Episode 14- Black Saints in the Early Modern Hispanic World

Episode 14 with Erin Rowe

Even as the enslavement of black Africans became widespread in the Atlantic World and modern racism was developing, the veneration of black saints was also on the rise in the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.  In this episode, Professor Erin Rowe discusses who these saints were and who venerated them.  We consider how hagiographers argued that these holy people of African descent could be saintly at a time when many questioned the ability of non-whites to be fully Christian.  We also examine how the sculptures of these saints celebrate their blackness as part of their spirituality, suggesting that even in this period of slavery, ideas and discourses about race were far from homogeneous.

The Episode

The Guest

Erin Kathleen Rowe is an associate professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.  Her research centers on the religious culture of the Iberian Atlantic, including the cult of the saints, race, gender, and visual culture.  Her first monograph, Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain analyzes the fierce debate that emerged in seventeenth-century Spain over who should be the patron saint of Spain, and what it meant to be a “national” patron saint.  She is currently completing her second monograph, Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism.

Suggested Reading

  • Bethencourt, Francisco. Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.
  • Bryant, Sherwin K., Rachel Sarah O’Toole and Ben Vinson, eds. Africans to Spanish America: Expanding the Diaspora. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
  • Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge, Matt D. Childs and James Sidbury, eds. The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
  • Fiume, Giovanna. “Saint Benedict the Moor: From Sicily to the New World.” In Saints and Their Cults in the Atlantic World, edited by Margaret Cormack. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007, 16-51.
  • Fonseca, Jorge. Religião e liberdade: Os negros nas irmandades e confrarias Portuguesas (séculos XV a XIX). Ribeirão: Edições Húmus, 2016.
  • Patton, Pamela. Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America, edited by Pamela Patton. Leiden: Brill, 2016.
  • Pereda, Felipe. Crimen e ilusión: el arte de la verdad en el Siglo de Oro. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2017.
  • Fromont, Cécile. The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Rowe, Erin Kathleen. “After Death Her Face Turned White: Blackness and Sanctity in the Early Modern Hispanic World,” American Historical Review, Vol. 121, no. 3 (June 2016): 726-754.
  • Rowe, Erin Kathleen. Saint and Nation: Santiago, Teresa of Avila, and Plural Identities in Early Modern Spain. Penn State University Press, 2011.
  • Vincent, Bernard. “Les confréries de noirs dans la péninsule Ibérique.” In Religiosidad y costumbres populares en Iberoamérica, edited by David González Cruz, 17-28. Huelva: Universidad de Huelva, 2000.

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