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date: 09 December 2023

Black Brotherhoods in the Portuguese Atlanticfree

Black Brotherhoods in the Portuguese Atlanticfree

  • Alicia L. MonroeAlicia L. MonroeAfrican, African American, and Diaspora Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Lay Catholic brotherhoods constituted important religious, social, and civic associations among African-origin and African-descended people in Portugal, West Central Africa, and Portuguese America in the early modern period (1450–1850). Lay Catholic brotherhoods (irmandades), also known as confraternities (confrarias) and sodalities, functioned as spaces of devotion oriented around one or more patron saints. In the Portuguese Atlantic world, free and enslaved people of African origin and descent utilized the associations to prioritize collective devotion, mutual aid, and burial rites for members. Mutual aid could include small payments during illness, assistance with manumission process completion, and internment of deceased members under the auspices of the sodality.

Lay Catholic brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of transculturation and belonging for people of African origin and descent in the 1490s in Portugal, by the early 1500s in areas of West Central Africa with an entrenched Portuguese presence, and in Brazil beginning in the colonial period (1500–1822). Confraternities became a common facet of lived experience and religiosity for African and African-descended Catholic devotees across the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic world. Associations were governed by organizational charters generated by founding or elected directorate members that required approval from Catholic Church leaders, the Crown, and provincial-level state authorities. Confraternities had juridical personality and recognition from ecclesial and state officials as semi-autonomous entities or corporate bodies. Members could exercise and experience limited levels of autonomy, even in slave-holding colonial environments. Within brotherhoods in Portugal and in its overseas imperial territories, ethnic and racial stratification was predominant, but not absolute. Confraternities acted as institutional sites where West, West Central, and Southeastern African ethnic group identities held importance and deep social meaning across several centuries. Confraternity participants engaged baroque Catholicism, which emphasized collective action including celebration of the saints and related rites relying on music, movement, and festivities. Brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of proselytization, but also came to serve as spaces for local member imperatives that incorporated African cultural expression, esthetics, and worldviews.


  • History of Brazil
  • Afro-Latin History
  • Church and Religious History
  • Slavery and Abolition
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

Confraternities in the Portuguese Atlantic World

Confraternities, known in Portuguese as irmandades and confrarias, functioned as devotional and mutual aid societies, which connected African-born and African-descended people in networks of mutuality beyond kinship ties in early modern Portugal, West Central Africa, and Brazil. Lay Catholic brotherhoods constituted important religious, civic, and social associations in the Portuguese Atlantic world. Sodalites were organized by priests and lay persons to venerate one or more patron saints and associations prioritized the extension of charity as an act of piety directed toward members or non-members, depending on the class standing of participants. Lay Catholic brotherhoods emerged in the late Middle Ages on the Iberian Peninsula and became part of daily life in Portugal and in Portugal’s early modern colonial territories, including Brazil and Angola. Confraternities also appeared in politically autonomous West Central African territories with significant Portuguese influence, including the Kingdoms of Kongo and Matamba and adjacent areas.1 Historically, confraternities principally consisted of lay Catholics or those who had not taken vows to enter religious life or monastic communities.

The earliest lay Catholic brotherhoods populated by people of African origin and their descendants were dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, an iteration of the Virgin Mary. Priests of the Dominican order and local residents founded sodalities together. The Dominican order committed to the dissemination of devotion and reverence of the Virgin Mary as a model of piety and members and devotees connected to the order worked to heighten her visibility among all laity in Catholic realms and territories in Europe.2 The earliest sodalities devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary in Portugal included members from the kingdom. However, as enslavers brought West and West Central African forced laborers to the Iberian Peninsula and acculturation unfolded, people of African origin and descent became a segment of the populace participating in Catholic devotional practice. As the Black population grew, devotees participated in the same organizations across lines of race. However, by the 1490s in Portugal, whites and Blacks separated due to intensifying racial boundaries and participants came to organize themselves into predominantly racially separate sodalities.3 In colonial (1500–1822) and imperial Brazil (1822–1889), this pattern of racial stratification was preponderant but not absolute from the 16th through the late 19th centuries.

Boundaries Among the Faithful: From Ethnic to Racialized Collective Identities

Confraternities tended to be racially exclusive in the Portuguese empire. Elite white Portuguese groups prohibited membership for people designated as Moorish, Jewish, African, or of mixed-race heritage or lineage in Portugal and Portuguese America. In West Central Africa, Catholicism arrived with Portuguese explorers and missionaries, but political leaders of the Kingdom of Kongo took on the practice of Roman Catholicism in the 1490s after the conversion of Nzinga a Nkuwu (r. 1470–1509), who adopted the name João I to honor his new links to the king of Portugal and Christendom.4 Confraternities in West Central Africa before the 1600s involved members of the kingdom’s political elite and nobility, due to the connection between Catholicism, Portuguese trade, and prestige for West Central African rulers.5

In Portuguese America, brotherhoods composed of African migrants and descendants accepted Black and non-Black members. Black-identified associations generally had one African ethnic group that restricted leadership positions to individuals from that background. Brotherhoods dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary before the mid-19th century, for example, typically allowed only persons designated as “of the Congo nation” or “of Angola” (de nação Congo) or (de Angola) to serve as administrative officers or kings and queens of organizational festivities.6 The Brotherhood of Saint Ephigênia and Saint Elesbão (Saint Elesbaan) has been documented as limiting leadership and membership to people self-designating as “of the Mina nation” (de nação Mina) and Brazilian-born African descendants, also referenced as crioulos.7 Non-Black priests and individuals holding strong affinities for a given saint might join sodalities even if they were not part of the predominant ethnic or racial group populating the association. While in the early colonial period, ethnicity routinely constituted a critical factor determining eligibility for belonging among African forced arrivals and their descendants, by the 19th century brotherhoods morphed into associative spaces where ethnic designations became less critical and a pan-ethnic Black identification emerged.8

In colonial Brazil, the first brotherhoods were dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and this confraternity had the largest number of autonomously organized groups. Scholars date the earliest Black confraternity in Portuguese America to the year 1552. Jesuit missionaries and laypeople constituted the members and adherents in the province of Pernambuco.9 Initial Black brotherhoods were founded in the northeastern captaincies of Pernambuco and Bahia as early sites of population density, sugar cultivation, and economic prosperity. Salvador da Bahia, the first capital of Brazil until 1763, when Rio de Janeiro became the center of the colony, as of 1686 housed the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of Conceição da Praia.10 Minas Gerais constituted another area in which Black confraternities emerged in large numbers, likely due to the ability of residents in gold-mining areas to devote portions of their discretionary incomes to associational life, but also due to the prohibition of religious orders, which made confraternities a critical mode of Catholic education and institutional edification.11 By the 1750s, Black confraternities had been established across prosperous cities and capitals in the captaincies or provinces of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Rio Grande do Sul among others. As urban institutions, Black lay Catholic brotherhoods dotted city centers and functioned as physical sites of assembly for African-origin and African-descended populations who gathered to celebrate the saints devoted to Black populations.

Churches founded by Black confraternities functioned as assembly points for African- and Brazilian-born African descendants from all walks of life.12 Sodalities and the churches and altars which housed them functioned as physical and symbolic spaces where African immigrants and their Brazilian-born descendants blended African esthetics and baroque Catholicism as they did the work of utilizing and mixing extant Catholic practices with the emergent expressions of faith they would employ.13 Black-identified people also utilized the participatory space of confraternities to publicly demonstrate their presence in the cities where they lived and in the congregation of God. Black confreres used devotion as a way to build bonds with each other and to incorporate themselves into an important sphere of civic performance. Sodalities represented one of the few sites of independent Afro-Brazilian assembly that white Brazilian society encouraged, since the instruction of captives in issues of faith constituted a church and state objective.14 As historian Julita Scarano noted, during the colonial period “Religious brotherhoods of the kingdom looked to integrate all of the population including representatives of exotic races such as Moors, Blacks, and even Indians.”15


Scholars have had difficulty locating first-person sources indicating the factors motivating individuals to join lay Catholic brotherhoods among non-elites. Despite an absence of first-person accounts, existing historiography suggests that the disruption and trauma of the transatlantic slave trade and enslavement led to confraternities serving as sites of identification and integration in early modern Portugal and colonial Portuguese America. Entrants to the associations worked to establish a sense of belonging organized around ethnicity and, by the 19th century, racialized Black identities in Brazil.16 Associational members also utilized devotion as a way to participate in Catholic civic space. The juridical personality each association held made the groups sites of limited autonomy in the context of racial slavery.

Black brotherhoods generally admitted men and women as members, but organizational meeting minutes (atas) indicate that male leaders carried out administrative and general meetings with negligible female participation. Black confraternities, like other mixed-gender Catholic institutions, severely restricted female participation patterns, even though women made up approximately forty percent of total members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men of São Paulo during the last sixty years of the 19th century.17 This high level of female participation mirrored estimated female participation rates in other locales in 19th-century Brazil. Historian Elizabeth Kiddy noted that women represented approximately one-third of the overall membership in two confraternities in Mariana and Barbacena, Minas Gerais, in the 19th century, and historian João José Reis reported that women represented 48.6 percent of the members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Mulattos at Boqueirão in Bahia.18 Women participated in sodalities in significant numbers, which helped finance associative life through dues and officer donations.

Afro-Brazilian confraternities had gender-specific offices to which they annually elected women. Female administrative board members in 18th and 19th-century Brazil held offices that paralleled those of men, but the responsibilities of female officers were distinct from those of male leaders.19 Every year each Black brotherhood in the city of São Paulo, for example, selected twelve women to serve as female board members (irmãs mesárias) according to their organizational charters.20 Though the title of the position irmãs mesárias appeared to be the equivalent of their male counterparts’, irmãos mesários, the responsibilities of female officers were not the same.21 In 1871, the Rosary Brotherhood in the city of São Paulo made it clear in its organizational statute that gender represented an impediment for its female board members. The statute of their newly reformed compromisso indicated that “The sisters of the board due to their sex, which impedes the rendering of other services, have the responsibility of paying dues of 10,000 mil-réis and dressing as an angel in order to accompany the procession on the day of the festival of the Organ through the streets of the city.”22 Male board members, in contrast, were required to “Attend all the meetings convened, to vote on all questions in which the board deliberates, and to pay dues of 10,000 mil-réis at the act of possession of the office.”23

The female board members of the Rosary Brotherhood were not unique in terms of their lack of access to participation in decision-making meetings, while being asked to provide financial contributions at the same level as men. In 1899, the Brotherhood of Saint Benedict of the City of São Paulo endowed its honored female board members with quite domestic responsibilities. While the associational charter required female board members to be “married women of renowned faith” their duties included “cleaning the cloth items used to ornament altars for the liturgy, to adorn the church with flowers and other decorations and to give a donation never less than 5,000 mil-réis for the expenditure of the Brotherhood.”24 The formal roles and responsibilities of male and female board-member officers could not have been configured in terms that more expressly connected men with authority and power and women with secondary support responsibilities. The only offices in which male and female members had roughly equivalent duties and responsibilities were those presiding over the organizational festival.


Afro-Brazilian confraternity participants assembled with each other and engaged Baroque Catholicism, which emphasized collective action, including celebration of the saints through music, movement, and festivities as outward demonstrations of internal piety. African-origin and African-descended confraternity members collectively celebrated patron saints and mourned deceased brethren with enslaved and free people of color in cities across the Atlantic world. The saints that inspired devotion and collective veneration represented a compelling set of intercessors and patrons. The saints who served as associational patrons varied from town to town and city to city across Latin America, but in Brazil devotions to Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Benedict were most popular.25 A host of other saints inspired African-origin and African-descent devotees in colonial and post-colonial Brazil, and the most commonly known included Saint Ephigênia, Saint Elesbão, Saint Anthony, and King Balthazar, one of the magi from the east who offered gifts to the newborn Christ.26

Mutual Aid and Charity among Brethren

The tradition of mutual aid, the assurance of a proper ritualized burial, and the desire to have a space of socialization spurred confraternity participation.27 Confraternities helped members navigate and negotiate the problem of civil status as slaves and social discrimination against Africans and their descendants. Elite white confraternities often displayed their devotion to God by serving the poor.28 Elite brotherhoods such as the Santa Casa de Misericórdia established the first hospitals and orphanages in colonial Brazil. For elite white brotherhoods charity was directed outwardly and worked to confirm the status and patron roles held by priests, merchants, and colonial officials.29

Black brotherhoods used organizational resources to extend charity, but they directed those resources to the less fortunate among their own members. In most cases, slave status locked bondspeople into a life of impoverishment. Even slaves who were hired out and retained a portion of their earnings struggled to house, clothe, and feed themselves, never mind the costs of trying to buy one’s freedom. Therefore, members of brotherhoods pledged to help members finance the administrative process required to secure liberty for slaves who had positioned themselves to purchase their own freedom or to be granted freedom by owners.30 Mutual aid extended to the process of securing freedom for those able to underwrite the bulk of the costs associated with the process.

Illness represented another serious issue for enslaved people and the less fortunate among free people of color. The financial inability of bonds people and the free poor to seek medical assistance due to disease or ailment represented a significant problem. Slaves who became ill were often freed and abandoned so that slave masters would not have to bear the financial burden of acquiring medical attention for the captive.31 Without family or kin, long-term or even temporary illness could lead to destitution, and Black brotherhoods provided a modicum of a social safety net for indigent members. Among the offices created by the association’s leadership in the organizational statutes of the Rosary Brotherhood of the city of São Paulo in 1778 was a nurse to aid the sick.32 Confraternity members intended to extend care and assistance to each other in sickness, in health, in life, and at death.

Organizational statutes left no doubt that a critical function of the brotherhood was to provide appropriate rituals for the defunct at the hour of death. Poor brotherhood participants would have the cost of funerals covered by Black confraternities. The Brotherhood of Saint Benedict of the City of São Paulo covered funeral expenses for the children of members up until the age of twelve, while the Brotherhood of Saint Ephigênia and Saint Elesbão of the same city extended burial services and commemorations to all legitimate children of male and female members up to age seven.33 In the 19th century, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary in São Paulo also covered burial expenses for wives of married male members in addition to children.34 Brotherhoods would say masses for the soul of the departed and future generations would remember the brethren and their kin forever by continuing to pray for their souls.35 Securing a proper burial in a context where an individual could easily have no relatives to be responsible for internment contributed to the significance of Black brotherhoods for African and African-descended populations.36 The idea that members would also be remembered and honored in a way at least symbolically similar to their forbearers undoubtedly had great appeal.

Finally, the desire to participate in ritual space with people from shared language groups and common experiences increased the desirability of confraternity involvement and engagement. The sights and sounds of confraternity festivities and their general activities must have conjured an air of familiarity for participants and observers. The use of polyrhythmic, percussion-centered drumming and dance known as batuque during funerals and festivals, and the leadership of male and female patrons on special occasions in Black brotherhoods could only feel familiar to those from cultures which held special reverence for authorities linking the worlds of the living and the ancestors through collective ritual action.37 While elements of cultural specificity were likely to be missing or incomplete for every provenance group of free and enslaved people, most African bondspeople and their progeny likely would have found some feature of their cultures of origin present in festivities sponsored and administered by Black brotherhoods, particularly in the churches they built and owned.

Baroque Catholicism marked the religious world that bondspeople entered from the 1550s to 1890s in Brazil. Black brotherhoods retained ceremonial and liturgical patterns, esthetics, and organizing principles based on baroque theological precepts and principles and on West and West Central African cosmologies and worldviews well past the mid-19th century. Brotherhoods were sites that Africanized Brazil and made African arrivals to Portuguese America part of the fabric of religious, civic, and social life across parishes and municipalities.

Discussion of the Literature

Scholars studying Brazilian lay Catholic brotherhoods have taken three distinct approaches to the institutions. These approaches are best described as cultural history, studies of class, and studies of ethnicity and race. A critical and compelling example of a cultural history approach is exemplified by Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil by João José Reis.38 This text recounts the shifting sites and rites of burial through analysis of a revolt instigated by changes in locales of burial in Salvador, Bahia. In his research, Reis consulted irmandade statutes, member wills, and a plethora of other sources in order to ably describe shifting patterns of devotion and piety in the period analyzed. He also recounted how secularization and the post-Enlightenment thinking of reformers who banned burial in the city and under altars in the church conflicted with the forces of tradition embodied by lay brotherhoods and the wider populace across lines of race.39 Reis’ work is a magnificent example of the depth and detail such a cultural history approach can generate. One drawback of a cultural history approach, however, is that perspectives on death or others issues can be successfully explored without full exploration of internal organizational dynamics and analysis of internal institutional structures.

Scholars have also utilized brotherhood documentation to conduct case studies of class which focus on the ways members use the organizations to exert social and political influence on fellow upper-echelon members, as well as noting how elite participants use these organizations as an affirmation of their class status.40 Typically, these class studies focus on the exclusively white Santa Casa de Misericórdia. This vein of research emphasizes the role of elites in local, social, and economic development.41 Organizational documentation, especially executive administrative committee position records combined with analysis of wills and testaments, provide a way to understand social networks among the white elite who often used brotherhoods as a space to demonstrate their class standing through donations and executive committee service.

Scholars also approach lay brotherhoods as a way to explore ethnic and racial identities among Africans and African descendants in Brazil.42 These studies focus on Black brotherhoods as ethnic enclaves by the 18th century, which later transition to race-based organizations.43 The strength of this literature is that by triangulating irmandade member registries and baptismal records, scholars are able to highlight and interrogate self-reported identity markers and designations demonstrating the prevalence and pertinence of ethnic identities or provenance zones for individuals and groups.44

One limitation of this historiography is that most studies focus exclusively on the 18th century. Scholars of colonial Latin America who write about irmandades as ethnically specific groups generally do not venture beyond the mid-19th century.45 While studies of patterns of popular religiosity during the 18th century have proliferated, fewer scholars have chronicled the religious lives of the increasingly diverse population of African arrivals and Brazilian-born slaves in the mid to late 19th century. What we know about Black brotherhoods suffers from significant gaps of chronology.

The historiography also has particular regional imbalances. Most studies of lay Catholic brotherhoods focus on the southeastern state of Minas Gerais or the northeastern states of Bahia and Pernambuco.46 Minas Gerais represents a major location for studies due to the historic and contemporary visibility of the congada tradition prevalent in large cities and small towns throughout the state.47 Scholarly production has significant depth in that province, but not in others. Even Rio de Janeiro has seen scant analysis; only two book-length studies of Black brotherhoods of the city exist.48 Source fragmentation and the decentralized nature of associations means that further research and publications can continue to add fuller, more comprehensive renderings of Black confraternal life and member experience.

Primary Sources

Archival organizational records from Black-identified lay Catholic brotherhoods suffer from sparsity and fragmentation. Records generated by Black-identified lay Catholic brotherhoods can be located in the ecclesial archives of the Catholic Church, repositories connected to the Portuguese empire in the Americas and Africa in terms of Atlantic world sites, and public national, state, and (intermittently) municipal-level administered manuscript collections. Materials held by the church and the state tend to be organized by contemporary state boundaries rather than colonial or imperial ecclesial administrative units. Researchers should begin use of Catholic Church records at the Arquivo da Cúria Metropolitana of the province/state of interest.

Multiple repositories and libraries associated with the Portuguese overseas empire contain compromissos or organizational charters emanating from confraternity directorates in Portugal, Portuguese Africa, and Brazil. Compromissos or organizational statues provide precise information about the financial and ceremonial responsibilities of members and officers, including those who sponsored festivals for patron saints, which represented the most important event in a sodality’s calendar year besides Holy Week. Organizational charters and revisions required approval by the Portuguese overseas council and associations directed copies of compromissos to imperial-level authorities. Compromissos from across the Portuguese Atlantic world are available for consultation in three particularly important sites: the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino (AHU); the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (ANTT); and the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (BNP).

Researchers should also consult public state and municipal-level archives for resources. In Brazil, for example, during the imperial period (1822–1889) through the first republic (1889–1930), compromissos required approval from the secretary of state of the given province and diocesan officials, so public state archival collections include compromissos created when associations submitted governing charters for official recognition from provincial or state officials.

In addition to copies of compromissos, ecclesial and (less often) public state and private repositories, particularly in capital cities, generally hold associational meeting minutes called atas that provide critical materials for the study of Afro-Atlantic confraternities and sodalities in general. While compromissos reveal a great deal about organizational rules, prerogatives, and intentions, the documents do not necessarily indicate how sodalities behaved. Associational records including atas, correspondence, and books of receipts and expenses do that work. Unfortunately, confraternity records are notoriously fragmented and collection documents from Black sodalities are piecemeal at best. Associations rarely handed over complete sets of member records to their local diocese to be archived. If records did remain with the confraternity and not in the homes of officers, the materials the associations forwarded to local archives generally left out as much as they passed on, since associational leaders were reluctant to dismantle their records and historical patrimony.49 Economic constraints likely impacted resource utilization. In order to conserve paper, some associational secretaries reused pages of member entry books at various times and with variable levels of legibility, leaving the membership data out of chronological order. Lack of consistency in record-keeping patterns, a common problem which plagues use of institutional records, represents a challenge for research relying on organizational records generated by resource-strapped associations.

Further Reading

  • Abreu, Martha. “Popular Culture, Power Relations, and Urban Discipline: The Festival of the Holy Spirit in Nineteenth Century Rio de Janeiro.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 24, no. 2 (2005): 167–180.
  • Amaral, Raul Joviano de. Os Pretos do Rosário de São Paulo: Subsidios Históricos. 2nd ed. São Paulo: João Scortecci Editora, 1991.
  • Borges, Célia Maia. Escravos e libertos Nas Irmandades do Rosário: Devoção e Solidariedade em Minas Gerais—Séculos XVIII e XIX. Juiz do Fora: Editora Universidade Federal de Juiz da Fora, 2005.
  • Dempsey, Genevieve E. V. “Healing the Middle Passage with Parade: Music and Movement in Afro-Catholic Brazil.” Transition 125 (2018): 158–169.
  • Fonseca, Jorge. Religião e Liberdade: Os Negros nas Irmandades e Confrarias Portuguesas (Séculos XV a XIX). Ribeirão: Edições Humus, 2016.
  • Fromont, Cecile, ed. Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of the Black Atlantic Tradition. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019.
  • Iyanaga, Michael. “Why Saints Love Samba: A Historical Perspective on Black Agency and the Rearticulation of Catholicism in Bahia, Brazil.” Black Music Research Journal 35, no. 1 (Spring 2015): 119–147.
  • Kiddy, Elizabeth W. Blacks of the Rosary: Memory and History in Minas Gerais, Brazil. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 2005.
  • Kiddy, Elizabeth W. “Ethnic and Racial Identity in the Brotherhoods of the Rosary of Minas Gerais, 1700–1830.” The Americas 56, no. 2 (October 1999): 221–252.
  • Larkin, Brian. The Very Nature of God: Baroque Catholicism and Religious Reform in Bourbon Mexico City. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.
  • Monroe, Alicia L. “Kongo Symbols, Catholic Celebrations: Adornment and Spiritual Power in Nineteenth-Century Religious Festivals in São Paulo, Brazil.” Journal of Africana Religions 8, no. 2 (July 2020): 202–231.
  • Monroe, Alicia L. “‘To Govern the Church’: Autonomy and the Consequences of Self-Determination for the Brotherhood of Saint Ephigênia and Saint Elesbão in São Paulo, Brazil, 1888–1890.” Hispanic American Historical Review 97, no. 1 (February 2017): 63–94.
  • Mulvey, Patricia. “Black Brothers and Sisters: Membership in the Black Lay Brotherhoods of Colonial Brazil.” Luso-Brazilian Review 17, no. 2 (1980): 253–279.
  • Mulvey, Patricia. “Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society.” The Americas 39, no. 1 (July 1982): 39–68.
  • Oliveira, Anderson José Machado. Devoção Negra: Santos Pretos e Catequese no Brasil Colonial. Rio de Janeiro: Quartet, 2008.
  • Quintão, Antonia Aparecida. Irmandades Negras: Outro Espaço de Luta e Resistência, São Paulo: 1870–1890. São Paulo: Annablume FAPESP, 2002.
  • Quintão, Antonia Aparecida. Lá Vem o Meu Parente: As Irmandades de Pretos e Pardos no Rio de Janeiro e Em Pernambuco, Século XVIII. São Paulo: Annablume, 2002.
  • Reginaldo, Lucilene. “África em Portugal”: Devoções, Irmandades e Escravidão no Reino de Portugal, Século XVIII.” História (São Paulo) 28, no. 1 (2009): 289–319.
  • Reginaldo, Lucilene. “Rosários dos Pretos, Saint Benedict of Quissama: Black Confraternities and Devotions in the Atlantic World (Portugal and Angola, 1700s).” Studia Histórica: Historia Moderna 38, no. 1 (June 2016): 123–151.
  • Reis, João José. Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil. Translated by H. Sabrina Gledhill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Rowe, Erin Kathleen. Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
  • Russell-Wood, A. J. R. “Black and Mulatto Brotherhoods in Colonial Brazil: A Study in Collective Behavior.” Hispanic American Historic Review 54, no. 4 (1974): 567–602.
  • Soares, Mariza de Carvalho. People of Faith: Slavery and African Catholics in Eighteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro. Translated by Jerry D. Metz. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Valerio, Miguel A. “Black Dancers and Musicians Performing Afro-Christian Identity in Early Modern Spain and Portugal.” Palara 24 (Fall 2020): 47–56.


  • 1. A. C. de C. M. Saunders, A Social History of Black Slaves and Freedmen in Portugal, 1441–1555 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 150–156; Lucilene Reginaldo, “‘África em Portugal’: Devoções, irmandades e escravidão no Reino de Portgual, século XVIII,” História 28, no. 1 (2009), 239–320; Lucilene Reginaldo, “Rosário dos pretos,‘São Benedito de Quissama’: Irmandades e devoções negras no mundo Atlântico (Portugal e Angola, século XVIII,” Studia histórica, Historia moderna 38, no.1 (2016): 123–125; Elizabeth W. Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary: Memory and History in Minas Gerais (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005), 26–27; Erin Kathleen Rowe, Black Saints in Early Modern Catholicism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 59–67; Richard Gray, “ ‘Como vero Prencipe Catolico’: The Capuchins and the Rulers of Soyo in the Late Seventeenth Century,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 53, no. 3 (1983): 45–46; and Cécile Fromont, The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 202–205.

  • 2. Robin Vose, “The Dominican Order in Late Medieval and Early Modern History,” History Compass 11, no. 11 (2013): 967–982; and Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 23–27 and 32.

  • 3. Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 30; and Linda M. Heywood, “The Angolan-Afro-Brazilian Cultural Connections,” Slavery and Abolition 20, no. 1 (1999): 10–11.

  • 4. Fromont, Art of Conversion, 4.

  • 5. Gray, “‘Como Vero Prencipe,” 202–205; Célia Maia Borges, Escravos e libertos nas irmandades do Rosário: Devoção e solidadiedade em Minas Gerais—séculos XVIII e XIX (Juiz do Fora: Editora Universidade Federal de Juiz da Fora, 2005), 49–50; and Fromont, Art of Conversion, 203. For a discussion of confraternities in West Central Africa from the 1890s through the present, see Phyllis M. Martin, Catholic Women of Congo-Brazzaville: Mothers and Sisters in Troubled Times (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009).

  • 6. João José Reis, “Identidade e diversidade étnicas nas irmandades negras no tempo da escravidão,” Tempo (Rio de Janeiro) 2, no. 3 (1996): 3; Mieko Nishida, “From Ethnicity to Race and Gender; Transformations of Black Lay Sodalities in Salvador, Brazil,” Journal of Social History 32, no. 2 (1998): 331–332; Arquivo da Cúria Metropolitana de São Paulo (hereafter ACMSP)’s Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo (1778), 01-03-08, Capítulo 22, mandates selection of a king and queen for the Festival of Our Lady of the Rosary, where officers were required to be “Blacks of Angola” and of good behavior (“Nessa Santa Irmandade se farão todos os annos hum Rey, e sua Rainha, os quaes serão “pretos de Angola,” e serão de bom procedimento”; my emphasis).

  • 7. João José Reis, Death is a Festival: Funeral Rites and Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Brazil, trans. H. Sabrina Gledhill (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 46–47; Mariza de Carvalho Soares, People of Faith: Slavery and African Catholics in Eighteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro, trans. Jerry D. Metz (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 3–6 and 64; Luis Nicolau Parés, “Militiamen, Barbers and Slave-Traders: Mina and Jeje Africans in a Catholic Brotherhood (Bahia, 1770-1830),” trans. Thais Ianarelii and Jamie Andreson with author’s contribution, Revista Tempo 20 (2014): 1–32.

  • 8. Reis, Death is a Festival, 46–47; Nishida, “From Ethnicity to Race,” 329–348; and Elizabeth W. Kiddy, “Ethnic and Racial Identity in the Brotherhoods of the Rosary of Minas Gerais, 1700–1830,” The Americas 56, no. 2 (October 1999): 223–226 and 234–240.

  • 9. Patricia Mulvey, “Black Brothers and Sisters: Membership in the Black Lay Brotherhoods of Colonial Brazil,” Luso-Brazilian Review 17, no. 2 (Winter 1980): 256; and Antonia Aparecida Quintão, Lá vem o meu parente: as irmandades de pretos e pardos no Rio de Janeiro e em Pernambuco, século XVIII, (São Paulo: Annablume, 2002), 75–77.

  • 10. Reis, Death is a Festival, 47.

  • 11. Borges, Escravos e libertos, 60; and Lisa Voigt, Spectacular Wealth: The Festivals of Colonial South American Mining Towns (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), 122 and 187.

  • 12. Borges, Escravos e libertos, 149–151; and Maria Cristina Cortez Wissenbach, Sonhos africanos, vivências ladinas, escravos e forros no município de São Paulo, 1850–1880 (São Paulo: Hucitec, 1998), 206. (“O pátio do Rosário era o território negro por excelência de São Paulo, não apenas pela igreja e prácticas religiosas da irmandade, mas também porque em torno delas habitavam negros que viviam de vender quitandas pelas ruas da cidade.”)

  • 13. Rowe, Black Saints, 99; Alicia L. Monroe, “Kongo Symbols, Catholic Celebrations: Adornment and Spiritual Power in Nineteenth Century Religious Festivals in São Paulo, Brazil,” Journal of Africana Religions 8, no. 2 (July 2020): 202–231; and Miguel A. Valerio, “Black Dancers and Musicians Performing Afro-Christian Identity in Early Modern Spain and Portugal,” Palara 24 (Fall 2020): 47–56.

  • 14. Mulvey, “Black Brothers and Sisters,” 253–255; and Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 15.

  • 15. Julita Scarano, Devoção e Escravidão: A Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos no districto Diamantino no século XVIII (São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1975), 26. (“As irmandades religiosas do Reino procuraram integrar toda a população, inclusive os representates das raças exóticas, como mouros, pretos, e ate índios . . .”)

  • 16. A. J. R. Russell-Wood, “Black and Mulatto Brotherhoods in Colonial Brazil: A Study in Collective Behavior,” Hispanic American Historical Review 54, no. 4 (1974): 567–603; Quintão, Lá Vem, 86; and Kiddy, “Ethnic and Racial Identity,” 234–240.

  • 17. See Raul Joviano Amaral, Os pretos do Rosário de São Paulo: subsidios históricos (São Paulo: Alarico, 1954), unpaged appendix.

  • 18. See Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 154; and Reis, Death is a Festival, 50.

  • 19. Mariza de Carvalho Soares, “Can Women Guide and Govern Men? Gendering Politics among African Catholics in Colonial Brazil,” in Women and Slavery, ed. Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C. Miller, vol. 2, The Modern Atlantic (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008), 79–99.

  • 20. ACMSP, “Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo, 1778,” 01-03-08; Uncatalogued Folder: Santa Efigênia: Nrsa da Conceição, No. 2, Compromisso 1859; and Arquivo do Estado de São Paulo, (hereafter AESP), Sociedades Civis, Estatuas/Compromissos, Irmandade de São Benedito da Cidade de São Paulo, 1861, 17/02/1896, C10388.

  • 21. Soares, People of Faith, 142 and 165–166; Reis, Death is a Festival, 50–51; and Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 157–158.

  • 22. ACMSP, Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo, 1871, microfilm, 2002, Capítulo 8, Artigo 13. Emphasis added.

  • 23. ACMSP, Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo, 1871, microfilm, 2002, Capítulo 8, Artigo 12.

  • 24. ACMSP, Uncataloged Folder, Irmandades XXXIV, Irmandade de São Benedito, Compromisso de Irmandade de São Benedito da Cidade de São Paulo, Capítulo 4, Artigo 19.

  • 25. Nicole Von Germeten, Black Blood Brothers: Confraternities and Social Mobility for Afro-Mexicans (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006), 14–15, 17–22, and appendix; Margaret Cormack, ed., Saints and Their Cults in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007); Jean Paul Charney, “A Sense of Belonging: Colonial Indian Cofradías and Ethnicity in the Valley of Lima Peru,” The Americas 54, no. 3 (January 1998): 379–407; Borges, Escravos e libertos, 60; Giovanna Fiumi, “St. Benedict the Moor: From Sicily to the New World,” in Saints and Their Cults in the Atlantic World, ed. Margaret Cormack (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 16–19; Mulvey, “Black Brothers and Sisters,” 277; and Rowe, Black Saints, 59–67.

  • 26. José Ramos Tinhorão, As festas no Brasil colonial (São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000), 96; and Rowe, Black Saints, 78–82.

  • 27. A. J. R. Russell-Wood, The Black Man in Slavery and Freedom (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), 129–162; Soares, People of Faith, 126–128 and 148; Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 89 and 97–99; and Borges, Escravos e libertos, 94–96 and 165.

  • 28. Maureen Flynn, Sacred Charity: Confraternities and Social Welfare in Spain, 1400–1700 (London: MacMillan Press, 1989); A. J. R. Russell-Wood, Fidalgos and Philanthropists: The Santa Casa da Misercórdia of Bahia, 1550–1755 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968); and Laima Mesgravis, A Santa Casa de Misericórdia de São Paulo (159?-1884): Contribuição ao estudo da assistência social no Brasil (São Paulo: Conselho Estadual de Cultura, 1974).

  • 29. Reis, Death is a Festival, 42.

  • 30. Mary C. Karasch, Slave Life in Rio de Janeiro, 1808–1850 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 259; and Patricia A. Mulvey, “Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society,” The Americas 39, no. 1 (July 1982): 40 and 50–51.

  • 31. Karasch, Slave Life in Rio, 126; and Soares, People of Faith, 126.

  • 32. ACMSP, Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo, 1778, 01-03-08, Capítulo 6, ( “E depois Mezario ha um sachristã para assistir as Missas e num infemeiro [sic] para assistir aos infermos [sic] quando algum Irmão se tiver doente.”)

  • 33. AESP, Sociedades Civis-Estatuas/Compromissos, Irmandade de São Benedito da Cidade de São Paulo, 1861, 1/02/1896, C10388, Capítulo 1 (“Terão sepultura para sí e seus filhos até a idade de 12 annos”); ACMSP, Uncatalogued Folder, Santa Efigênia: Nsra da Conceição, No. 2, Compromisso 1859, Capítulo 13 ( “por seus fallecimentos se dirão por suas almas seis Missas na Capella e Altar da mesma Santa celebrada pelo Capellão da Irmandade e igualmente terão sepulturas para nella serem sepultados e juntamento serão acompanhados com aparato competente e da mesma forma se acompanhara a qualquer filho de algum irmão ou irmã que fallecer até a idade de sete annos sendo filho legimito.”)

  • 34. Antonia Aparecida Quintão, Irmandades negras: outro espaço de luta e resistência (São Paulo: 1870–1890) (São Paulo: Annablume, 2002), 47; ACMSP, Compromisso da Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos de São Paulo, 1871, microfilm, 2002, Capítulo 15 (“Todas às vezes que morrer a mulher de algum irmão, ou filho os acompanhara a Irmandade com todo o aparato, e se lhe dará sepultura, e lhe mandaro dizer as sete missas pela alma da dita mulher.”)

  • 35. Ibid.

  • 36. Reis, Death is a Festival, 13 and 185–186.

  • 37. Antonio Egydio Martins, São Paulo antigo 1554 a 1910, 1st ed. 1911/1912 (São Paulo: Editora Paz e Terra, 2003), 328; José Geraldo Vinci de Moraes, “Arranjos e timbres da música em São Paulo,” in História da Cidade de São Paulo: a cidade colonial, org. Paula Porto (São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2004), 590–592; and Igor Kopytoff, “Ancestors as Elders in Africa,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 41, no. 2 (April 1971): 131–132.

  • 38. Reis, Death is a Festival. For a discussion of cultural history methodologies and research goals see Lynn Hunt, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

  • 39. Reis, Death is a Festival.

  • 40. Jeffrey Needell, A Tropical Belle Époque: Elite Culture and Society in Turn of the Century Rio de Janeiro (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 87–89.

  • 41. Duarte Nunes, “Noticia da Fundação da Santa Casa da Misericórdia,” in Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro, vol. 21 (1858): 158–160; Ernesto de Sousa Campos, Santa Casa de Misercórdia de Santos, primeiro hospital fundado no Brasil: sua origem e evolução (São Paulo, [n.p.], 1943); A. J. R. Russell-Wood, Fidalgos and Philanthropists: The Santa Casa da Misercórdia of Bahia, 1550–1755 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968); Mesgravis, A Santa Casa de Misericórdia; Marcelo de Almeida Toledo, Santa Casa de Misericórdia de São Paulo (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1975); and Glauco Carneiro, O poder da misericórdia: irmandade da Santa Casa na história social e política da cidade de São Paulo, 1560–1985, vols. 1–2 (São Paulo: Irmandade de Santa Casa de Misericórdia de São Paulo, 1986).

  • 42. Ethnic identities typically correspond with broad geographic, linguistic, and cultural areas or ports of departure on the African coast. It should be noted that the delineation and meaning of ethnicity among slaves in the Americas remains a highly contested topic. For a comprehensive delineation of group boundaries in Brazil, see Karasch, Slave Life in Rio, 8–28. For discussion of ongoing debates, see John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 192–218 and 317–318; James Sweet, Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 15–30; Walter Hawthorne, From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 6–12; and Sandra Lauderdale Graham, “Being Yoruba in Nineteenth-Century Rio de Janeiro,” Slavery and Abolition 32, no. 1 (2011); 2–6.

  • 43. Russell-Wood, “Black and Mulatto Brotherhoods,” 567–602; and Nishida, “From Ethnicity to Race,” 329–348.

  • 44. For a comparison of the shift from African regional identities or ethnicities into a framework governed by race in the United States, see Michael Gomez, Exchanging Our Country Marks: The African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

  • 45. Zephyr Frank notes how standard colonial and modern periodization influences research agendas, leading to under-exploration of particular topics, especially studies of free and freed Blacks or other probable middling groups. See Zephyr Frank, Dutra’s World: Wealth and Family in Nineteenth Century Rio de Janeiro (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004), 2. I use the term middling status, following the convention adopted by author Zephyr Frank, to denote individuals who were able to accumulate enough capital in and outside of the context of slavery to buy small amounts of property, household goods, and other non-essential items.

  • 46. Frank, Dutra’s World; also see Julita Scarano, “Black Brotherhoods: Integration or Contradiction?” Luso-Brazilian Review 16, no.1 (Summer 1979): 1–17; and Julita Scarano, Devoção e escravidão: a Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos pretos no Distrito Diamantino no seculo XVIII (São Paulo: Conselho Estadual de Cultura, 1975).

  • 47. The congada is an Afro-Brazilian feast celebrated with public processions in the streets as members proceed to churches most often associated with the patron saints Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Benedict. For greater description see Elizabeth Kiddy, Blacks of the Rosary, 127, 131, 135 and 259.

  • 48. Soares, People of Faith; and Quintão, Lá vem o meu parente.

  • 49. Mariza Soares, Jane Landers, Paul E. Lovejoy and Andrew McMichael, “Slavery in Ecclesiastical Archives: Preserving the Records,” Hispanic American Historical Review 86, no. 2 (May 2006): 337–338.