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Spatialités et matérialités dans les cultes afro-américains
Spatialities and materialities in Afro-American religions

Modes and moods of “Slave Anastácia,” Afro-Brazilian saint

Manières et humeurs de l’Esclave Anastacia, une sainte afro-brésilienne
Maneras y humores de la Esclava Anastacia, un santo Afro-Brasileño
Paul Christopher Johnson
p. 27-73


L’agentivité, activée par les échanges avec les saints, n’est pas simplement présente ou absente. Elle est plutôt émergente, selon le mode de configuration matérielle et social des saints et l’humeur évoquée par la manifestation spécifique d’un saint. Dans cet essai, je considère l’histoire d’un saint afro-brésilien, appelé Esclave Anastácia, et sa signification et son impact social dans différents groupes ethniques et religieux. Je considère comment les saints se manifestent à travers une modalité et une configuration spécifique de matériaux et comment ils induisent une humeur particulière. L’humeur est inséparable de la « présence » des entités intangibles. Dans cet essai, je tire parti de ces disjonctions radicales entre les formes de présence générées par le même saint – Anastácia en tant que martyre souffrante, en tant que compagnon serein, en tant qu’objet érotique – pour reconsidérer comment les saints travaillent à l’intersection de la modalité et de l’humeur. En prêtant attention aux saints et à l’humeur, je cherche à interroger des termes trop familiers comme « volonté » et « agentivité ». Penser à travers la notion d’humeur peut révéler des conjonctures matérielles et des résonances émotionnelles dont l’agence est diffuse mais génère néanmoins des prédispositions à agir de manières spécifiques.

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Notes de la rédaction

Manuscrit reçu en janvier 2017, accepté pour publication en avril 2017.

Texte intégral

Acknowledgements – This is to acknowledge the help and ideas of Matthew Hull, Richard Reinhardt, and Katerina Kerestetzi. Thank you for your comments.

Fortune is merry, and in this mood will give us anything.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

  • 1 For Mott (1993), Rosa was perhaps the earliest African-born author in Brazil. She wrote at length a (...)

1While Afro-descendants in the Americas often produced larger-than-life symbols of resistance, cunning, or vengeance—in Brazil, leaders of runaway slave settlements, like Zumbi; orixás (Yoruba and Candomblé gods) like Ogum, Xangô, or Iansã; inquices (nkisi, Kongo powers and their material figures) like Matamba or Nkosi; or folkloric tricksters like Zé Malandro, bohemian flâneurs who disdain work but nevertheless always “get by”—we also find instances of dehumanized victims, enslaved bodies-without-will, who became objects of ritual devotion. Their images and icons generate not only pity or repulsion, but also reverence and attraction. Some were actual historical personages like the 18th century woman Rosa Maria Egipcíaca da Vera Cruz, who, after 25 years of slave-labor, abuse, and forced prostitution as a so-called profit slave (escrava-de-ganho), began to have mystical visions and to recount them in vivid detail (Mott 1993). Initially subjected to whippings and exorcisms as one accused of being possessed by demons, she was later celebrated as having genuine visionary power and sanctioned mystical visions. She came to be revered as a saint, and everyday people sought her for miraculous results.1

2Other saints were less specific “historical” persons than composites or types, born of the collective imagination rather than actual flesh-and-blood partum. One example of a composite slave acquiring a sublime, saintly status in Brazil in the 20th century is named Escrava Anastácia (Slave Anastácia). Popular but officially unrecognized Catholic saints like Rosa Egipcíaca, Slave Anastácia, Saint Expedito, or others suggestive of multi-racial fusions, like Maria Lionza in Venezuela (Canals 2017), or, today, the Mayan rogue saint Maximón in Guatemala and Honduras, demonstrate the creative vitality of Afro- and indigenized catholicisms.

3Among this wide range of figures, Afro-Brazilians’ preferred saints were, during much of their history, severely repressed. Agents of the Church were mostly hostile toward African and Afro-American practices through at least the middle of the 20th century and beyond. Still, given the sheer inventive possibilities opened by the wide category of “saint,” it was and is no easy task to regulate its fecund production. So, for example, Roger Sansi described an Italian family of image-makers resident in Salvador da Bahia in the process of releasing a new saint, Our Lady Unmaker of Knots—consisting of a Virgin disentangling a knot—who suddenly gained a following (Sansi 2007, p. 37). In the north of Brazil, even bandits and highway killers have become semi-saints, or “saints under construction,” after their executions (Freitas 2000, p. 198). Eliane Freitas suggests that such “precarious saints”—precarious by virtue of their ambivalent moral status and fleeting fame—may be considered especially effective, not only as a result of their extraordinary violence followed by equally dramatic, painful deaths, but also because of their marginal status. Stuck in a purgatorial limbo, they work overtime to gain credit through benevolent acts and progress toward heaven. This makes them highly motivated, energetic, and useful (ibid.).

4Like the Virgin of Knots or the holy highway bandit, precarious saints are often activated via unofficial and unlikely paths. Slave Anastácia first came into being as an incarnate force via a French 19th century traveler’s sketch. Much later, after 1971, she became a saint and mass media phenomenon. She has since appeared in myriad shrines and multiple guises, drawing a constant flow of pilgrims and internet clicks. She is carried on prayer cards, prayed to in shrines, visited on websites, watched on telenovelas, and worn on bikinis. Paradoxically, given that her image is one of violent bondage and silencing, she circulates and “speaks” everywhere. Through the figure of Anastácia, I interpret the ritual attraction to the dehumanized victim-body as a way of fine-tuning the idea of saints as a source of power, will, or agency.

5The kind of agency activated through exchanges with saints is not simply present or absent, notwithstanding certain religious traditions’ “purification” efforts to clearly establish or undermine presence (Keane 2007, p. 54). Rather it is emergent, depending on the mode of saints’ material and social configurations, and the mood evoked by the saint’s manifestation. An example: Slave Anastácia signifies diversely, and with varying social effects, for different groups of ethno-racial users (Burdick 1998; Wood 2011). John Burdick’s work is especially incisive on this score. He points out that white, middle-class women engage Slave Anastácia by emphasizing her dramatic difference from them, emphasizing the saint’s dark skin and benign good nature and solicitude, in a more or less patron-client (or master-slave) form of exchange (1998, p. 159). By contrast, Black or mixed-race women’s engagement with Anastácia, when it exists—since many Black activists reject Slave Anastácia as a pernicious glorification of submission—is premised upon proximity and likeness—“she suffered in ways like I suffer” (Burdick 1998, p. 154); or by reading her suffering as less about victimhood than about the white pathology that caused it (Wood 2011, p. 133).

6In this essay, I leverage such radical disjunctures between the forms of presence generated by the same saint to reconsider how saints work at the intersection of mode and mood. By paying attention to saints and mood, I hope to worry over-familiar terms like will and agency. Human actors’ “historical agency,” after all, is predicated on the idea that the state of the present is a result of past actions of free individual subjects; a claim that appears to be as much North Atlantic fantasy or liberal ideology as viable anthropological universal (Chakrabarty 2000; Keane 2007, p. 4, 49; Palmié 2014, p. 231). That fantasy is usefully complicated by the “agency of intangibles” (Espírito Santo and Blanes 2013, p. 1), which seeks to explore the work of mostly invisible entities through their effects in the world, including how they impinge upon so-called free individual humans. As a way of putting these formulations of agency in conversation—the ways humans “act” through their engagements with gods, spirits, or ancestors, on the one hand, and the ways humans are acted upon or enacted by the agency of intangibles, on the other—I consider how saints become manifest in a given mode, and educe a particular mood. Mood is inseparable from intangible entities’ “presence.” It shapes intangible presence into a more specific emotional and material package. Tanya Luhrmann (2004) invokes the term metakinesis to describe how a given community learns to read bodies (and materials) as expressions of a given emotional value. Through metakinesis, the evangelical Christians she studied configure God’s presence into a mood—God as “a buddy, a confidante, the ideal boyfriend” (ibid., p. 519); or, we might imagine, as king, judge, superhero, sheriff, or another of many possible scripts and anthropomorphic stylings. The mood and genre of a given ritual conjuncture between human and other agencies gives shape to devotees’ dispositions, habits, and imagined futures.

7Webb Keane (2013) notes that the conversions of form involved in materializing immaterial forces (or dematerializing material things), and the shifts from one form to another, which he calls “transduction,” are a key part of what makes spirits legibly returned; or, in reference to the present study, what renders saints legibly present. The shifts in form effect alterations in human experience or feeling (ibid., p. 1, 7). But perhaps it could be said that, even prior to humans’ experiences of them, saints “themselves” carry and convey a mood, not least in their character as former human actors negotiating recognizable, often even conventional, social conflicts; and in their capacity to elicit emotional responses and ethical postures in living human actors (e.g., Keane 2016, p. 245). Standing in the presence of saints entails not only seeing, but also the experience of “being seen” (Gell 1998, p. 117; Morgan 2012, p. 21). My point is that we need intermediate ways to think between human agency and that of its non-human surround. Thinking through “mood” points us toward material conjunctures and emotional resonances whose “agency” is diffuse but nevertheless may generate direction, or a predisposition to act in a certain way.

8Perhaps this is unsurprising. Mood has, after all, been deployed as a verb, “to mood upon.” A letter from Sir John Duckworth aboard the Leviathan off of Saint Domingue during the Haitian Revolution includes the words, “We returned to Port au Prince to mood upon our absurd indigested and blundering plan” (May 8, 1796; in Markham 1904, p. 81). Duckworth’s neologism suggests something like stewing in, or perhaps soaking in, a series of events. It points to the fact that mood does not preclude questions of individual volition; rather it sets them in a cluster of relations, including at least people, spirits, things, places, senses, and situations, that together evoke a sensibility of, in this case, saintly presence. I take mood in its earlier, broad sense that conjoined, as the OED has it, “mind, heart, thought, feeling”; or “frame of mind or state of feelings; one’s humor, temper, or disposition at a particular time.”2 What saints “do,” from the perspective of mood, is help to educe a benevolent or generous state, a cluster and conjuncture that is generative of fortunate possibilities and dispositions.

9The first section explores the category of saints. The second section recounts the particular material conjuncture that birthed Slave Anastácia. The third section considers three different modes that produce three distinct moods in and through which the saint appears. The conclusion suggests reasons for the shifts in mood, and the variance in social groups that coalesce around each state.

Saints and mood

10Phillipe Descola (2013, p. 37) considers figuration as the sole shared quality of phenomena denoted as “religious”: Figuration is “the public instauration of an invisible quality through a speech act or an image. Under all guises chosen to consider it, religion embodies, religion incarnates, religion renders present in visible and tangible manifestations the various alterations of being, the manifold expressions of non-self, and the potencies which contain all their acts.” If the variety of beings figured in religious contexts can be grouped in a broad class called “incarnates,” what are the specific features of the subgenre of incarnates called “saints”?

  • 3 Grehan cites the 19th century Muslim jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi on this bifurcation.

11First, saints are widespread. A wide range of religious traditions recognize certain people as sources of special power, and mark them as intercessors. In most cases, saints exist without formal, top-down legitimation or imprimatur. They emerge through informal processes of consensus, reputation, and some combination of sentiments of fear, attraction, and awe. In Islam, for example, saints (wali) may follow one of several paths to authority—“sober saints” are models of extreme piety, and scrupulous attention to law; “ecstatic saints,” by contrast, sometimes exceed the law; they are possessed (majdhub) or rapturous (Grehan 2016, p. 64).3 Saints may be cast as such via their extraordinary erudition, or for having played foundational historical parts. In Java, pilgrimages are undertaken to nine important shrines of the saints viewed as the earliest Muslim missionaries, among other shrines. So busy is the traffic to saints’ tombs that it has spawned a new administrative Ministry overseeing “religious tourism” (wisata religi) (Alatas 2016, p. 611). Often saints are understood as inheritors of the Prophet, in terms of descent; and like the Prophet they return to aid the mundane world despite their exalted status (Ho 2006, p. 41).

  • 4 Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblance,” Familienähnlichkeit, posited that things may be rela (...)

12The mood of immediacy generated around saints often transgresses otherwise distinct religious boundaries. Muslims and Christians alike in 19th century Tripoli sought blessings and relics of saints, whether of “their own” tradition, or of the other. The reason is simply that saints were, and are, “useful” in manifold practical ways (Grehan 2016, p. 63). In Brazil, saints (santos) cross traditions as well. Practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Umbanda (a hybrid of Candomblé and Spiritism) often refer to their gods as “saints,” and match them with Catholic saints based on logics of figurative or functional similarity. The Yoruba god of iron, war, and technology, Ogun, carries an iron machete; he is often identified with the Catholic Saint George, whose typical chromolithograph depicts him as a knight bearing an iron lance and sword. The notion of santo links Catholic and Afro-Brazilian practices and sets them in relation. Many Brazilians cultivate relationships with both genres of saint. They see them as kin, as twin faces of the same entity, or as otherwise presenting a “family resemblance,” in Wittgenstein’s sense (1953, p. 33).4

  • 5 Perhaps here one has to start by acknowledging the obvious comparative import of suffering as a rit (...)

13In South Asia, likewise, there has long been a class of saints, comprised of both past heroes and contemporary holy men or gurus. As June McDaniel (1989) described, these figures are characterized especially by their unusual visions and trances. And of course the Catholic tradition includes a vast pantheon of saints, both official and not, often qualified by having testified to experiences of Christ as God, and having suffered abundantly in consequence.5 In a general comparative sense, saints are authorized by the stories of their immediate experiences of gods, authorizing them to serve as intermediaries being humans and deities. Saints’ social import hinges on how their extraordinary experience can be communicated to a wider public. Saints’ “audiences,” then, consist of those who perceive the lack of an immediate experience of gods, desire or value such experience, or at least the credit it makes available, and who consider saints as transmitters of such immediacy.

  • 6 Kristina Wirtz revives an antiquated term, “perspicience,” to name this particular kind of knowing; (...)

14This means that saints are mediators, living or deceased persons perceived as transmitting extrahuman presence. In the Catholic and Afro-Catholic traditions, that conveyance calls on substantial semiotic work, since official saints are by definition “past” humans, the special dead, unlike in either Islam or Hindu traditions. Catholic saints depend on visual and material technologies to move from past corpse to present agent; to re-present, allowing special favor to be felt as near under certain circumstances (Engelke 2007, p. 28; Morgan 2012; Keane 2007, 2013). Ontological and economic labor are needed to show how merit accrued in the past by one body is credited, and then transferred, to the present circumstances of many bodies. Achieving this transfer of credit demands proper techniques of discernment or “knowledgeable seeing” in order to recognize saints’ blessing or benefit—a “saint’s signature” (de la Cruz 2015, p. 138)—and confirm that one has gained it (Wirtz 2014).6

15While saints and their shrines instantiate local identifications, certain saints become trans-local and trans-temporal powers, and achieve even global reach, activated virtually. As Deirdre de la Cruz (2015, p. 11-14) shows for the Philippines, for example, Mary and Marianism are a mode of joining local apparitions to global circuits—Mother Mary is not only a product of mass media, she helped to create mass mediation, as a form and conduit of communications both local and global in scale. The hybrid nature of a saint being at once a historical person, a living presence, localized material thing, and a mode of national or global flow is important because it means that saints live multiple lives across multiple dimensions, diversely reproduced to circulate even centuries after their “birth” (as saints) in a range of modes and on varied networks.

16Next, the question of a saint’s articulation hinges in part on materials. Saints depend on materials to be animated, rendered present, and made communicable. In their quality as present-day forces, saints exist in and through bodies, things, images, and sounds. If few devotees are interested in the ontological schema undergirding the trans-temporal and trans-bodily conversion of credit, almost all are invested in the proper materials to make such conversions work. To access saints’ power, devotees make creative use of things and postures to enliven the senses and evoke perceptions of saintly presence: ceramics, burning candles, flowers, written notes and photographs, genuflected knees, hands pressed to glass. (Effecting the death of a saint requires an equally material effort [see Zubrzycki 2016].) Many modes of making contact with saints mimic human-to-human techniques of touch and speech (Morgan 2012). For after all, saints are superhuman powers but also thoroughly human bodies—typically distant, and in the Catholic tradition, unlike others, always bodily moribund—rendered in plastic or graphic form. They exist both through their visual and material nature as human-like forms, endowed with many of the qualities of fleshly bodies: shape, texture, a degree of permeability, and vulnerability to decay over time. Saints enjoy visual but also haptic, aural, and even olfactory characteristics.

  • 7 Charles Hirschkind suggests that the idea that religion is “essentially” mediatic may require Prote (...)

17A given saint’s presence is materially entangled with the media through which it appears, though participants may not be aware of it. Media are often erased from religious experience even as the experience is generated (Eisenlohr 2011). Birgit Meyer calls this the phenomenon of “disappearing media” (2011, p. 32): the physical form that is part and parcel of the saint’s presence, its material frame, is unrecognized; rather it disappears or recedes to allow the experience of the saint to emerge in and of itself. Or it is reconfigured as itself spiritual, as a tradition-boosting technology, or a spirit-accelerator (Johnson 2007, p. 182). Some media convey and amplify immediacy, and many ritual events cannot proceed at all without sensory amplifiers, typically sonic or visual (Meyer 2011; de Abreu 2013).7

18Yet another feature of saints is that their mediations are mimetic. Saints are iterative performances, recognizable by their familiarity from past performances. A Catholic saint’s fame for suffering mirrors and re-instantiates the suffering sacrifice of Christ, as well as of an array of other saints. That is why they generate “historical” sensibilities; they provide a series of repetitions of form across time, joining present to past. In a certain sense, for religious actors ritual repetition is taken as expressing traditional continuity, but is not experienced as mimetic or reductive in the sense of declension from an original. From a phenomenological perspective, incarnates arrive with full force, every time. This offers compelling ethnographic riddles: In the present case of Slave Anastácia, for example, we find a metallically confined man/woman mostly encountered in mimeograph, video, or mass-produced statue—all themselves copies of a Frenchman’s travel-book sketch—yet still directly “sensed” as vividly present in and through the flesh. The tension between iterative mimicry and auratic presence is perhaps part of what drives the motivation toward ritual, since ideal efficacy and authenticity are always uncertain and in need of further verification (Wirtz 2007, p. 130-135).

  • 8 Sanctorum Mater (Rome 2007), Part I, “Causes of Beatification and Canonization,” see Title II, Arti (...)
  • 9 “Object” is a better word here than “thing.” Bill Brown, as cited in Engelke (2007, p. 27), qualifi (...)

19Such considerations raise the question of what saints, through materials, mediate. As image and thing, saints convey a presence from elsewhere and else-when—typically, in the Christian tradition, attesting to historical persons who witnessed or directly experienced the living presence of Christ as God, a testimony for which they were martyred. (And in fact, martyr, from the original Greek for “witness,” is an official title preliminary to being considered as “saint.”8) Saints can be used to activate and recruit many possible available pasts into present-day ideological projects, as we will see. Yet they also exist in and through an empiricist here-and-now, as objects that attract devotees, hold attention, draw financial gifts, take up space in a niche, narthex, shrine, or candle-room, and emit a mood.9

20This leads me to a fifth point on the distinctive character of saints-as-incarnates. The very same saint can be mediated and materialized similarly, yet become incarnate in dramatically diverse forms of presence. A given saint is situated within a given cluster of objects or things, but those things, and their constellations, conjure distinct moods. A saint is always also an assemblage (e.g., Latour 2005), a suturing together, or a “jointure of the somatic and the normative” (Santner 2015, p. 244) that gathers moods and directs people to certain dispositions and forms of action. I emphasize how such suturings—saint-as-assemblage—help to generate differentiated experiences, and constitute distinct social groups and dispositions.

21Finally, saints both have, and inspire, moods. Perhaps this seems less obvious than the foregoing. Catholic saints in Brazil get angry when their care is delinquent: Charles Wagley described a river steamer almost sunk for the crime of storing Saint Benedict in the hold like mere baggage (1964, p. 22). In South Asia, June McDaniel noticed how saintly visions were accompanied by a mood: “In visions they saw specific deities, places, or situations while in trance they would be overcome by a feeling or mood” (1989, p. 261). Sometimes the mood was of intense separation; at other times, of erotic love (ibid., p. 91, 97). The mood evoked in saints’ communion with a given deity could shift depending on the space and materials—Kali in one room did not produce the same mood as Kali as configured in another space (ibid., p. 126). Peter Brown, in his classic The cult of saints, similarly documented how the presence of a saint’s relic in late classical Christendom could inspire “a mood of solidarity,” “the joys of proximity,” “a sense of the mercy of God,” and “moods of public confidence” (Brown 1981, p. 44, 87, 92). Saints’ modes of presence convey a mood, though not neatly or consistently: a yogi’s ascetic mode may be linked to a mood of horror, tenderness, or passion (Doniger 1981, p. 252-253).

22Heiddegger’s notion of thrownness-into-the-world famously described how existence always occurs in tandem with a mood; “being” is always incarnated through an emotional prism (Heidegger 2010, p. 132, 325). To be sure, saints are not “thrown” quite in the sense that Heidegger argued for humans, pressed into relationships as part and parcel of consciousness. Rather they are interpellated into a situation, a time, a predicament, a valence, in short a “perspective” on the world that confers a mood, and whose mood is potentially shifted by virtue of the saint’s summoning and presence. This “attunement” (ibid., p. 130) mostly goes unperceived: Walter Benjamin described how, in the act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon, “we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods” (1968, p. 237). The reaching for, or labor of incarnating, a saint likewise entails a mood linking hand to metal, plastic, paper, glass, clay, plaster of Paris—of touching the saint through its materials.

23Even as the ritual labor of summoning incarnates is a “mode” of being-with, it is “mood “that gives contour to the bridging of the known and the enigmatic, actuality and possibility (Lewis 2014, p. 53). Being-with is inflected by mood: guilt, love, estrangement, hope. Stated otherwise, presence is never simple there-ness, never still. Presence always has direction, movement “toward” (Heidegger 2010, p. 133). Descola (2013, p. 47) likewise emphasizes direction and movement. In his phrasing, “an incarnate in general is entirely defined by its very movement of becoming (visible, audible, tangible, efficient, representable, lovable, horrific…).” Note his statement’s clustering of movement, mode, and mood.

24Saints are thrown into situations (by, among others, becoming visible or audible) and pervaded by mood (say, as loveable or horrific). Even more, saints, like other incarnates, are emplotted and narrated through mood. Hayden White famously described the various moods of 19th century histories—the mood of benign irony in Tocqueville (1975, p. 196), the “perverse” mood of Gobineau (ibid., p. 196), the optimism in Ranke (ibid., p. 28), the tragic in Spengler (ibid., p. 27). White perceived that a given historical drama is always cast in an emotional “color” (ibid., p. 144), which inevitably carries ideological implications, depending on what a given social drama is alleged to have been a “revelation” of (ibid., p. 10, 18). Moreover, histories are drawn from other representations which themselves are also possessed of mood—thus Burckhardt’s admiration for Giotto’s paintings of Saint Francis (see Figure 1), and how they evoke a scene (ibid., p. 253-254).

Fig. 1 – Giotto, “Legend of St. Francis: The Sermon to the Birds,” Upper Church, Assisi. Jacob Burckhardt declared Giotto a virtuoso in calling to presence a historical scene in materials, and through the restricted architectural space of a church mural cycle (2005, p. 99).

Fig. 1 – Giotto, “Legend of St. Francis: The Sermon to the Birds,” Upper Church, Assisi. Jacob Burckhardt declared Giotto a virtuoso in calling to presence a historical scene in materials, and through the restricted architectural space of a church mural cycle (2005, p. 99).

25The point is that materializations of saints—like Giotto’s—carry mood, and those materializations are in turn embedded in narratives that also have tone, valence, color, and direction. This has implications for the dispositions to action that may follow from any given incarnation’s presence. For the case of Slave Anastácia, I explore the multiple modes of presence that act on subjects to evoke distinct moods and, through them, gather particular social constituencies.

A material history of non-existence

  • 10 To be sure, a number of the most celebrated Catholic saints also lack “historical” existence, inclu (...)
  • 11 Here too there are exceptions, such as the “saint of Auschwitz” Maximilian Kolbe, killed by Nazis o (...)
  • 12 What is unusual about the incarnate, the saint called Slave Anastácia, is that “she” was a figurati (...)

26Key to the generation of official Catholic saints is their entextualization in a trail of testimonial and catechistic legal records that serve to justify their actual physical existence and beatification. Yet in the case of Slave Anastácia, her graphic birth was likely her “only” one: Unlike most saints, whose careers began as verifiable carbon-based bodies, Anastácia was born of a 19th century drawing of an unknown male slave in Rio de Janeiro.10 Though it was hardly unique, it treated an important topic—the brutality of slave societies in the Americas—and it remains striking in its powerful depiction of suffering. The slave is girded by an iron shackle around his neck, and a muzzle or shield (a so-called “Flanders mask”) covering his mouth. Only more than a century later was the drawing re-contextualized, re-imagined, and figured as a female saint. Anastácia’s mute victimization mimics and in part replicates Christ’s founding sacrifice. Yet Anastácia presents a particularly forceful depiction of sheer disempowerment and passivity. Many Catholic saints, following the template of Christ, willfully submitted to pain for an envisioned larger cause, yet part of their heroism derives from the idea that they could have resisted or accommodated, had they wished, but “chose” not to.11 Anastácia’s story allows little space for individual will. This helps explain why her resignation rendered her a saint-non-grata for many members of the Movimento Negro in Brazil. Let’s see how such a tragic figure—in fact, a figuration of a figuration—of a non-agentive, person-without-will, nevertheless became a saint.12

Coming to be

27The story of Slave Anastácia has been well documented. Here I build on and add to this body of work (Karasch 1986; Sheriff 1996; Burdick 1998; Dias de Souza 2007; Handler and Hayes 2009; Wood 2011; Paiva 2014). Slave Anastácia was born of an unlikely material convergence between a tradition, a drawing, a building, and a situation that drew them into alliance. I first briefly consider the tradition of Afro-Catholicism, then a building, a drawing, and the book in which it appeared. Lastly, I describe the situation that allowed for Slave Anastácia’s emergence as a saint.

28First, a tradition. One point of her origin derives from the tradition of Afro-Catholic brotherhoods of the Americas. As elsewhere in the Americas, Africans in Brazil formed confraternities (Mulvey 1980; Kiddy 2005; Soares 2011). Though slaves were blocked from most social organizations, participation in Catholic brotherhoods (irmandades) was encouraged. With the support of both the Pope and the Portuguese king, Jesuits in Pernambuco initiated a confraternity specifically for slaves by 1552 (Mulvey 1980, p. 254), since Africans and Afro-Brazilians were barred from white brotherhoods. Women were also able to join and did so in substantial numbers. By founding their own lay confraternities, Africans and their descendants created their own expressions of Afro-Catholic devotion, even as they became “Brazilian” in part through participating in the brotherhoods’ events. Most famous among the Afro-Brazilian brotherhoods was Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary), both in Bahia and in Rio. In Bahia, the order initially accepted only Angolans before later also accepting Brazilian-born slaves and freemen and then, in the 19th century, coming to be dominated by Gbe-speaking Jejes, or Dahomeans (Reis 1993, p. 151). Other orders and churches were associated with Yoruba-speaking Nagôs—such as Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Our Lady of the Good Death), exclusive to slaves and freemen who identified with the Yoruba city-state of Ketu—while still other orders were open only to pardo, mixed-race members.

29While some communities had as few as 20 participants, others ranged to over 500 in densely populated cities of Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Bahia, or Rio de Janeiro (Mulvey 1980, p. 268). The great majority of Afro-descendants took part in these brotherhoods. Some 80% of Africans and Afro-Brazilians in the colony joined confraternities, often dividing their work and loyalty between several of the groups at the same time (Reis 2003, p. 45). The confraternities generated both consequential social affinities and distinctions. White brotherhoods were divided by class, trade or craft guilds, and property-ownership; Black brotherhoods likewise segmented the population in multiple ways, segmenting Afro-Brazilians by language and ethnicity—and initially forming the Afro-Brazilian complex of “nation”—and at times by “race,” distinguishing African-born from creole Blacks, and mulattos from both of these (Bastide 1960, p. 156; Reis 2003, p. 44). Still, despite their lines of stratification, the Catholic brotherhoods served as rare sites of shared humanization in an otherwise brutal slavocratic society. In the brotherhoods, Africans and Afro-Brazilians earned positions of merit and respect, found the guarantee of a respectable burial for their family members upon death, and, most importantly, collected funds for mutual aid and manumission.

30Central to the social lives of confraternities were the cultivation and celebration of the group’s specific patron saint, though the overall complex of confraternities produced a collective pantheon of saints—their icons, sites, processions, proclivities, colors, and dates. Not coincidentally, the generation of “Afro-Brazilian religion” also depended on the creation of institutions that would support an intersecting network of “saints,” or gods (orixás, voduns, inquices), and cues us to bridges between Catholic and later Afro-Brazilian ritual assemblages. In some instances, Afro-Brazilians not only reinforced the importance of select saints already canonized by the Church, they also generated their own.

31Second, a building. If Slave Anastácia was born of a tradition of Afro-Catholic saints, she came into being in a specific building, the Igreja do Rosário e de São Benedito dos Homens Pretos (Church of the Rosary and of Saint Benedict of Blacks), in Rio de Janeiro. This Church of the Rosary began with a land donation in a central part of the city in August 1701. On February 2, 1708, the land was blessed and the first stone placed. The Church of the Rosary was built by slaves, and completed in 1710. The brotherhood it housed was founded even earlier, in 1640. As a testament to the political importance of the church, when the Portuguese Court arrived in 1808, fleeing Napoleon’s march on Lisbon, it was the first church they visited. From 1710 to 1825, the Senate convened in the church’s consistory chamber, and it was from the Church of the Rosary that the Senate presided over the independence of Brazil in 1822, when Dom Pedro I remained in the country against his family’s wishes, after his father’s return to Portugal.

32Into a tradition and a building arrived a drawing. An unidentified slave was drawn in Rio by the French draftsman Jacques Étienne Victor Arago between 1817 and 1820 (Handler and Hayes 2009, p. 27). The drawing of the slave appeared with the caption “Châtiment des esclaves, Brésil,” and was published in his Souvenir d’un aveugle. Voyage autour du monde, in 1839, as shown in Figure 2. In Chapter Six of the book, one of three chapters on Rio de Janeiro, Arago presented detailed narrative descriptions of the slave market and the treatment of slaves, just adjacent to discussions of the library and the quality of theater.

Fig. 2 – Jacques Arago, “Châtiment des esclaves, Brésil,” Souvenir d’un aveugle. Voyage autour du monde, 1839.

Fig. 2 – Jacques Arago, “Châtiment des esclaves, Brésil,” Souvenir d’un aveugle. Voyage autour du monde, 1839.
  • 13 “… Au Brésil seul les esclaves se taisent, immobiles, sous la noueuse chicote.”
  • 14 “… voyez cet homme qui passe là, avec un anneau de fer auquel est adaptée verticalement une épée du (...)
  • 15En voici un autre dont le visage est entièrement couvert d’un masque de fer, où l’on a pratiqué de (...)

33Arago describes Brazil as the cruelest slave society he has witnessed and, in that context, and in the wake of the Haitian Revolution, he marveled at slaves’ passivity. “Saint-Domingue, Martinique, l’Île-de-France and Bourbon have seen many days of revolt, fire and killing. Only in Brazil the slaves keep quiet, immobilized under the knotted whip” (1839, p. 119).13 Arago surmised that revolt was on the way, but in the meantime (en attendant) offered his eye-witness report of torture: “As we wait [for the inevitable revolt], look at that man passing, with an iron ring to which has been adapted a vertical iron knife, all forcefully tightened on his neck; it’s a slave who tried to run away, now marked by his master as a vagabond” (ibid.).14 Then Arago described a second male slave with a face mask: “And here’s another with the face entirely covered by a mask of iron, with two holes left for the eyes and closed at the back of the head with a strong chain. This one was truly miserable: He was eating dirt and gravel to get done with the whipping; but now he may well atone for his criminal suicide attempt under the whip” (ibid.).15

  • 16 We should also note that the textual description of a full iron mask with eye-holes does not match (...)

34These are the sole two descriptions of instruments of bondage and torture that appear in his text that correspond, in at least in some respects, to his drawing. Noteworthy is that both textual descriptions are of male slaves, whereas the image that became an object of devotion and reverence as a saint was female. There is also no eye color in the original black and white drawing, in contradistinction to the saint’s later acquisition of piercing blue eyes.16

35The drawing that became Anastácia’s image was registered in the context of travel writing. Nineteenth-century travel writing yielded the world in a particular way. Narratives of journeys “around the world” proliferated from writers like Arago, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Andrew Carnegie, or, in fiction, from the hand of Jules Verne. (Arago died in Rio de Janeiro, and was the mentor and inspiration for Jules Verne.) Like other examples of the budding genre of world travel, Arago’s journals mapped the world in a dualistic print, juxtaposing his own mobility with practices that located Brazilian subjects in space. Arago’s drawing, which later gave birth to the slave-saint Anastácia, indexes just such an encounter between mobility and immobility, and between Europe and the Americas. Most emphatically, Arago described slaves engaged in endless repetition, chained and deprived of the capacity even to direct their own bodies. These were humans represented as machines without will, humans forced into a merely mechanical form of life. Arago was anything but unsympathetic to slaves’ plight. Despite his surprise at their lack of armed insurrection, his descriptions cast some as heroes of endurance and spirit. One was the slave who, after his brutal and extensive whipping that ripped off his flesh, smiled, yawned, and stretched, and announced to the watching crowd, “By my faith, I just couldn’t sleep” (1839, p. 120); another survived his long whip count and demanded the same number again, to demonstrate his disdain for the torture and its administrator (ibid.).

36Arago concludes his section on slavery by insisting on the superior intelligence of Africans and Afro-Brazilians compared with the lazy cruelty of the white master-class. These latter are the real slaves, he wrote. Savaging their crowded, mad religious processions and fanatical Catholicism, he closed the chapter by insisting, “Ignorance and superstition make only slaves” (1839, p. 135). No doubt Arago would have been fascinated to see his drawing become at once an object of religious devotion—“ignorance and superstition”—and a source of Afro-Brazilian resistance.

37A tradition, a building, a drawing, a “situation.” Next, Anastácia was materialized in a particular confluence of events. Over a century later, in consequence of an unlikely material convergence, Arago’s drawing abruptly reappeared at the Church of the Rosary. In the years leading to Abolition, the Church of the Rosary was the meeting place for key political activists, including Luís Gama, José Patrocínio, André Rebouças, Ferrer de Araújo; even perhaps Princess Isabel herself.

38By virtue of its political history coupled with its association with slaves and former slaves, the church was also linked with the labor movement and the political left. A working-class cafeteria operated out of its outside walls. A “Museum of the Negro” functioned in a rear upstairs corner, operated by the brotherhood. After the coup of 1964, it was a focus of resistance to the dictatorial regime, and the site of semi-clandestine meetings. Several members of the brotherhood told me that the fire that almost destroyed the church in 1967 was almost certainly caused by arson, and was ignited by agents of the dictatorial regime. The cause of the fire was never discovered, and barely investigated. Much of the church, including most of the museum’s artifacts and records, was destroyed.

39The fate of Arago’s image and of the Church of the Rosary converged in 1968. In that year, following the church’s reconstruction, Yolando Guerra, the (then) Museum Director, removed the image from a copy of Arago’s mostly unknown travelogue, and hung it on the wall at the Museu do Negro, in the upstairs annex. The occasion was the 80th anniversary of Abolition (1888). Detaching the page from Arago’s book and installing it on the wall was presumably motivated in part by the need to replace objects lost in the fire with new things and images that could tell the same or a similar story. Guerra regarded it as an instructive pedagogical image of everyday torture under slavery. If a few visitors witnessed the sketch, it remained relatively unnoticed until 1971. But in that year, the remains of Princess Isabel—who had signed the Golden Law ending slavery in 1888—were left on display at the museum for two weeks in late July prior to her body’s relocation from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis, the former royal seat in the mountains above Rio. As part of the ceremonies surrounding her reburial, the casket was paraded through the city center, accompanied by the Brotherhood of the Igreja do Rosário, as shown in Figure 3. Dressed in solemn regalia, members carried her to their church, the first and oldest Black church of the former capital.

Fig. 3 – The brotherhood accompanying the arrival of the body of Princess Isabel to the Church of the Rosário, Rio de Janeiro, 1971 (photo displayed at the Museu do Negro).

Fig. 3 – The brotherhood accompanying the arrival of the body of Princess Isabel to the Church of the Rosário, Rio de Janeiro, 1971 (photo displayed at the Museu do Negro).

40Isabel’s body lay in state for two weeks with Arago’s drawing posted nearby. During her two-week-long sojourn, thousands visited the museum. In the process, they encountered Arago’s drawing. In the late 1970s, the church was even more deeply linked to the history of slavery and, by extension, to Slave Anastácia when, during the process of laying track for the nearby metro subway line, bones were discovered, likely of former slaves. Devotion to “the Souls” (as Almas) gained in force at the church, and in particular to the “souls of slaves” (Almas dos Cativos), viewed as conveying the force of martyrs.

41The cult of Slave Anastácia was launched through a conjuncture of events, political movements, and gossip. It included oral reports of miracles in the wake of Princess Isabel’s sojourn at the museum, popular tracts of Anastácia’s imagined life-story that gave “her” a compelling narrative, and her incorporation into a burgeoning 1970s Black consciousness movement. The Black Movement (Movimento Negro, or Consciência Negra) built upon decades of earlier movements like the 1930s Frente Negra. This Brazilian civil rights project placed religion, music, and cultural performance front and center, even as it favored certain representations of blackness over others (Alberto 2011). Two brothers who were part of the 1970s movement, Nilton Santos and Ubiraraja Rodrigues Santos, sponsored an attempt in 1984 to have Slave Anastácia beatified or even canonized as an official saint. The documents requesting the promotion in status were hastily drafted by May 17, 1984, and submitted to John Paul II on June 22, 1984 (see Figure 4). The rejection was equally swift, sent from the desk of Cardinal D. Eugenio de Araujo Sales, chief prelate of Rio, on August 3.

Fig. 4 – “The Slave could be canonized.” The brothers Nilton Santos and Ubiraraja Rodrigues Santos during the process of requesting canonization. News clip of Ultima Hora, June 25, 1984 (from the Museu do Negro, Rio de Janeiro).

Fig. 4 – “The Slave could be canonized.” The brothers Nilton Santos and Ubiraraja Rodrigues Santos during the process of requesting canonization. News clip of Ultima Hora, June 25, 1984 (from the Museu do Negro, Rio de Janeiro).

A precarious saint on trial

42The application and its rejection directly addressed the slave-saint’s historicity and material existence. The petition for sainthood proposed that Anastácia represented and embodied a terrible “lacuna in the history of Brazil.” She was born “sometime between 1770 and 1813,” probably in Bahia. She was punished and tortured with the instruments depicted in Arago’s drawing, yet somehow made it to Rio de Janeiro—“with the help of philanthropists”—and was treated for her wounds at the Church of the Rosary. Thus Anastácia was a specific flesh-and-blood historical person. Second, the petition stated that Anastácia enjoys the enormous devotion “of the people”; that she is, in fact, “more venerated than the actual Saints.” She is the recipient of the “constant celebration of masses for the Souls of Captives,” of which she is the sole black effigy in the church (a única representante negra em effigie na igreja). Anastácia is by rights, then, a “legitimate” salve to people’s suffering, akin to recognized national Virgins like those of Salete, Lourdes, or Fátima. Next, the petition invoked Anastácia’s recognized miracles. To this end, the canonization request assembled a set of hand-drafted personal testimonies to her healing power. One letter reads as follows:

Dear Slave Anastácia,
I’m writing to you to thank you for all the blessings I’ve received from having faith in you. Especially about the sickness of my mom, thanks to God and you she’s well and I ask that you keep looking after her and all of us. Thanks also for helping with the job for my husband. Lately I’m facing some business problems and I ask that you give light to choose the right path. I visited you over there in your temple in Madureira and I have lots of faith in you and ask that you keep watching over my family. I love you, Marisa

The application emphasized Anastácia’s historical exemplarity, despite the lack of precision as to the dates of her birth and death and the vagueness of the details of her life. Her general existence was in any case more important than her specific biological existence. In fact, her lack of specific physical existence may have facilitated her power to serve as a “collective” representation of shared suffering.

  • 17 The petition and letters requesting canonization as well as the Archbishop’s rejection are archived (...)
  • 18 A Arquidiocese do Rio de Janeiro não deixará, em conjunto com a Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosár (...)
  • 19 Para isso espera também contar com a cooperação inteligente de ambos os signatários.
  • 20 Outrossim, informo ser inadequanda a utilização do termo, “agente de pastoral social.”

43In spite of such arguments and testimonials, the Church rejected the bid without serious consideration.17 The letter from the Archbishop declared that there does not seem to be “any possibility” of canonization because there are no “secure documents” giving evidence of the actual historical existence of this person, either her existence or her death. “Historical rigor is the first and indispensable legal requirement,” it scolded. In addition, the letter expressed, there is no support from canon law for the kind of public devotion accorded to this person. In fact—and more ominously—such practices should be stopped by the diocese. The faithful must be alerted as to ecclesiastic norms, it claimed, which do not allow for devotion to unrecognized saints.18 It asked for the petitioners’ collaboration in diminishing Slave Anastácia’s sainthood: “Toward this end, we hope to also be able to count on the intelligent cooperation of both signatories.”19 The letter concluded by denying the petitioners’ authority to make claims on the Church: “we inform you that the use of an alleged status, ‘agent of social pastoral,’ is inadequate.”20

  • 21 In Dias de Souza 2007, p. 39. According to Dias de Souza, the diocesal announcement was drafted by (...)

44The next step in Anastácia’s denied sainthood took place in the court of public opinion. An official notice from the Rio diocese announced on August 26, 1987, that, “it has been determined and conveyed to priests to abstain from accepting solicited masses of thanksgiving for ‘Slave Anastácia,’ or for any other reason. This determination does little to impede the accession to perform masses for the souls of slaves.”21 The Cardinal took further action, appointing a church archivist, Monseigneur Guilherme Schubert, to investigate the source of the upstart saint. Schubert filed a devastating report, summarized in a press editorial on September 15, 1987. The editorial baldly stated that 1) Anastácia never existed; 2) the image derived from a drawing by the French writer Jacques Arago; 3) Arago had in fact drawn a male, and conjoined two corporal punishments and instruments of torture he witnessed into one drawing; 4) the idea of Slave Anastácia as a female, blue-eyed saint—from a drawing executed in black and white—was an invention by the Director of the Museu do Negro, Yolando Guerra (who had died on November 30, 1983); and 5) regarding this saint as a “god” (deusa), as her followers sometimes seemed to do, was in any case counter to the Church’s notion of sainthood. I quote Schubert’s blunt conclusion in full:

  • 22 “Assim, devemos chegar à conclusão de que, por mais justo que seja compadecer-se com o sofrimento d (...)

Thus we must arrive at the conclusion that, though it is just to feel compassion for the suffering of black slaves, we cannot accept the liturgical cult for a figure that never existed, based solely on a drawing that did not even present a woman but rather a man (or, rather, two men). A popular movement began from an inventive fantasy of Mr. Yolando Guerra. This fantasy might serve for a novel, or even a film. Whether the religion of Umbanda accepts this, we cannot say. The Catholic Church does not.22

In fact “the religion of Umbanda” did accept the saint. Umbandists easily incorporated Slave Anastácia into their repertoire of spirit entities (entidades) through a family resemblance. Slave Anastácia was related to the preto velho (old blacks) family, the spirits of slaves and former slaves who offer advice based on their knowledge and wisdom acquired through humility and endurance. Like the preto velho spirits, Anastácia was seen as an ancestor, and especially revered on Mondays, the day of blessed souls (almas benditas), and in May, around Abolition (Silva 2007, p. 8).

  • 23 Jornal do Brasil, March 25, 1988, Caderno B, p. 2.

45Through Umbanda and popular Catholicism, and in spite of the Church’s campaign, devotion to Slave Anastácia continued to build in the lead-up to the centenary of Abolition in 1988. Faced with a crisis, other agents of the Church were tapped to press the case against Anastácia in the public sphere. On March 25, 1988, Dom Marcos Barbosa reiterated the position: Anastácia “simply did not exist.”23 Cardinal Eugênio Salles likewise argued on May 12, 1988, that Anastácia had never existed, and therefore could not be beatified or treated as an object of legitimate devotion. It has nothing to do with politics or racism, he insisted, but rather with the need to “not foment popular credulity.” They failed to stave the enthusiasm, as attested by the thousands who gathered at the Church of the Rosary, and waited for hours in line to visit Anastácia. A year later, as May 12, 1989, approached, sculptures of Anastácia were removed from the church by the metropolitan curia and, as recalled by present-day members of the brotherhood, a priest presented a mass in which his homily explained and reinforced the non-existence of Slave Anastácia as saint (Paiva 2014, p. 68).

  • 24 “Thingification” derives from Marx’s term Verdinglichung.

46Nevertheless, in spite of the attempts to empty and, so to say, “thingify”24 Anastácia, her cultivation rapidly gained traction, outside of official Church oversight. In 1981, a bust of Slave Anastácia was erected on a public square—the Praça Padre de Sousa—in the neighborhood of Benfica, and became a busy location for Anastácia’s cultivation. This was achieved through the energy of a particular devotee, Dona Marieta, who gathered donations from friends and neighbors (Dias de Souza 2007, p. 39). Meanwhile, Nilton da Silva opened a “Temple of the Slave” in Madureira, in the working-class north zone of Rio, and there directed the “Universal Order of the Slave Anastácia.” By 1985, the temple was visited by thousands on the days around her saint’s day, and the day of emancipation, May 13, with the entire street nearby decorated with streamers and jammed with pilgrims. In 1985, all the major newspapers covered the day: Events began with clarion blasts at 5:00 am and ended with fireworks in the night. Masses for Slave Anastácia were celebrated by two priests of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Geraldo dos Santos and Agostinho José Mario; Nilton da Silva himself conducted the most popular event of all, a giant “mentalization” session. The exercise showed a further extension of Slave Anastácia into Umbanda in relation to the preto velho class of spirits (see Figure 5). Two additional temples devoted to Anastácia were opened in Olaria and in Vaz Lobo, suburbs of Rio, with services led by clergy of the Catholic Church of Brazil, not the Roman Catholic Church.

Fig. 5 – Anastácia icon set in relation to figures of preto velho spirits (photo by author).

Fig. 5 – Anastácia icon set in relation to figures of preto velho spirits (photo by author).
  • 25 See O Jornal, May 13, 1973.
  • 26 Along Rua General Caldwell, just off Avenida Presidente Vargas near the city center.
  • 27 Examples include Bangu during the period of Marinho (Mário dos José dos Reis Emiliano) in 1987, or (...)

47Photo spreads on Slave Anastácia featured in mainline publications like O Jornal, especially around May 13.25 By 1980, there were frequent newspaper personal advertisements announcing blessings (graças) received from Anastácia in exchange for offerings (promessas). A favela neighborhood was named after her.26 Multiple soccer players, managers, and clubs claimed her as their patron saint.27 Famous samba schools like the Unidos de Vila Isabel elevated Slave Anastácia to a starring role in their Carnaval spectacle, televised nationwide. All of this efflorescence took shape within a shifting legal landscape in which Black history was being newly instituted in the country as a whole—through the National Black Consciousness Day (Dia Nacional de Consciência Negra), for example, and the insertion of Afro-Brazilian history into the public school curriculum (Dias de Souza 2007, p. 15).

  • 28 Andrea Paiva reports that the sculpture of the Unknown Slave was carried out by an Argentine, Humbe (...)

48At the Church of the Rosary itself, devotees flocked to the Museu do Negro to see the image of Slave Anastácia, along with other entities like the Unknown Slave (Escravo Desconhecido).28 The devotion to Slave Anastácia expanded in the context of the Black Consciousness movement and the build-up to the 1988 centennial of Abolition, and its aftermath.

49Completely novel myth-histories emerged with details of Anastácia’s biography, as if out of nowhere. Some continue to circulate today, even in encyclopedia entries. “From the little historical evidence recorded, it can be said that this great martyr was one of the many examples of Afro-Brazilian resistance … Her martyrdom started on April 9, 1740.” The entry goes on to detail her arrival on a specific ship from Congo, her beautiful mother named Delmira, who was purchased and raped, the subsequent birth of Anastácia in Pompeu, Minas Gerais, on May 12, the same violence perpetrated against Anastácia despite her heroic resistance (Santos 2008, p. 85-86). Other versions cast her as a former Yoruba princess and avatar of the goddess Oxum. The stories multiplied and spread.

50Perhaps at this juncture we should summarize Slave Anastácia’s similarities with and differences from other saints. Like other popular Catholic saints in Brazil, she is recognized both in orthodox Catholic and in Afro-Brazilian cultic settings, if on the margins of both. Also like other saints, she is understood as having suffered in the past for a just cause, and that past suffering endured by her body offers present benefits for other bodies. Gaining those benefits requires following one of several familiar modes of conveyance or exchange—through contact, mimesis, written petition, or material or financial offerings, and prayer. Unlike other saints, though, Anastácia’s narratives do not necessarily mark her as Christian. She serves as mediator, like other saints, but not of the reality of Christ’s living presence. Rather, her martyrdom attests not to the experience or reality of Christ as God, but rather to the pain of enslavement and sexual assault, both her own and her mother’s, as her blue eyes—indexing miscegenation—dramatically announce.

51Slave Anastácia is also characterized by a forcibly reduced personhood. Whereas many saints are characterized by heroic acts of will, the defiant refusal to renounce, Anastácia’s fame lies in her endurance of diminished will—mute, bound, raped, gagged, and locked in metal. She moves only within strict limits. She sees but cannot speak. She heals but cannot taste. Unlike many Afro-Brazilian santos, who dance in the bodies of living humans, Anastácia does not “manifest,” and so is immobile. She has a sexual identity but one expressed without agency or will. She is a saint who is a metal-flesh hybrid; her saintly heroism lies in being able to signal persisting personhood even in and through the cage that confines her.

52This leaves us with a key structural juxtaposition to summarize the precise position Anastácia occupies: whereas officially recognized saints were typically actually-existing humans who bore witness to a myth-historic being and narrative, Anastácia is the inverse—a mythic being who bears witness to the actually-existing history of slavery in Brazil.

Modes and moods of presence

53Despite her rejection as a bona fide saint, Anastácia regularly comes into being—that is, she “is” even if she, according to the Church, never “existed.” For example, though no one I spoke with has seen her incorporated by possessing a living body, one informant went into detail on the ways that possession is relative. Some saints, he said, do not “possess” but nevertheless “lean against” living bodies (encostar). Possession as incorporation is a matter of degree, he continued, a degree of coming near (chegando perto) to a human body. For Slave Anastácia, as a never-existing yet ever-present not-quite saint—interstitial in every sense—the possible forms and modes of appearance remained wide open. How is presence achieved, and with what modes and moods? Here I consider three different modes and sites of appearance.

The historical mode and the mood of trauma

54Slave Anastácia’s home church and birthplace is Our Lady of the Rosary in downtown Rio, a church receiving an unusual amount of traffic. There is a constant flow during workday hours, with 20-50 persons seated in the sanctuary at any given time, and hundreds for the popular midday masses on Monday and Thursday. The church is the hub of Afro-Catholic history in Rio de Janeiro; it was here that Slave Anastácia first appeared, or emerged as a saint, and it is here that she today appears, in several guises. Though the church is most famous for Anastácia, her icons are nowhere on hand at the entrance or in the sanctuary. Rather there are icons of Saint George and Saint Benedict. Notes left at their feet ask for their aid to pass exams; for peace in the household; for health concerns. Many petitions are but lists of names. Small images of Saint George, Saint Benedict, and many other saints, including the unapproved Slave Anastácia, can be purchased at the entrance.

55In the church annex, on the second floor, Anastácia plays a much larger part. With 17 different icons or instantiations, here she is constantly visible (even as the visitor is constantly in her view), often nested within a cluster or assemblage of Afro-Brazilian indexes: slavery, Carnaval, Candomblé, the brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary. Even within the busy array of exhibits, Anastácia is the clear focal point. One of her instantiations is as a pedagogical figure indexing the history of slavery in Brazil. Within the space of the Museu do Negro, the Museum Director, Ricardo Passos, positioned her strategically, as shown in Figure 6.

Fig. 6 – Slave Anastácia at the Museu do Negro in May 2016, simultaneously a shrine and historical exhibit (photo by author).

Fig. 6 – Slave Anastácia at the Museu do Negro in May 2016, simultaneously a shrine and historical exhibit (photo by author).

56Devotees and museum visitors alike approach her images joined centrally in a large armoire. A discreet box for petitions or money gifts is placed at the armoire’s base. On top of the armoire is a stack of mimeographed prayers with instructions for their use to gain Anastácia’s favor. Museum administrators are constantly aware of the line between the deployment of Anastácia as “exhibit” and as “saint.” The church was once nearly closed because of her presence in the church, and the museum was closed for a decade from 2001 to 2011. The need to curtail her presence, while all the while remaining attentive to the fact that she is the reason many parishioners attend the church at all, is key. The line dividing “inside” from “outside” of the church is crucial.

57To avoid possible conflicts with the diocese, and make clear that the museum is “outside” the ritual space of the church—even though resident in the same brick-and-mortar structure—the display includes unmarked tools of torture above the figures of Anastácia. These include manacles, shackles, chains, and iron rings. The Director explained to me that this arrangement allows visitors to easily pivot in their regard: the assemblage might be a shrine where Anastácia lives, but it could also be viewed as an “exhibit.” Maintaining this strategic ambiguity calls for daily curatorial work: the staff is careful to remove offerings of money, flowers, and written notes and deposit them downstairs in the velário, or candle-burning room, where the material presentation of Anastácia is solely for ritual and not pedagogical purposes. Yet there is clear evidence that even Anastácia’s “exhibit” in the museum is relied upon as an altar and site of exchange, since flowers, notes, and money are daily left below her head. These offerings increase at certain times of year. Her altar/exhibit is a living thing—modulating, expanding, contracting, posing challenge and demanding reply. When I left Rio last year, Ricardo took an icon of Anastácia off the armoire shelf and gave it to me. I protested, taking it as a “sacred object” in need of preservation. But Ricardo simply replaced it and gave me a different and smaller version, from another part of the museum. “People always lend a hand,” bringing new editions of Anastácia, he said. Even my writing will “take part in making her altar” (fazer parte do altar dela). Perched on the edge dividing history and religious practice, Slave Anastácia’s altars are, perhaps more than most altars, always modulating and able to expand or shrink, adopt new media of extension or refuse them.

  • 29 The date was instituted as a school holiday in 2003, and a national holiday in 2011.
  • 30 “Deusa-escrava, escrava-princesa, princesa-deusa … dai-nos tua força para lutarmos e nunca sermos e (...)

58In the museum, Anastácia’s presence expands dramatically in May and November—the months of Abolition, and the National Day of Black Consciousness (on November 20), respectively.29 At these junctures, Ricardo reported, the number of visitors to the museum jumps tenfold from about 50 a day to 500. Anastácia serves as at once political signifier and ritual interlocutor; at the museum, that hybridity appears in graphic form. One poster presents a simultaneous historical narrative and prayer: “Goddess-slave, slave-princess, princess-goddess … give us your force to fight, and to never be enslaved.”30

Fig. 7. Slave Anastácia as she appears alongside Archangel Michael in the velário at the Church of the Rosary, Rio de Janeiro (photo by author).

Fig. 7. Slave Anastácia as she appears alongside Archangel Michael in the velário at the Church of the Rosary, Rio de Janeiro (photo by author).

59Even in the velário (see Figure 7), Anastácia remains ambiguous and slightly undercover. Her figure is cased alongside a much larger image of Saint Michael the Archangel. Like Anastácia, Archangel Michael is concerned with justice. Saint Michael is considered to represent the cross of souls (cruzeiro das almas), and to be the protector of the dead. Under the Church of the Rosary are, or so it is asserted, the bones of deceased slaves, discovered when the tunnels were dug for the nearby metro line. In this sense, Saint Michael Archangel’s and Slave Anastácia’s roles are joined as protectors of the souls of slaves. And while Saint Michael’s bulk fills the glass case, the figures of Anastácia outnumber him, and the vast majority of written petitions left for the saints’ consideration are addressed to Anastácia. This site has much more traffic than the museum in the annex. At any given time during the day, one to three people are present, usually remaining for five to ten minutes per visit: the time sufficient to light a candle, approach and touch the icon’s case, and pass a brief period in contemplation or prayer. I estimate that over 100 people visit this figure of Anastácia daily during the week, and many more on Mondays and Thursdays when large midday congregations gather for mass.

60Just outside the velário, and technically outside of the church wall on either side, three different Afro-Brazilian diviners practice their craft. The most sought after, Aunt (Tia) Rita, who appears in Figure 8, has a constant line, and charges from 50 to 100 reais (about $17 to $33) per consultation. The work being done with Anastácia here is less related to the history of slavery and structural racism in Brazil, and more related to solving immediate everyday problems. This does not make Tia Rita and her clientele apolitical. As John Burdick wrote, devotion to Slave Anastácia in these kind of spaces “helps negras in small, everyday ways to value themselves physically, challenge dominant aesthetic values, cope with spousal abuse, and imagine possibilities of racial healing based upon a fusion of real experiences with utopian hope” (Burdick 1998, p. 149). Though Tia Ria’s patrons are not exclusively Black, far from it, Burdick’s point about how Slave Anastácia is invoked to endure everyday forms of violence is apposite.

Fig. 8 – The diviner and mother-of-saints (mãe de santo), Tia Rita, working just outside the church. Her stall backs up to the velário (photo by author).

Fig. 8 – The diviner and mother-of-saints (mãe de santo), Tia Rita, working just outside the church. Her stall backs up to the velário (photo by author).

61Dressed as a baiana—in stylized Afro-Brazilian priestess couture—Rita is also a member of the church brotherhood. She told me some of Anastácia’s uses in her practice. Slave Anastácia is invoked to deal with legal issues, and with matters of love, “because she suffered so much injustice.” But she is also solicited for help with physical ailments like sore throat, presumably because of the painful bands of iron encircling her neck. Tia Rita explained that someone seeking the aid of Anastácia might need to do more than just make offerings of candles, money, or fruits; rather, “When you ask something of her, you should spend three days mute, making your request (fazendo pedido) silently.” By mimicking her muteness, the petitioner fortifies that quality, and Anastácia gains in presence. On the other side of the church, Rita’s mother is likewise practicing, divining with cards as well as plying her trade with cowrie shells (búzios). She has a bust of Slave Anastácia on her table. She warned me against the evil eye, a rival’s jealousy. The diviners’ work often directs clients to visit Slave Anastácia inside the church. They instruct customers to perform tasks (tarefas) inside, to make petitions (promessas) or express thanks within the shrine for jobs saved, debts repaid, sicknesses or vices cured (Paiva 2014, p. 56-57).

62Diviners like Tia Rita are known as “mothers-of saints” (mães de santo) since, in Candomblé and Umbanda, they preside over the “births” of new initiates who learn to carry the gods or saints in their heads. Each new initiation entails not only the birth of a new initiate but also the birth of a new version of the god. This double-birth—making the initiate, making the god—is called “making the head” (fazer cabeça) (inter alia, Johnson 2002, p. 108-123). Part of that process of making the head includes a pilgrimage to the Catholic church, to bodily link one’s patron orixá to the complex of Catholic sainthood, and, implicitly, to the history of forced conversion and “double participation” (Parés 2013, p. 76-77). Saints, and mothers-of-saints, serve as a crossroads where Catholic and Afro-Brazilian practices and identifications intersect and are often joined, including materially and socially. They are also sites where friction appears. Tia Rita’s stall is adjacent to the church but on the outside wall. She is herself a member of the brotherhood, yet not a few in the brotherhood deny the legitimacy of her work, and the efficacy of Slave Anastácia herself. These so-called “conservatives” are balanced by another subgroup within the brotherhood who frequent Afro-Brazilian religious communities, and treat Anastácia more or less in the mode of an Umbanda spirit or Candomblé orixá. Tia Rita’s physical presence in that space provides a social link between Candomblé and the Church of the Rosary; she knows most of the priests and priestesses of Candomblé, and they often stop and visit with her while carrying out errands in the downtown district. In a sense she serves as a bodily gateway for practitioners of Candomblé into the church, the Catholic saints and the modes of ritually evoking their presence and favor; as well as vice versa, as narrowly Catholic adherents learn about Candomblé, Umbanda, and Anastácia in part through her guidance.

63Within the church walls, in the velária, the most common work of contact with Anastácia is by visiting her figuration and placing one’s hand against the glass case that houses her image. This physical contact is accompanied by a slightly lowered head, in deference and petition, and the mouthing of prayers. One must always “ask with faith” (Paiva 2014, p. 57).

Fig. 9 – Anastácia as part of a didactic display with labels and explanations at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks, Salvador da Bahia (photo by author).

Fig. 9 – Anastácia as part of a didactic display with labels and explanations at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks, Salvador da Bahia (photo by author).
  • 31 I invoke the problematic term syncretism with reluctance for obvious reasons of its imprecision and (...)
  • 32 Statement prepared by the Venerável Ordem Terceira do Rosário de Nossa Senhora às Portas do Carmo, (...)

64If Anastácia, like all saints, resides most forcefully in certain places, she also achieves extra-local extension in a similar mode and mood. From Rio she moved to Bahia, where she also has a shrine at the church most associated with Afro-Brazilian history in Salvador da Bahia, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks (Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos), as shown in Figure 9. Her role there, as in the Museu do Negro in Rio’s Church of the Rosary, combines didactic and ritual functions. As an important historical church in one of the most visited parts of Salvador, it receives both tourists and parishioners. One sign identifies different Black saints and clarifies various rationales for their cultivation: known and officially recognized Black saints like Benedict or Iphigenia serve as examples of martyrdom; others, like Santa Barbara, provide syncretic links between Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé (Santa Barbara in Bahia is also known to be the orixá Iansã).31 Anastácia does not fit either category. Or, rather, she serves as a bridge between them, between the Catholic notions of “souls of the dead,” and saints, and Afro-Brazilian notions of saints, orixás, and ancestors. The sign thus continues, “in addition, we observe in Brazil the belief that martyrs of captivity and slavery are good intercessors for petitions, and act as intermediaries for obtaining sought after graces. In exchange for these favors, masses for the rest of their souls are given, along with money, flowers and candles set out around their tombs and icons. It is in this sense that the devotion to Slave Anastácia in this brotherhood can be understood.”32

65The special care taken here to discursively justify and account for the presence of Anastácia’s image within the church, by virtue of her link to a properly Catholic category, the souls of the dead, is noteworthy for how it indexes her liminal status.

The mode of worship, the mood of serenity

  • 33 The Brazilian Catholic Church was founded in 1945 by a dissident Roman Catholic priest, Carlos Duar (...)
  • 34 Though the proprietor insisted that these figures were “slaves” just like Anastácia, and had nothin (...)

66At the Santuário Católica da Anastácia, in the northern sector of Oswaldo Cruz, Anastácia is juxtaposed both with Saint Michael and with Saint George, another champion of justice. But there the similarities between the Church of the Rosary and the Catholic Sanctuary of Anastácia end. Masses are held at the Sanctuary of Anastácia three times a week, led by a priest of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira). This denomination was founded as a dissident breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church in 1945, and welcomes Slave Anastácia as a bona fide saint, as well as recognizing the legitimacy of many other forms of popular Brazilian practice.33 The Sanctuary of Anastácia was opened by the owner of the house a decade ago, after Anastácia provisioned a miracle by allowing her stolen car to be recovered. At this temple, icons of Anastácia are sometimes grouped with pretos velhos (the familiar spirit of “old Blacks” in Umbanda).34 There are multiple niches where written notes and burning candles are left—some for public use, others for household devotion. One note, open and legible, beseeched Anastácia for “clear conscience” (lucida consciência) of a particular person, “free of sickness” and all evil, so that s/he would be happy with the “path” (caminho) her life has followed. Another asked for a job for a husband. Others provide lists of names. Anastácia’s blackness and torture are strikingly cast in contrast with a field of unusually white versions of saints and intercessors, including Christ.

67The Sanctuary maintains a Facebook site where visitors leave reviews (“5 stars!”) and comments—“This is where I recharge my Energy … Very blessed and with great Faith … the Masses are marvelous”; “I think it is beautiful and a blessing from Jesus. Everyone should get to know it. You’ll feel a peace in your heart.”35 The Sanctuary’s inside walls are painted with colorful murals depicting scenes from nature—a waterfall, flowers, clouds, mountains, the sun—and smiling, white-skinned figurations of Jesus, Mary, and the saints, as depicted in Figure 10. Plastic flower arrangements are placed around the pews and in conspicuous corners. The Sanctuary is equipped with microphones, speakers, and a keyboard. Prior to masses, and during, gentle classical music is piped over the speakers. The atmosphere is reverent, and carefully composed to communicate and effect a mood of calm. To be sure, the soundscape shifts during masses. At times the keyboard’s drum function is engaged, and upbeat songs with clapping and enthusiastic singing are enjoined. The priest’s homily returns to themes of conciliation and acceptance. He reassures: Slave Anastácia endured and was blessed, and you will be too.

Fig. 10 – Santuário Católica da Anastácia, Oswaldo Cruz, northern suburb of Rio (photo by author).

Fig. 10 – Santuário Católica da Anastácia, Oswaldo Cruz, northern suburb of Rio (photo by author).

68The mood of serenity does not imply merely a lack of bodily involvement. At a Wednesday evening mass for Slave Anastácia and Saint George, from 6-7 pm, 18 people were in attendance, comprised of six men and a dozen women. Despite the small group, the priest, Padre Fabio, used a headset microphone and an informal, colloquial style without Latin. The Eucharist was served; three women went directly from receiving the sacrament to kneeling before a life-sized icon of Anastácia. All gathered around the effigy of Anastácia for recitations and prayers. Next followed recitations and prayers to Saint George. Men lined up to have the cape of Saint George placed on their shoulders by Padre Fabio while he prayed, asking the saint to transform them into defenders and protectors, like George himself. The men then held the cape aloft while the women walked beneath it, reaching up to touch it as they passed. If Anastácia and Saint George are allied in their thirst for justice, here their juxtaposition also instantiated dramatic gender differences. The ritual linked men with Saint George and the vocation as defenders, and women with Anastácia. Men defend women, who in turn suffer for all. The mood of conciliatory serenity was instantiated through active bodily performance.

69Not far from the Santuário is the Mercadão de Madureira (Madureira Market), the main commercial site in Rio for the purchase of ritual materials-figurines, herbs, implements, clothing, and even the live animals central to sacrificial practice in Candomblé. Here one encounters a range of entities, including nonhuman agents of Afro-Brazilian traditions across a wide spectrum, from Espiritismo to Umbanda to Candomblé. The market is enormous, comprised of hundreds of vendors and crowds of buyers. Statues of every spirit, orixa, exu, preto-velho, pomba-gira, or angel are for sale. Made of heated gypsum or “plaster of Paris” and paint, the figures are mass-produced alongside figures of other saints and readily available at wholesale prices (preço fábrica) on line as well as locally, for resale at a healthy profit. The market sells everything, it seems, except perhaps Slave Anastácia, who is hard to find (see Figure 11).

Fig. 11 – Slave Anastácia nearly buried among other figurines, at the Mercadão de Madureira (photo by author).

Fig. 11 – Slave Anastácia nearly buried among other figurines, at the Mercadão de Madureira (photo by author).

70On my last visit, I inquired at dozens of stalls and stores, but located only three small images. Anastácia’s near-absence was surprising. A few businesses reported that they “used to have some” but ran out of her icons after her high season around May 12-13, the anniversary of Abolition. Many shopkeepers declared that they never stock her images at all. Some told me in no uncertain terms that I was wasting my time, committing a category mistake: “Anastácia pushes too much toward the Catholic side,” one salesman said. She didn’t fit the genre of sales in Afro-Brazilian religions per se, such that for most of the year, one clerk said, she is far less marketable than preto velhos, caboclos (a generic class of “Indian” spirits cultivated in Umbanda), or gypsy (cigana) figures. However, if I went down the block, exiting this market and crossing over to the Catholic store (Bazar Padre Normand Artigos Católicos), there I would “certainly” find many Anastácias. But in that store the owner also looked at me askance—again a category mistake—and told me that she wasn’t “really Catholic.” Despite this resistance, though, they had one product for sale hanging from a hook, a plastic-bead Anastácia rosary seen in Figure 12.

Fig. 12 – Small rosary for sale at the Catholic store, Bazar Padre Normand, Madureira (photo by author).

Fig. 12 – Small rosary for sale at the Catholic store, Bazar Padre Normand, Madureira (photo by author).

71What I want to call attention to in this short description of the markets for ritual materials, so crucial for both Afro-Brazilian and popular Catholic practice, is that Slave Anastácia was present but peripheral at each venue. At the Afro-Brazilian religions’ market she was “too Catholic” but still occasionally peaked out; at the Catholic store she was too Afro-Brazilian but still, if barely, extant in the form of a specific edition of plastic rosary beads.

72In any given Umbanda temple, meanwhile, Anastácia takes on a less interstitial and more intersectional role, inviting the devotion of all. To accomplish this mass appeal, Anastácia is ascribed an even more metaphysical tone than that of the Sanctuary to inculcate a mood of serene acceptance. Here’s one example, from the website of an Umbanda center located 600 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, in Paraná, the Centro Pai João de Angola:

The spirit of Anastácia is gifted with vigorous LIGHT and EQUILIBRIUM, with her heart sweet and enlightened she distributes forgiveness, and love for the creator. She creates blessings even in hearts imprisoned by egoism and spiritual blindness. She liberates from the goads of illusion, and like a solitary, inexhaustible star, lights the paths of those who seek emancipation, in the name of Jesus. Humility and an aura of love are the marks of her presence.36

The mode of mass mediation and the market; the mood of the erotic

73The mini-series that launched Slave Anastácia into superstardom did so, first, by transforming the figure into Yoruba royalty and the daughter of Oxum, a popular Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian deity, and, second, by emphasizing her sensual allure. The mini-series aired in 1990 and continues to be easily available on YouTube, where it has been viewed millions of times (Wood 2011, p. 129). It took its storyline from a fictional work by a spiritist, Maria Salomé, emphasizing Anastácia’s history as an African noble, and her extraordinary avoid. She is presented as a Christ-like figure, preceded by an annunciation. The same applies in the TV show, where Anastácia is played by Angela Corrêa, likewise a declared spiritist. In the first episode, a babalawo (Yoruba diviner) tells the royal parents that a blue-eyed child will be born, a daughter of the Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian deity Oxum (ibid., p. 132, 134). Later in the broadcast she raises a slave-owner’s child from the dead, after which she dies and ascends to heaven as a white dove, a female African Christ.

  • 37 “A nova superproduao da Manchete”, in Correio Braziliense, May 15, 1990, caderno 2.
  • 38 “O que mais me fascinou foi a possibilidade da reconstrução histórica de um dos períodos mais insti (...)

74Whereas other textual accounts cast Anastácia as “Bantu” or as arriving on a Kongo slave ship, the television series, timed to launch roughly in conjunction with her celebration (it aired on May 15, 1990), cast her as from the most familiar, “safe” part of Africa (though also one which, parenthetically, did not comprise the largest part of the slave trade to Brazil until the 19th century). The production gave careful attention to historical fidelity, though an imagined one. As reported in one newspaper, “the quest for origins and consequent fidelity to the reconstruction of the past is evident in all the details.”37 The director, Paulo César Coutinho, elaborated, “What most fascinated me was the possibility of a historical reconstruction of one of the most incendiary periods of our past.”38 But apart from the question of historicity, it was Ângela Corrêa/Anastácia’s sex appeal that was highlighted in the press: One issue reported that she “could make herself the ‘Ebony diva’ of Brazilian television. This is confirmed in the scenes where she appears nude, in a gorgeous setting of her ‘honeymoon’ in a waterfall. Perfect body and impressive expressions” (O Estado de Minas Gerais, May 18, 1990). The newspaper O Correio (May 22, 1990) was equally titillating: “The legend of the slave Anastácia, sanctified by popular belief, nevertheless unfolds in a context of human torture and sexual and moral perversions.”

75This should perhaps not surprise. As Marcus Wood described, by the 1990s Anastácia took up space in hair salons, cafés, shopping malls, on cigarette lighters, keychains, T-shirts, and swimwear, even on BDSM and “fetish doll” pornographic internet sites (Wood 2011, p. 137). A bikini store in Copacabana named “Anastácia” played on a similar provocation between suffering abnegation and erotic fascination. In this valence, Wood noted that Anastácia is “frozen eternally within her terrible machinery,” and reduced to the status of “dumb animal” (ibid., p. 125, 141). We should take note of the possible sado-masochistic excitations played upon in commercial deployments of Anastácia, though they usually remain occluded, between the lines.

76They were made perfectly transparent, though, at the São Paulo Fashion Week in June 2012. There, the designer Adriana Degreas launched a new line of beachwear prominently featuring Slave Anastácia in a garment draped on the body of the blonde supermodel Shirley Mallmann, as appears in Figure 13. Anastácia’s muzzle was likewise shown on the runway, as a coy bikini accessory covering the navel instead of the mouth.

Fig. 13 – From fashion site,​2012/​06/​cada-look-que-entrava-na-passarela.html, consulted December 1, 2016.

Fig. 13 – From fashion site,​2012/​06/​cada-look-que-entrava-na-passarela.html, consulted December 1, 2016.

77Fashion commentators gushed. Lilian Pacce, host of the weekly show GNT Fashion, offered a detailed rationale:

All this with Bahian spice: a baroque brocade here, some lace there, colors of orixás, prints for Iemanjá and even a slave’s iron mask. Liberated from their master, these “slaves” float in silk gowns or two-pieces with conic brassieres, creating a 1950s silhouette. For the prints, there are strong images of Anastácia (the slave-saint), Nega Fulô, and lots of margarita flowers. […] The feeling is that Adriana is totally at ease, from sunbathing to strolling on the ship and—even more—stripping down to white lingerie panties and a baby doll mini-skirt (“bunda rica,” in the Northeast), totally transparent. As Adriana reminds us, they reveal the color of sin of those negras who drove their white masters crazy [with lust].39

78Not all viewers were as excited. In late September 2015, from London, Tanya Allison, an British woman of African descent, mounted a petition drive on

Fashion Designer Adriana Degreas has displayed a dress on her runway emblazoned with a Black slave on the front in a shackled contrapment over her face & mouth which would enable them to not be able to speak. This is not fashion, this is fetishising and commodifying racial abuse. We need to put a stop to this can you believe in 2015 we are still subjected to this form of racism & imagery. It would not be acceptable to emblazon a dress with a Holocaust victim & we will not accept this form of disrespect to our ancestors.40

79The petition gained 1,733 signatures within a few weeks, and elicited a response from Adriana Degreas’ design company:

The Adriana Degreas brand does not promote, endorse or accept any racist or any other discriminatory practice or bias regarding gender, race or religious belief. The Collection was created in homage to the Brazilian state of Bahia, particularly to honor the culture of the women from Bahia. The particular image that has created distress (only outside of Brazil) is that of a Saint called Escrava Anastácia, a very important religious figure in Brazil, both for Catholics and Umbanda (Afro-Brazilian religion) practitioners. Escrava Anastácia’s figure is always represented as such (with the horrible muzzle collar) and she is known in Brazil as symbol for women’s strength, resilience and the struggle for freedom. As many other Saints in Catholicism, she is depicted in a situation of martyrdom.41

80Several issues in this fashion show display and subsequent charged exchange demand attention: we see again the trope of Slave Anastácia’s hyper-sexuality, and by extension that of “Bahian women,” that is, Black and mixed-race women. It is cloaked as a homage to Bahia, women’s strength, and Catholic martyrdom—three emphases that stand in no small degree of tension with each other. Still, the contrast between white users of the image (whether as models, clients, or imagined male objects of seduction), on the one hand, and a Black martyr and Black-authored petition against such uses, on the other, leaves unresolved questions. The design company’s “solution” was to say that all Brazilians recognize the homage, and only foreign Afro-descendants are opposed. The accusation of racism is absorbed into a difference of national culture.

81Despite its self-interested evasions, there was some basis for such an argument. Slave Anastácia was, in fact, a celebrity icon and a TV star, in addition to being an Afro-Catholic saint. Moreover, official Catholic saints, like orixás of Candomblé and spirits of Umbanda, are regularly printed on textiles and in other graphic forms. Nevertheless, the resistance to Slave Anastácia among Black Movement activists in Brazil suggests that they, like Tanya Allison, find the slave-saint to be, at the very least, of limited heuristic value for bringing the history of slavery to public consciousness (especially when worn by white models); and, at worst, a dangerous fantasy of Black sexual servitude. They argue that the figuration of Anastácia, whether as textile print, telenovela star, or historical fiction, should not be so easily detached from the site, mode, and mood of her making.

Conclusion: mode, mood, and materials

82I’ve described three modes and moods by which the incarnate Slave Anastácia is animated and hailed into existence, in spite of the Church’s insistence upon her lack of it: First, as activated in the Museu do Negro, as a martyr whose suffering points to the actual history of slavery in Brazil, which she both indexes and sanctifies. The mode is historical and sometimes pedagogical—pointing, if in imaginative ways, to actual bodies in history. The mood is trauma.

83Second, I described the saint as activated in the Sanctuary of Anastácia, where Anastácia is a composite Catholic saint and Umbanda spirit. In that space, whose owner, priest, and congregation are multi-racial but mostly white, the history of slavery more or less recedes from view. Anastácia’s suffering is encased in glass, available for consultation and exchange, and related to other saints like Saint George, but detached from historical or contemporary political contexts. She is ethereal but constrained to the role of attending to personal petitions and the masses held in her name. The mode is serenely spiritual—sanctimonious and personal, restricted to individual approaches to the saint. In that space, the mood attaching to Anastácia is one of tolerant, detached serenity.

  • 42 As Georges Bataille wrote, such acts in no way contravene genuinely “sacred” impulses; to the contr (...)

84Third, she is rendered present in the market, on television, in fashion, and online. In this broader arena of circulation, her deployments and significations are as varied as her sites of use—a cab driver drapes her from a rearview mirror for protection, another carries her in his wallet as a promise made in response to a cure. In the most public domains of her transmission, though, a predominant theme is her bound and boundless sexuality, combining fantasies of domination—including her inability to speak—and the right to transgressive, violent defilement.42 The mode is mechanical, in which a body-as-machine is endlessly reproduced in downloads, textile prints, reruns, mimeographs, and equally copyable involuntary sex acts. The mood is erotic submission.

85For heuristic purposes, I’ve also called attention to three different spaces and material sites that are emblematic of these types. Of course, no specific site presents a “pure” manifestation of any one of these modes or moods—the types are variously combined in any actual empirical appearance of the incarnate named Slave Anastácia. Yet any given site or situation incarnating Slave Anastácia will hew closer to one or other, as a dominant attractor position (Whitehouse 2004, p. 147). Crucially for this essay, each mode-mood alliance or attractor position especially draws on and activates a different feature of Anastácia’s material being: In the first instance, the instruments of torture stand out—the muzzle and neck ring. In the second, her blue eyes call attention, imagined to be filled with empathy and understanding, even for her oppressors. In the third, her body is featured, especially its bare midriff. The distinct modes of incarnating Anastácia’s moods call different physical features of the saint to the fore. Those material forms recursively impinge on the saint’s mood, and her capacity to structure social groups and their predispositions to certain kinds of action.

86Why is one mode of the saint predominant and fitting in a given space, while another is mostly foreclosed—say, the beach-gown saint at the Church of the Rosary, or the full-length icon of spiritual Slave Anastácia standing among the bones in the rough-hewn velário? There are obvious constraints posed by rules and norms like Catholic catechistic rules of sainthood, among others. But even more important is that each materialized version of the saint emits and is sheathed in mood. It has a fit. “Fit” has many components, including historical residues that stick to the incarnate and shape its form. Even the skin color of Anastácia’s depictions is correlated with social fit. Marcus Wood observed how Anastácia’s various reproduced prints come in different shades of blackness—mulatta, quadroon, dark-skinned—such that everyone can find herself in the saint’s image (2011, p. 143). Still, the residues are thicker and stickier in certain sites than others, and not so easily effaced or remade. Certain modes of Slave Anastácia’s appearance cause the actually-existing history of slavery to be amplified, while other enunciations diminish it. As one devotee declared, “I’m devoted to the slave because she was a slave, get it?” (in Paiva 2014, p. 61). The Brazilian Catholic temple in Oswaldo Cruz, the Umbanda and Spiritist centers, and the São Paulo fashion runway offer examples of her streamlining and her disembedding or unhinging from a historical mode. In the historical mode, Anastácia’s suffering is redemptive because it speaks possibilities into the present. As Robin Sheriff (1996) proposed, Slave Anastácia symbolizes or expresses the actual here-and-now experience of Afro-Brazilians being muzzled. She amplifies the history of slavery in a fashion that exposes the unevenness of gender, and the fact that enslavement weighed on female bodies in ways unlike those experienced by men.

87Perhaps we might say that as Slave Anastácia moves further from her site of accidental origin at the Church of the Rosary and of Saint Benedict of Blacks—further from the bones of slaves, the molds of where abolitionist Princess Isabel lay in state, the rooms where abolitionists plotted, and the ashes of the fire that dictatorial arsonists sparked—the more permeable and open-ended “she” becomes. She is made pixelated and fluid, and can now be made into a servile mammy, a wispy spirit, a Yoruba princess, a cruise-ship fantasy; caricatures mostly unthinkable closer to her material home and place of emergence.

88Ritual approximations to the slave-saint like Anastácia occur in a specific mode, and educe a particular mood that encompasses the saint and the human petitioner. That is to say, the mood exists neither precisely in the saint’s material tableaux vivant or mise-en-scène, nor in the living human’s emotional state. “Mood” bridges the two entities, and is generated and sustained in their encounter and exchange. I’ve tried to point out at least three alliances of modes and moods, though there are no doubt more. In all her various guises, the presence of Slave Anastácia poses otherwise mostly unspeakable oppositions into relief, rendering them palpable: between Black and white, women and men, myth and history, freedom and slavery, speech and forced silence, the integrity of the body and its assault, liveliness and death. The mode and mood through which her presence is cast help shape these oppositions’ configuration, and through them the dispositions, hopes, histories, and imagined futures of her devotees.

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1 For Mott (1993), Rosa was perhaps the earliest African-born author in Brazil. She wrote at length about her visions in terms that eventually called authorities’ attention. In one such vision, she was flagellated by and then nursed Jesus. In 1765, she was accused by the Office of the Inquisition, and sent to Lisbon for trial. Her fate thereafter is unknown.

2 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition,, consulted November 22, 2016.

3 Grehan cites the 19th century Muslim jurist Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi on this bifurcation.

4 Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblance,” Familienähnlichkeit, posited that things may be related by a series of overlapping similarities rather than one single term of relation. In Philosophical Investigations, at § 67.

5 Perhaps here one has to start by acknowledging the obvious comparative import of suffering as a ritual technology across many traditions. For the Lakota, for example, certain heroic members of the tribe suffer piercing in the Sun Dance to awaken the pity and benevolence of Wakantanka, and direct it to the good of the community. Or one thinks of the figure of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, who, in some versions at least, renounces Buddhahood and practices radical asceticism in order to save others from samsara, the cycle of death, rebirth, and suffering. We could multiply the comparative examples. Suffering to accrue benefits and, through various techniques, convey them across time and space to other bodies is a familiar trope across many religions, if, nevertheless, one that is worth making strange.

6 Kristina Wirtz revives an antiquated term, “perspicience,” to name this particular kind of knowing; in the Afro-Cuban context it may also be called “conocimiento or claridad” (2014, p. 124).

7 Charles Hirschkind suggests that the idea that religion is “essentially” mediatic may require Protestant-like theological presuppositions of inner essence then externalized, in a reductive mode. But, he argues, the Quran is not mediative of the traditions of Islam, far less a reductive expression; rather, it is the tradition; even as a soccer ball doesn’t mediate the game of soccer, it is constitutive of it (Hirschkind 2011, p. 93).

8 Sanctorum Mater (Rome 2007), Part I, “Causes of Beatification and Canonization,” see Title II, Article 4, - Reputation_of_Holiness_or_of_Martyrdom_and_of_Intercessory_Power, consulted April 6, 2018.

9 “Object” is a better word here than “thing.” Bill Brown, as cited in Engelke (2007, p. 27), qualified a “thing” as a dangerous material that does not “work” for us, and so is emptied of presence or power. However, even by that standard, many entities swing between the status of “object” and “thing.” As I show below, it is a contested question whether Slave Anastácia is, as image or icon, a “thing” or an “object.”

10 To be sure, a number of the most celebrated Catholic saints also lack “historical” existence, including several that feature in Slave Anastácia’s story, like Saint George and Saint Michael. Thanks to Richard Reinhardt for this observation.

11 Here too there are exceptions, such as the “saint of Auschwitz” Maximilian Kolbe, killed by Nazis on August 14, 1941. Thanks to Richard Reinhardt for pointing out parallel cases of saints “without will.”

12 What is unusual about the incarnate, the saint called Slave Anastácia, is that “she” was a figuration—a drawing—to begin, a drawing that “embodied” the history of slavery in Brazil. See Mary Karasch 1986 on Anastácia as representative or composite of actual histories of enslaved women.

13 “… Au Brésil seul les esclaves se taisent, immobiles, sous la noueuse chicote.”

14 “… voyez cet homme qui passe là, avec un anneau de fer auquel est adaptée verticalement une épée du meme metal, le tout serrant assez fortement le cou ; c’est un esclave qui a tenté de s’échapper, et que son maître signale ainsi comme un vagabond…”

15En voici un autre dont le visage est entièrement couvert d’un masque de fer, où l’on a pratiqué deux trous pour les yeux, et qui est fermé derrière la tête avec un fort cadenas. Le misérable se sentait trop malheureux, il mangeait de la terre et du gravier pour en finir avec le fouet ; il expiera sous le fouet sa criminelle tentative de suicide.”

16 We should also note that the textual description of a full iron mask with eye-holes does not match the depicted mask that merely prevents eating, and perhaps speaking. Also, the two tools of torture that are separate events in Arago’s text are joined in the image. Thus it may be a mistake to assume that Arago intended the written text to correspond to the drawing. He may have seen them as distinct representations.

17 The petition and letters requesting canonization as well as the Archbishop’s rejection are archived at the Museu do Negro. Thanks to Museum Director Ricardo Passos for his help in locating them.

18 A Arquidiocese do Rio de Janeiro não deixará, em conjunto com a Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito dos Homens Pretos e o Capelão da Igreja, de alertar os féis para a observância das normas eclesiasticas.

19 Para isso espera também contar com a cooperação inteligente de ambos os signatários.

20 Outrossim, informo ser inadequanda a utilização do termo, “agente de pastoral social.”

21 In Dias de Souza 2007, p. 39. According to Dias de Souza, the diocesal announcement was drafted by Dom Romeu Brigenti. The legitimacy of “souls of slaves” is one reason Slave Anastácia is presented as a member of that class in the Church of the Rosary in Bahia. This allows her a tolerated presence on the margins of the church site.

22 “Assim, devemos chegar à conclusão de que, por mais justo que seja compadecer-se com o sofrimento dos escravos negros, não podemos aceitar o culto litúrgico duma figura que não existiu, baseando-nos numa gravura que não apresenta uma mulher, mas um homen (melhor: dois homens). Um movimento popular surgiu pela fantasia inventera do sr. Yolando Guerra. Esta fantasia pode server para um romance, um filme se quiser. Se a Umbanda aceita isso, não sabemos. A Igreja Católica não aceita.” Jornal do Brasil, September 9, 1987, p. 11.

23 Jornal do Brasil, March 25, 1988, Caderno B, p. 2.

24 “Thingification” derives from Marx’s term Verdinglichung.

25 See O Jornal, May 13, 1973.

26 Along Rua General Caldwell, just off Avenida Presidente Vargas near the city center.

27 Examples include Bangu during the period of Marinho (Mário dos José dos Reis Emiliano) in 1987, or the player Maurício (de Oliveira Anastácio) of America and then Botafogo, reported as declaring: “In any case, I get out of bed with my right foot first, and pray a lot to Saint Judas Tadeu, Nossa Senhora Aparacida, and to Escrava Anastácia” (Jornal do Brasil, October 14, 1989, p. 21; trans. mine).

28 Andrea Paiva reports that the sculpture of the Unknown Slave was carried out by an Argentine, Humberto Cozzo, in 1970. Visitors whisper in the ear of the Unknown Slave, touch his face, and leave offerings, from cigarette butts (giumba) to bullets, to notes (2014, p. 56).

29 The date was instituted as a school holiday in 2003, and a national holiday in 2011.

30 “Deusa-escrava, escrava-princesa, princesa-deusa … dai-nos tua força para lutarmos e nunca sermos escravas.” Note the informal and intimate mode of address (tua força), unusual in petitions addressed to other saints.

31 I invoke the problematic term syncretism with reluctance for obvious reasons of its imprecision and vague implications of pure vs. mixed traditions. It may prove more productive to speak of layered affiliations; of multi-religious practices, “shifting arenas” (Sweet 2003, p. 114, 203), and strategic cultivating of “parallelisms” and “double participation” (Parés 2013, p. 76-77) within larger, heterogeneous religious ecologies. On the genealogies of syncretism, see, inter alia, Johnson 2016.

32 Statement prepared by the Venerável Ordem Terceira do Rosário de Nossa Senhora às Portas do Carmo, the Brotherhood of Blacks (Irmandade dos Homens Pretos).

33 The Brazilian Catholic Church was founded in 1945 by a dissident Roman Catholic priest, Carlos Duarte Costa, who opposed the close relationship between the dictatorial regime of President Getúlio Vargas and the Roman Catholic Church. Costa accused the Roman Catholic Church of Nazi sympathies, and also opposed papal infallibility, the celibacy of the priesthood, and other issues. Priests of the (independent) Brazilian Catholic Church have long supported popular syncretic ritual events, including those of Umbanda, so it is no surprise that they have likewise been supportive of the devotion to Slave Anastácia. According to Roger Bastide, “Or il suffit de lire le journal de ce parti, Luta, pour voir ses prêtres assister à partir de 1945 aux séances du spiritisme de Umbanda, bénir les statues de Vierges identifiées avec Yémanja, dires des messes dans les sanctuaires des macoumbas, acheter des terrains pour que les nègres puissent y célebrer leurs fêtes si ‘nationalement brésiliennes’ et que l’Église romaine a pourtant interdites” (1960, p. 324).

34 Though the proprietor insisted that these figures were “slaves” just like Anastácia, and had nothing to do with the pretos velhos consulted in Umbanda.

35, consulted January 25, 2016.

36 At the website,ácia.php.

37 “A nova superproduao da Manchete”, in Correio Braziliense, May 15, 1990, caderno 2.

38 “O que mais me fascinou foi a possibilidade da reconstrução histórica de um dos períodos mais instigantes de nosso passado.”

39, consulted June 4, 2018.

40, consulted June 4, 2018.


42 As Georges Bataille wrote, such acts in no way contravene genuinely “sacred” impulses; to the contrary (e.g., 1986, p. 90).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Giotto, “Legend of St. Francis: The Sermon to the Birds,” Upper Church, Assisi. Jacob Burckhardt declared Giotto a virtuoso in calling to presence a historical scene in materials, and through the restricted architectural space of a church mural cycle (2005, p. 99).
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Titre Fig. 2 – Jacques Arago, “Châtiment des esclaves, Brésil,” Souvenir d’un aveugle. Voyage autour du monde, 1839.
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Titre Fig. 3 – The brotherhood accompanying the arrival of the body of Princess Isabel to the Church of the Rosário, Rio de Janeiro, 1971 (photo displayed at the Museu do Negro).
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Titre Fig. 4 – “The Slave could be canonized.” The brothers Nilton Santos and Ubiraraja Rodrigues Santos during the process of requesting canonization. News clip of Ultima Hora, June 25, 1984 (from the Museu do Negro, Rio de Janeiro).
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Titre Fig. 5 – Anastácia icon set in relation to figures of preto velho spirits (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 6 – Slave Anastácia at the Museu do Negro in May 2016, simultaneously a shrine and historical exhibit (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 7. Slave Anastácia as she appears alongside Archangel Michael in the velário at the Church of the Rosary, Rio de Janeiro (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 8 – The diviner and mother-of-saints (mãe de santo), Tia Rita, working just outside the church. Her stall backs up to the velário (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 9 – Anastácia as part of a didactic display with labels and explanations at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Blacks, Salvador da Bahia (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 10 – Santuário Católica da Anastácia, Oswaldo Cruz, northern suburb of Rio (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 11 – Slave Anastácia nearly buried among other figurines, at the Mercadão de Madureira (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 12 – Small rosary for sale at the Catholic store, Bazar Padre Normand, Madureira (photo by author).
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Titre Fig. 13 – From fashion site,​2012/​06/​cada-look-que-entrava-na-passarela.html, consulted December 1, 2016.
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Paul Christopher Johnson, « Modes and moods of “Slave Anastácia,” Afro-Brazilian saint », Journal de la société des américanistes, 104-1 | 2018, 27-73.

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Paul Christopher Johnson, « Modes and moods of “Slave Anastácia,” Afro-Brazilian saint », Journal de la société des américanistes [En ligne], 104-1 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2018, consulté le 19 octobre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/jsa.15584

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Paul Christopher Johnson

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor – []

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