Enslavement and Salvation: Visions of Black Liberation in the Early Modern Catholic Atlantic

Date / Time

April 8, 2021

4:00 pm - 5:15 pm


Erin Kathleen Rowe (Johns Hopkins University)

From the mid-fifteenth to the early seventeenth century, the Iberian transatlantic slave trade accelerated rapidly, trafficking over a million people from West and West Central Africa to port cities such as Lagos (Portugal), Seville (Spain), Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), Havana (Cuba), and Veracruz (Mexico). All enslaved Africans were forcibly baptized as Christians, and thus entered the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. Missionaries and priests were confronted with the simultaneous realities of consoling those who suffered intolerable cruelty and offering equal salvation to all souls, while also defending and participating in the slave trade. Rowe examines the complex ways Iberian clergy responded to the humanitarian crisis that unfolded under their watch, including two Capuchin friars who were excommunicated for refusing to absolve the sins of enslavers, an Afro-Brazilian man who demanded that the Church end the “inhumane cruelty” experienced by those imprisoned in chattel slavery, and a formerly enslaved Afro-Peruvian woman widely lauded as a living saint. These case studies provide diverse perspectives on the relationships between enslavement and salvation, freedom and liberation, with a particular emphasis on African-descended actors.

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