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Judging Maria de Macedo

A Female Visionary and the Inquisition in Early Modern Portugal

Bryan Givens

Publication Year: 2011

On February 20, 1665, the Inquisition of Lisbon arrested Maria de Macedo, the wife of a midlevel official of the Portuguese Treasury, after she revealed during a deposition that, since she was ten years old, an enchanted Moor had frequently “taken” her to a magical castle in the legendary land of wonders known as the Hidden Isle. The island paradise was also the home of Sebastian, the former king of Portugal (1557–1578), who had died in battle in Morocco while on crusade in 1578. His body remained undiscovered, however, and many people in seventeenth-century Portugal—including Maria—eagerly awaited his return in glory. In Judging Maria de Macedo, Bryan Givens offers a microhistorical examination of Maria’s trial before the Inquisition in Lisbon in 1665–1666, providing an intriguing glimpse into Portuguese culture at the time. Maria’s trial record includes a unique piece of evidence: a pamphlet she dictated to her husband fifteen years before her arrest. In the pamphlet, reproduced in its entirety in the book, Maria recounts in considerable detail her “journeys” to the Hidden Isle and her discussions with the people there, King Sebastian in particular. Not all of the components of Maria’s vision were messianic in nature or even Christian in origin; her beliefs therefore represent a unique synthesis of disparate cultural elements in play in seventeenth-century Portugal. Because the pamphlet antedates the Inquisition’s involvement in Maria’s case, it offers a rare example of a non-elite voice preserved without any mediation from an elite institution such as the Inquisition, as is the case with most early modern judicial records. In addition to analyzing Maria de Macedo’s vision, Givens also uses the trial record to gain insight into the values, concerns, and motives of the Inquisitors in their judgment of her unusual case. He thus not only examines separately two important subcultures in early modern Portugal, but also analyzes how they interacted with each other. Introducing a unique feminine voice from the early modern period, Judging Maria de Macedo opens a singular window onto seventeenth-century Portuguese culture.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

As is, I suppose, the case with many manuscripts, this project began as something quite different. When I first arrived in Lisbon in September 2001, I would never have guessed that my research would lead me to microhistory. I had originally intended to seek an answer to a fairly basic sociopolitical question: During the period of...

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Introduction: A Journey to Another World

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pp. 1-10

On February 20, 1665, Maria de Macedo, the wife of a midlevel official of the Portuguese Treasury, was arrested by the Inquisition of Lisbon, having just given what was to become the first of many depositions before the Holy Office. In that deposition, she did not hesitate to reveal that, from the age of ten, she had had a series of visions...


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1. The Millenarian Tradition in Early Modern Portugal

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pp. 13-26

All Western prophetic traditions begin with the messianic beliefs of the Jews and the early Christians. Impelled by the despair of national disaster and the hope for national liberation, the Jewish prophets predicted the coming of an Anointed One, the Messiah, who, in a time of cosmic struggle between good and evil, would come with the...

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2. The Evolution of Sebastianism

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pp. 27-44

On August 4, 1578, the Portuguese lost not only a battle but their army, their treasure, most of their nobility, and their king, in whom so much hope had been placed. They were soon to lose more, however. Sebastian had not secured the succession in case of failure, and the only other member of the Avis dynasty of any standing was...


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3. Maria de Macedo and the Vision in Her Own Words

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pp. 47-72

The story of Maria de Macedo began in 1635 and came to an end in 1667, at least according to the extant documentation. These thirty-odd years were an interesting period in Portugal for at least two reasons: one, they comprehended the entire length of Portugal’s struggle to free itself from Spanish domination; and two, they coincided with...

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4. The Trial of Maria de Macedo

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pp. 73-106

All investigations undertaken by the Inquisition began with a denunciation, someone reporting suspect activity to the Holy Office, and an examination of the who? and why? of denunciations forms an essential part of the analysis of any inquisitorial prosecution. This is certainly true in the case of Maria de Macedo and the details of this...


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5. The Element of Time in Maria’s Visions

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pp. 109-115

In order to fully understand the layers of meaning in the visions of Maria de Macedo, it will be helpful to begin by examining her narrative closely in regard to a single element: the passage of time. At first glance, her story may seem to be an example of the fully developed narrative of Sebastian and the Hidden Isle that was becoming more and more...

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6. A Glimpse of Paradise: Unlocking the Meaning of Maria’s Visions

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pp. 116-156

The principal elements of Maria de Macedo’s visions were her belief in Sebastian as the Hidden King and her belief in the existence of the Hidden Isle, so one might be tempted to say that this simply made her an orthodox sebastianista of the mid-seventeenth century. Such a conclusion would, however, be incorrect, and for at least...

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7. Utopia’s Judges: Understanding Inquisitorial Subculture

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pp. 157-188

In the previous chapter, I appraised the varied and sometimes disparate elements of Maria de Macedo’s vision as artifacts, discovering the origins and assessing the value of those elements. The result was a glimpse into the world of seventeenth-century popular culture in Portugal, as Maria selected, worked, and reworked elements of different...

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Conclusion: The Intersection of Two Worlds

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pp. 189-202

What have we learned from this examination of Maria de Macedo’s vision and her trial? Certainly, in the case of Maria herself, we have seen that her vision was a composite creation, a mosaic made of pieces from a wide variety of popular legends and beliefs. It began as a strange dream experience, the exact psychological...

Appendix: Transcription of Maria’s Pamphlet

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pp. 203-219


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pp. 221-238


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pp. 239-249


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pp. 251-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780807138144
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807137024

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011