Donna Beatriz’s (kimpa vita) rejected the Catholic rituals of baptism, confession, and prayer, she also refused the cross, claiming it is to blame for Christ’s death. Donna Beatriz also boldly claimed that Kongo was the true home of Christianity, that Jesus was a black man, and that heaven was for Africans.
Who was Kimpa Vita
Kimpa Vita was born in the Kingdom of Kongo, and when she came of age, she was trained as an nganga marinda (someone who solves problems in the community by consulting the supernatural world). Her Kingdom, Kongo, was the largest and most powerful nation in Central Africa. But like many African kingdoms, Kongo gradually lost its power when the European missionaries arrived with a God and a government.
As early as the 15th century, the Portuguese missionaries had spread Roman Catholicism across Kongo, and by the 17th century, Portugal held both military and economic power over the Kingdom. Aside from Kongo, the new faith was also sweeping through the rest of Africa like a righteous virus.
Kimpa Vita was baptized and given the name Dona Beatriz. The baptism washed away the original sin she inherited from Eve, and she was going to make heaven until 1704, when she fell ill and came to, claiming that the spirit of Saint Anthony of Padua had possessed her.
Based on her claims of visions and revelations from St. Anthony, Kimpa Vita or Donna Beatriz invented the religious movement – Antonianism. This new religion was a blend of Kongo religious rituals, nativism, and Catholicism, which accepts and respects the authority of the Pope.
Antonianism was far removed from the religion the Portuguese missionaries brought, and as expected, they would not have it. Aside from their love for God, another probable reason the missionaries had to loathe Antonianism was that Donna Beatriz based her inspiration on their beloved Portuguese Saint.
They probably despised her effrontery! Why would Anthony reveal himself to an nganga marinda! It probably didn’t make sense to them that it made sense. And true to their nature Portuguese Church waited for the opportunity to scream HERESY!
To add insult to injury, Donna Beatriz’s Antonianism rejected the Catholic rituals of baptism, confession, and prayer. It also refused the cross, claiming it is to blame for Christ’s death. Donna Beatriz also boldly claimed that Kongo was the true home of Christianity, that Jesus was a black man, and that heaven was for Africans.
Donna Beatriz claimed that her visions disclosed that Jesus was born in Mbanza Kongo and baptized in the northern province of Nsundi. The same revelations showed that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was a slave who belonged to the Kongolese nobleman, Nzimba Mpangi. Also, Donna Beatriz went ahead to release new versions of the Ave Maria and Salve Regina, which she claimed were more applicable to the thought patterns of the Kongo people.
While prophesying a golden age to her growing followers, Donna Beatriz called out the European missionaries, saying they were corrupt and insensitive towards the Kongolese Catholics and their spiritual needs.
Political Activities, Death of Donna Beatriz, and the Death of Antonianism
Donna Beatriz and her fellow Antonians occupied Mbanza Kongo, the revealed birthplace of Jesus Christ, as their headquarters. From this base, she sent Antonian missionaries out for evangelism to win more followers to their movement.
Aside from her religious activities, Donna Beatriz got involved in politics. She encouraged the leaders of the different Kongo territories weakened and divided by the Europeans to unite under one king. She believed that uniting the regions would end the civil war that had been raging since the Portuguese set foot on their land.
Pedro IV and the Portuguese administration that supported him did not like Donna Beatriz’s plan. They despised more that she had the religious following and political influence to make it come true. She was a threat, a tumor they needed to cut out. So, in 1706, the Portuguese Capuchin monks brought their lips close to Pedro’s ears and whispered, HERESY! Pedro IV gave the order, and Donna Beatriz was tied to a stake and set ablaze. She was tried under Kongo law as a witch and a heretic.
The Anthonian prophetic movement outlasted her death. Her followers continued to believe that she was still alive, and it was only when Pedro IV’s forces took São Salvador in 1709 that the political force of her movement was broken, and most of her former noble adherents renounced their beliefs and rejoined the European Catholic church. Some hint of the strength of her teaching may be glimpsed by the fact that eighteenth-century Kongo religious art often shows Jesus as an African, and that Saint Anthony, known as “Toni Malau”, is very prominent in it.