection in an oval of gold encircled with the finest pearls; and when she rose and set it down, she raised it first to her head, and kissed it with great effect and devotion.  She came then to the Church and presented me with the purse, which I placed on the Altar [180] next to the Bible, and robed in the sacred vestments I celebrated Holy Mass, and having done so made a speech as the occasion warranted, about the obedience due to the Supreme Pontiff as Vicar of Christ on earth, and that it would be ratified by means of his Orator Father Serafino da Cortona and when at the sound of her name obeisance was made to the Queen I read the letter and explained its contents in the Portuguese language and this done she rose from the threshold and came up to the altar of the Holy Cross, and, kneeling, received the Supreme Pontiff’s letter from my hands with great humility and reverence, raised it to her head, and having kissed it several times she was sanctified, and not only renewed the profession of our Holy Faith, but also obedience to the Pope, promised every help and favour in order to spread and maintain it, and declared she wished to live and die in it, and in sign of spiritual joy to be given according to the custom of Ethiopia on these occasions, then she went into the square, and all the people applauded her, with clapping of hands, shouting and daubing themselves with earth, and accompanied her from the square to her court where under a canopy a royal banquet had been prepared, and before going to this she ordered a large number of earthen vases called pelurere full of European wine to be opened into a wooden vessel called in their language longaramuza, so that everyone might drink and everyone had to drink to her greatness, while she ate everyone remained standing, she helped her grandees to some dishes and they looked at the table and having thanked God her grandees ate and the common people ate too, each in the place where he was standing, with great shouts of joy.  In that day she rewarded her subjects for their services, increasing what she had done to some, doing new things for others, giving clothes to some and presents to others, and did the same to the children, and there was nobody who on that day did not benefit from the festival of their Queen and Lady.  To the Ambassador of the Lord Governor she gave a slave who was worth fifty Italian Cruciati [181] nor did we lack our present of food and drink from the earth, she gave slaves their freedom and reprieved some people who had deserved to be condemned to death and promised that in death she would leave a recommendation to propagate our Holy Christian Faith.  (Marg. note) This is the answer the Queen made to the Pope: (Note) While these days were passing in spiritual joy and consolation, and eagerness in building, a letter came from the City of Loanda saying that the soul of Father Antonio Romano, the founder of this mission, had passed to a better life and eternal peace on the 9th of July.  I cannot, dear reader, express in words the feelings of the Queen.  She came personally to tell me the news (although we knew of it by other means) with tears in her eyes for the loss of the Father and spiritual shepherd, and said “Father, as blessed God had called Fr. Antonio Ramano to eternal rest I wish to say a mass for his soul and I ask you, Father, to be so good as to do this and I shall provide everything necessary in the way of candles and incense”; I not only offered to do as she wished, but also thanked her for the charity she did to the Father, and she therefore sent everything necessary for the funeral and in pursuance of this sent word that on the day she had assigned everyone must appear in Church in funeral clothes to be present at the tambo[6] of their deceased Father, for this is what they call the burial of the dead, and that everyone must bring alms in the form of food the earth produces, and that all the women who had given birth to children since the arrival of the Capuchins in her Court must appear in church to mourn their spiritual Father and liberator.

The Queen appeared on the appointed day with the grandees of her Court and the people all dressed in black, and with deep feeling I said the office and mass, and afterwards discoursed on death as the time and occasion required, there were abundant alms of all the things the earth produces, many hens, sheep, goats etc. and everything was given to the poor for the soul of the Father, nor were thanks lacking for the letter of His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Barberino, Prefect of the Holy congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, no seminary was built because there is not sufficient knowledge or skill among the black people,[7] but a school was built for 40 children [182] who were taught not only their letters, but education in divine worship, and the service of the Holy Church, and every day their number increased thanks to the Creator; and in addition I present you the letter of that Holy Cardinal so that you may see the zeal they bear for the salvation of the souls redeemed by our loving Christ at the expense of his most precious Blood.

Copy of the letter from His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Barberino Prefect of the Holy Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to the Capuchin Missionaries in the Mission of the Congo and in Ethiopia [8]

To the Reverend Fathers, the Capuchin Fathers in the Mission of the Congo.  Reverend Fathers.  The news of the great application with which the Reverend Fathers are cultivating this vineyard of the Lord and the fruit which owing to their praiseworthy efforts and the help of God is being harvested from it, has been heard with a great sense of consolation by Their Eminences who, desirous of pursuing an enterprise of such glory to God with as much application as possible, and to increase the forces available to the Reverend Fathers, have resolved to send you the help of more missionaries, and to institute in the service of these missions those from whose absence they understand you suffer; they have at the same time requested me to say, while thanking you for what you are doing in the service of this Holy Congregation, achieving every day more than was hoped for, since the scope of your mission is so great and the need of these people more than can be satisfied by howsoever great application by such a small number of Reverend Fathers, and even by the employment of a greater number, that there is no better way of supplying this want than communicating the same spirit to the natives by building a Seminary and from this the Churches will be provided with Pastors, a good number of young men from the country will be found ready, [183] and sufficiently skilled through having had instruction and letters to embrace the Sacerdotal Clerical state, and scatter throughout these peoples to cure and spiritually help their souls.  Therefore the Holy Congregation wishes me to signify to all of you, Reverend Fathers, both to those who will be joining you and those who are already there, that among your other efforts you should willingly undertake this one too, and that without any delay you should begin this holy work, for which whatever is esteemed necessary will be promptly given.  Because even if this is understood to be properly the responsibility of other Religious whose duty it is, this should give the Reverend Fathers still greater eagerness to supplement their lack, and to compete with holy emulation in such a worthy cause, for whatever is done can never be too much in view of the good that can result, wherefore it is hoped from the great zeal and charity of the Reverend Fathers that they will take this much to heart and will advise the Holy Congregation as soon as possible when they have begun it.  Their Eminences the Cardinals wish on this occasion to give particular care to eradicating the abuse which with wonder they observe to be practised even among Christians, of making their natives slaves even after baptism,[9] which makes these poor people’s condition very unhappy, and unworthily offends Christian freedom, but because extirpating old-established abuses in a country usually causes disorder, it will be enough for the present to admonish this Christian community seriously making them see the greatness of the sin, and how unsuitable it is to the Christian condition.  For the rest, the Holy Congregation had delegated as the Prefect of these missions Father Antonio Ramano who was recommended because of his goodness and prudence of which they know, and he reminds them to give him that exact obedience which is owed to him as their superior and to endeavour to encounter frequently here the great edification which people should receive from others, and the Catholic Religion which through their work is being spread in these regions.  The Reverend Fathers should keep the Holy Congregation continuously informed of all this, without letting a boat of anyone leave without giving news and a report of themselves, [184] and the state of the Catholic Religion, and I commend myself to their prayers.  Rome, 6 October 1660 at the Reverend Fathers’ pleasure.

Cardinal Antonio, Prefect

Monsignore Alberici Sebio

[1]. These missionaries came in 1662.

[2]. Brasio has printed the original version of this letter from the Vatican Archives, Epistolae ad Principes, Monumenta 12: 290-21, with some slight differences.

[3]. 24 April 1662.

[4]. For a graphic description of the trials of a Capuchin suffering both with malaria and with its treatment by bleeding, see da Gaeta, Maravigliosa Conversione, pp.74-75 and 94-6.

[5]. The sword (scimitar) and shield were usually associated with Kongo as opposed to Imbangala weapons and northern military traditions.

[6]. Tambo = tambo, funeral services; da Gaeta, Marvigliosa Conversione, introduction (unnumbered); Cadornega, Historia 1: 621 (editors glossary of his usage).

[7]. The reasons that this project for construction of a seminary were never realized was far more complicated than Cavazzi suggested here, see Jadin, “Clerge seculier”, pp.

[8]. Several other letters with the same date and similar content are known, although no other one precisely as this one.  See the letter to Garcia II, King of Kongo in Brasio, Monumenta 12: 310-11.

[9]. On the question of the Church and the slave trade in Central Africa see Richard Gray