Book 2, Chapter 15

Of what Queen Ginga did while the building of the Church was going on, and of some things which happened at that time[1] Chapter XV

I should not, dear reader, neglect to inform whoever reads what Queen Ginga did during the three years that the building of the Church lasted and what, by a miracle, happened, because I could give to our loving Christ not the thanks due for it, but as many thanks as were possible for us.  It will seem a great thing to hear, when I tell that the building of the Church took three years, when the instigator was a Queen as eager for the name as for the deed.  Therefore, before passing a hostile judgement, you should know that these people of the Ethiopian interior are not used to building anything except small houses, round in shape, which they call Ndumbi;[2] the Lords make a house two acque in size which they call lunone,[3] which becomes a shelter like those in Italy where they keep hay and straw, and this serves for audiences, receiving embassies, for games and entertainment.  In their small houses dwell both rational beings and animals, as in Noah’s Ark, because now the cock and now the cat make their music [185] and thus excited the others to make their own so that the will to sleep disappears; that is why building the Church took so long, and the Queen in order to perfect it went herself with her grandees several times to dig stones, and I went with her to a place over three leagues away, and carried stones on my shoulders because there are usually no big or small carts there, but everything is carried by slaves; they did not shelter from the sun, rain or any bad weather, but she made them carry loads, some by means of threats, others with punishment, others with prizes, and her ladies in waiting did not remain idle, for she sent them too to carry stones, and several times I have seen Queen Ginga herself do the work of a mere porter, and go dancing and singing to the sound of instruments to encourage people to work by her example, and as black people do nothing without this, and without a great deal of eating and drinking, she ordered many pots of vegetables which took four or six men to lift, and much palm wine and beverages from the soul, and gave them to the workers to encourage them to work with good will at building the Church, and while they worked she ordered all the instruments to be played and she herself and her grandees helped, denying herself even the usual hours of rest, for no other reason than that the building should go forward; often she went to the wood to cut down trees for beams, three of four leagues away, and all of it was drawn by hand, and let everyone consider what work was involved, eight lines fifty feet in length, 38 tisore, very many beams, in short there is not a palm’s breadth of wood which does not involve sweating blood, and great travail, but it is always a great honour and glory to our God for it was all in service of his House and finally it was ready, thanks to our Creator, who several times showed with miracles how acceptable to him was the Queen’s work, and is it not worthy of consideration that building should go on for three years without anyone being in danger, nor in need of staying in bed [186] or leaving his work?  Nor was it unusual to see an Ethiopian climb a ladder of 30 or 40 steps without any fear when he had never climbed higher than his house.

While they were building the Church five tisore fell down and broke into pieces without injuring anyone although there were over a hundred people around, in sight of the grandees of the Court; was this human or divine? of the Creator or the Creature?

Two women remained buried for some time in a hole in the ground dug in order to build the church, and were not only buried alive but without any wound, not killed or even bedridden, and went back to work as gaily and cheerfully as before, and was not this the work of our loving Crucified Christ?

While digging stones (as I have related elsewhere) from the top of the mountain a great rock fell from the top to the bottom in leaps, and hit a woman in the kidneys, and at the sight the blood grew cold in my veins, and I flew to her invoking as I walked the Most Holy name of Jesus, and when I thought to find her coming to grips with death, or divine virtue, I found her quite unhurt as if her tender flesh had been stone, which caused great admiration because of the great blow that had been dealt her without doing her any harm, so who preserved her? her clothes, perhaps, when she was almost naked?  Our loving Crucified Christ preserved her to show how acceptable the work was to him, as it was being done for his house, the Holy Church.

Several times I found myself in obvious danger of death because of the carelessness of the workmen and who preserved me from suffering harm?  Christ, our only remedy.

Several times the cords holding up the beams broke and they fell without hurting anyone although many people were all around.

Once owing to carelessness a great piece of wood fell on the head of an Ethiopian, and it threw him on the ground in front of me, a spectacle which troubles me, and I ram up to the poor man to exhort him to repent for the sins he had committed because if he was but mortally wounded at least his head was all broken, but owing to the divine virtue of the holy Crucified One [187] I found him quite unhurt as if the wood had been tender flesh, and his head marble, and as a sign of joy he went back to work as before to the amazement of everyone.

A carpenter fell from the top of the Church and in falling called on the Holy Cross; he remained hanging in the air from a beam until he could be rescued, without any injury, and is this not the effect of divine Clemency towards the work of God’s own hands?

When a porch was being built for the school, and ten men were standing on it assembling it, and I from below was pointing out what they needed to do, the beams broke through the agency of our common enemy the devil and everything fell on top of me without doing me any harm; and was not this the work of the Crucified Lord?

Finally the twelfth day of August, dedicated to the glory of the Mother of the Lord, was assigned for the blessing of the new Church.  They laid the foundation stone to the glorious Saint Clara, daughter of the Patriarch of Poverty Saint Francis, who appeared on that very day looking not only bright but resplendent, contrary to the custom of these remote parts of Western Ethiopia, nor should it have been otherwise because with the name of Clara she was entirely bright and resplendent.  The Queen appeared that day accompanied by many people and many signs of joy and attended the blessing of the Church dedicated to the Holy Cross, and to Saint Mary; to celebrate the function she ordered all the musical instruments to be played and the firearms discharged, and other signs of joy to be given according to the custom of Ethiopia.  I invited everyone on the fifteenth day of August dedicated to the glorious Assumption of Our Lady the Virgin and our common enemy was not absent, who never sleeps but always stays awake to weave his nets and set his snares not only to disturb the feast, from which he foresaw that harm would come to him, but to see if anyone was stumbling into his nets and remaining caught, for they had been set for a long time; this happened first through the work of a minion of the Queen [188] who disliked not only Christianity but peace, and who seeing the Queen enjoying these tried secretly to disturb her so that she should not draw near to the Christian Religion, and would succeed if he broke the peace with the Portuguese.  By his advice he stirred up some people of the Province called Bondo who were subject to the Queen, and they, on the recommendation of this minister of evil, loitered in the path that the Portuguese merchants took to go to the quilombo of Giaga Cassange, divided themselves into several squadrons in different places and assaulted them, not only taking their goods but also their lives with great barbarity and cruelty, stabbing several of them to death and dismembering others, decapitating some and handling others by the feet in order to imitate the Portuguese in their method of vengeance. (marginal note: and he gave these wounds to our people in preparation for revenge, which was confirmed by a well known Religious)  To appear innocent he waited till the Queen sent him in an opposite direction to make war and from there executed his evil intention, and the evil man was waiting for the Portuguese people’s decision about him and for them to make war on the Queen because he said that once the peace was broken there would be perpetual war; but blessed God permitted that the Lord Governor and Senate wrote to the Queen, and to us Capuchins, about the same business, and even sent a Captain to deal with it, and everything was adjusted to the satisfaction of both sides,[4] and so the devil was frustrated in his intention because he could not carry out his wish, and his minister remained dissatisfied although he always showed himself in another guise, but as it was not his true self he showed himself up against his will.  Another more important event followed this one, because on the night after the day of the glorious Assumption of Our Lady the Virgin of Heavenly glory,[5] the brother of the Queen’s general instigator of the above-mentioned evil deed suddenly died without my being able to give him spiritual comfort not from lack of care but because of the distance, and word was sent at once to his sister, Donna Isabella by name, wife of the Queen’s sergeant General; she came to where the body [189] of her brother was lying, and seeing it spoke to him as follows.  “Cabanga” (this was the name of the dead man, called after the land of Cabanga) “my brother, are you dead?  Have you left this mortal body behind, and must I stay in the world without following you?  I want to keep my promise to Caeuola and die too and follow you.”  You have not heard of a greater transformation, for in saying these words she fell dead to the ground, trembling and everyone’s tears redoubled; now, dear reader, I leave it to you to judge the cause of this, and to examine it, but will only say that these were the principal persons of the Kingdom, and you can imagine how the Queen, the people and we Capuchins felt, when it had happened so suddenly, on the occasion not only of the feast but of the new House of the Lord among people of no skill in speech, little faith and less judgement, and who show themselves to be more like animals than rational beings; they show this in their actions and by believing whole-heartedly in a saying without any results to confirm it, they promise easily and do not carry out their promises, and the support of the Cross was needed all the more; for what cannot the Cross do, even to people in the condition of the descendants of the damned son of the Father who was asked by his father to call his brother.[6]

I must not omit to tell the reader of a ceremony and custom of these Ethiopians [three words]; when two people are linked by love and sworn to friendship and benevolence, they observe it not only in life but in death, and one follows the other, and they agree on how to do this in every particular case, in drinking a glass of wine or picking anything up or anything else … not only to follow each other in life but also in death, and may cases have been seen of someone being killed in order to carry out this practice, equally in … putting something into the fire to cook and eating it so that they should be equal in everything, and such a pact [190] must have been followed between this brother and sister the author of all life causing them to act thus.  This unexpected event caused a revolution in the minds of the Queen, the grandees and the people, who deserted not only the country but the towns and nearby places and all ran to the dead people, and such were the cries and quarrels that filled the air and deafened the hearers that I thought of the joy of the feast and in what a labyrinth we found ourselves, what loss and heartbreak afflicted us, the voices and tears were like knives piercing our hearts; the thought of the sudden death of those two nobles afflicted us not only because of the individual people but much more because of the suspected loss of their souls; but the reason is hidden from us.  With all this all fear left my heart, and I girded myself to face whatever would happen to resist the devilish temptations which I foresaw our principal enemy the devil would use.  When I was with the Queen I showed grief, following the advice to laugh with them that do laugh and weep with them that do weep, and was able to transform myself into someone else to fulfil my intentions, and showed the feelings which were appropriate to the death of two people close to her and her Vassals, a feeling which our humanity seeks not only from those closest to us and our friends, but even from strangers, and which is natural to us, because they had paid that due tribute of travellers to death, and satisfied the inviolable law which must be observed by every traveller and that was preached by Saint Paul to Staturn est (sic) and for us it was enough and undoubted to us that death should not disturb people, though there is a proper place for the expression of feelings.  As to the joy and celebration which was required to honour Our Lady the Virgin, the King who does not know how to dissemble does not know how to govern, so the Queen sent for everyone to come to Church, and to complete the merciful task of burning the dead, and ordered the celebration of the rites of our Lady the Virgin and the new House, for she had elected these two as being dear to her:  the people obeyed the Queen’s orders, and came [191] to church showing their joy as usual by discharging their arms and shouting and playing military music according to the Ethiopian custom, then the Queen sent word that they were all to eat at her Court.  On that day she did many merciful deeds and favours, freed slaves and prisoners, gave clothes to the poor, gave slaves to the builders of the church, and there was no-one who did not enjoy the feast.  The Queen invited everyone to bury the dead in the evening.

Therefore, inside the Church on the right and left hand two deep graves were dug in order to bury them.  Having given a signal to those present by means of a bell for those nearby, and their warlike instrument for those far away, the Queen came with all the people, and they accompanied those deceased individuals to the Church and there buried them with the usual ceremonies of Holy Mother Church, and on the tenth day the office was said for both with the assistance of the Queen and the people with much giving of alms, which were distributed to the poor and the candles of the office which each person held in his hands remained in the Church, and when the Queen had seen them buried she said: “Father, people die, I too must die, there is no doubt that one must follow the footsteps of one’s ancestors and pay the traveller’s tribute to death” and I answered that she should prepare herself for that time.  The Interpreter made that day a speech to the people about the immortality of the souls of their dead.  Kind reader, then the ignorant common people began to loosen their tongues not only against the Created, but, O barbarians, against the Creator, saying that in reward for the house made for him he had taken away their relations and friends, and what is more, dear reader, they talked to the walls as if they had been gifted with rational understanding and lamented and complained to them, and not having found a remedy began to grow cool about the Christian [192] religion, on realising which the Queen ordered them to follow her example as at first, and seeing this I said, “If this is what they do with two limbs, what will they do when it happens to the head and body, and what will it be like?  What disturbances will it cause?”  Everyone can guess, especially those who have some knowledge of the people of this black Ethiopia whose actions are so barbarous, as is also their understanding.

The Church was adorned in the following manner, the Sanctum Sanctorum with three Altars.  The largest has a picture of Our Lady Saint Mary the Virgin with two angles above her, on the right hand, and on the left Saint Francis and Saint Anthony of Padua and with one arm round the neck of the Saint is the child Jesus, and his other arm presented to the Queen replying to a great number of people, and this picture is 13 palms high and 8 and a half wide and[7] in a painted frame; it cost two hundred and fifty Cruciati.  On the gospels’ side is the altar of the miraculous Holy Cross inside an oratory with screens running to the Horn of the Epistle.  In another oratory is the altar of the Most Holy Rosary with the Virgin’s statue beside which her Most Holy Rosary is recited, and the mass on Saturday, and afterwards the litanies to Our Lady the Virgin; her silver lamp is kept there, always lighted, with her holy water stoup and other necessary things, and the Queen spent money on the ornaments customary to Holy Mother Church as well as the Church fabric, that is to say eight thousand Italian ducats on paying craftsmen and buying ornaments, because the reader knows how much zeal Queen Ginga had for the honour of God and the salvation of her soul, let there be always honour and glory to our beloved Christ and his most holy mother.  I cannot, dear reader, forbear to mention here the action of Queen Ginga when in 1662 I celebrated Holy Mass in the Royal Chapel.  On the evening of the feast of S. Anna the Queen appeared with her people carrying a large number of wax candles each one in balance and before the altar of S. Anna she made an offering with the words noted here, translated from their language into ours.  [193]


Lady Saint Anna, I have made you this church, you well know with what zeal I have worked on it and I know myself unworthy of such good, [crossed out: will be] Christian because I was baptised.  After I took possession of my kingdom on the death of the King my brother, I governed tyrannically and was an idolater, using all the diabolical rites of the Giaghi, giving permission for carnage of human flesh in my Kingdom, ordering that no woman should give birth without at once killing the baby or going to the dung-heap and leaving the child there, invoking Idols, committing great crimes against God’s law, and living in this blindness until God was served by sending me the Capuchin missionaries who led me back and opened my eyes to the pathway of truth, and I recognised my errors and applying the doctrine they taught me sent express orders that all evil deeds should be forbidden, and they should know only the doctrine of those holy apostolic men who were preaching the Doctrine of Christ; and this bore great fruit, eradicating heresy, baptising all the children and adults, and joining in matrimony those who were fit for it, so that my Kingdom was living in the bosom of Holy Mother Church.  I say, Lady, that I was thus and now I am different, and I ask you O glorious Saint Anna, as I am called Anna like you, to offer these candles to your daughter the Virgin Mary that she may offer them to her blessed son that I may raise them to illuminate his house, and that she may ask her blessed son to be merciful to me and forgive my sins, and because of his death and passion remember my soul when I have to leave this earth.  Amen.

This was the offering Queen Ginga made to Saint Anna in the early evening of her feast[8] in the year MDCLXII.


[1]. This Church was constructed between about 1659 and 24 April 1662, see p. 140 above.

[2]. Ndumbi, small house for people of low status, not in use today.  It is also in Cadornega 1: 613 (editors glossary).  The catechism uses the term bata, do Couto, Gentio, p.    .  Cavizzi gives a detailed description of dimensions, materials and shape of this dwelling in MS B, pp. 445-6.

[3]. Lunone, see note 258 above.

[4]. This attack by Mbondo on the kilombo of Kasanje and its Portuguese residents presages a later one reported in more detail in Portugese correspondence in 1680-81, Birmingham, Trade and Conflict, p. 129.

[5].The day of Virgin Mary’s Assumption, 1662 =


[7].That is, 3.38 m x 2,08 m.

[8]. Feast of Saint Ann in 1662 =