Escrava Anastacia

12 03 2009


…et non aperuit os suum sicut ovis ad occisionem ducetur et quasi agnus coram tondente obmutescet et non aperiet os suum

The above is an image of Brazilian folk saint Escrava Anastacia (Anastacia the Slave), the daughter of an African princess in colonial Brazil who was reputed to work miracles and be a model of virtue in her own lifetime. Renowned for her beauty and her beautiful blue eyes, she is said to have often exclaimed, “eu não sou escrava” (I am not a slave). The popular image is of her muzzled with an iron mask which many believe was a punishment for the refusal of her master’s sexual advances. She more than likely died of gangrene from wearing that mask, and is said to have forgiven her oppressors before her death.


According to the Wikipedia article on her life and legacy:

While there are reports of black Brazilians venerating an image of a slave woman wearing a facemask throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, the first wide-scale veneration of the Saint began in 1968 when the curators of the Museum of the Negro, located in the annex of the Church of the Rosary of the Brotherhood of St. Benedict in Rio, erected an exhibition to honor the 80th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil. Among the displays was an engraving of a female slave wearing a punishment facemask. The image soon became the object of popular devotion and members of the Brotherhood began collecting Anastacia stories in the early 1970s.

The Church, however, decided that she never really existed, and has stopped all canonization procedures for her. Nevertheless, she continues to be venerated amongst many Catholics, as well as in the Brazilian cult of Umbanda and other forms of spiritism.

I also found this video with some interesting footage:

Looking at these pictures, I see very clearly the kenotic nature of the Christian faith. The image of a slave reduced to silence yet maintaining her dignity cannot help but remind me of Christ. As I have said before, the history of slavery in the New World was the history of an ontological violence which is the root of all modern atrocities.  We have seen this violence unfold in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe, in the ethnic cleansings of the former Yugoslavia and Africa, and in the abortion mills of this country. This Lent, perhaps we need to reflect more on the image of a muzzled slave, someone who meekly yet firmly resisted the forces of systematized evil that plagues “civilized” modernity.



5 responses

26 04 2009
The Eyes of Escrava Anastacia « Reditus: A Chronicle of Aesthetic Christianity

[…] phenomena investigated by Burdick, the most complex is the cult of Escrava Anastacia, of which I have written on this site before. On the ground, Burdick found that most of Escrava Anastacia’s adherents, […]

13 03 2009
Arturo Vasquez


I have been digging around on Brazilian websites (I do read Portuguese), and one of the problems in the story seems to be that the church she was buried in in Rio de Janeiro was destroyed by a fire. That seems to mean that for church authorities the story of her life and virtues cannot be verified.

Also, my feeling is that they probably feel that she has been contaminated by being a figure venerated in the Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble and Umbanda. That might not be fair, but it is probably part of the issue. In Latin America, the hierarchy is often very scrupulous to avoid spreading “superstition” amongst the faithful.

That of course does not prevent her from being venerated privately by even good Catholics.

13 03 2009

This may sound stupid, but how exactly does the Vatican determine which saints existed and which saint didn’t? How can they say that for certain that Escrava Anastacia didn’t exist but someone like Saint Vitus did?

13 03 2009
Arturo Vasquez

There is some stuff on the Internet in Portuguese, but the only book in English about her can be found here.

13 03 2009

This is probably the most interesting thing I’ve read about all week. Are there any resources about Escrava Anastacia in English?

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