A Woman to Know: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Confession serves nothing. It is intention God wants. — Kimpa Vita

Confession serves nothing. beatrIt is intention God wants. — Kimpa Vita

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

When she was 20 years old, Beatriz ran to the local church, claiming herself possessed — and not by a demon, but instead by Saint Anthony. As a young girl living in 17th century Kongo, Beatriz had trained with the local nganga marinda, or traditional “spirit keepers,” of her community. To them, her alleged possession only further proved the group had been right in selecting the intelligent, sharp young woman as a trainee. But after talking with the local Catholic priests, Beatriz abandoned her crew of nganga marinda teachers, deeming their practices un-Christian.

Her visions of Saint Anthony asked her to travel to the Kongolese city of San Salvador, the former capital, where she claimed her holy connection wanted the old kingdom restored to its former glory. The wealthy laughed at the raving woman, but the poor followed Beatriz’s teachings. The city saw a massive influx of pilgrims, all of them demanding to see Beatriz. Within a year, she had amassed a rather large following, and she’d soon put her power to the test.

The “Little Anthonies,” as the followers called themselves, flocked to Beatriz, demanding more of her pro-Black sermons. She told her followers Jesus was originally a Black man born in the Kongo and she preached her own Saint Anthony was also a Black. She claimed San Salvador had been Bethlehem and other landmarks in Africa figured prominently as Biblical sites.

Once King Pedro caught wind of Beatriz’s teachings, he ordered her stopped. The local Catholic churches called her a witch and spread rumors to damage her reputation. But the smear campaign had the opposite effect; as more and more peasants poured into San Salvador, the power of Beatriz’s teachings grew. The “Little Anthonies” began advocating for the removal of European priests. They replaced publicly-displayed crucifixes with statues of Saint Anthony, the symbols of their loyalty to Beatriz her pro-Black teachings.

But according to legend, in 1706, at the height of the “Antonian” movement, Beatriz discovered a setback: she was pregnant. She told her supporters she was leaving to visit heaven and discuss the movement with God, but instead she fled to her birth village and sequestered there until the baby was born. The baby — named Antonio, of course — ultimately proved her undoing. As the story goes, Beatriz had successfully hidden herself and avoided exposure. Then, as King Pedro’s troops patrolled the village, baby Antonio’s cries led them to Beatriz’s hiding place. They took her and her lover (himself a devoted supporter) to prison.

In 1709, King Pedro tried Beatriz for heresy and ordered her executed, thus reoccupying the kingdom and restoring himself on the throne. The lover died but the baby was spared, sparking a whole new wave of legends about the rumored descendants of Beatriz Kimpa Vita.

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