7. Court of the Inquisition

Mapping Coordinates: 38.7147° N, 9.1388° W
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Status: Contested

     Established in 1536, the Portuguese Inquisition had its headquarters in the Rossio Square, in a royal palace called Estaus, which was now where the National Theatre D. Maria II stands. Lisbon’s local court of the Inquisition was also hosted in the Estaus. It tried several persons of African origin, including enslaved people. 

The case against a woman recorded as Grácia is kept in Lisbon, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Inquisição de Lisboa, Proc. 11041. It is possibly the oldest inquisitorial trial of an African person. The defendant was an enslaved Black African woman from São Jorge da Mina (Elmina, in present-day Ghana), a major trading post on the coast of West Africa which was under Portuguese control. It is unknown where she was originally from or what her name was before she was baptised and given the Christian name of Grácia, possibly in the early years of the sixteenth century. She was a “slave of the king” (escrava d’El-Rei) employed in the oven of São Jorge da Mina Castle. A document informs us that she was already serving as kneader in the oven in 1519 (Lisbon, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Corpo Cronológico, 2-85-75, fol. 13v).  

The African woman recorded as Grácia in Portuguese sources was charged with making fetishes and worshipping idols. The accusation may have been fabricated by the intendant of the oven of São Jorge da Mina Castle, João da Mata, so as to replace her with a woman of mixed descent, Margarida Rodrigues. She was initially denounced to the vicar of São Jorge da Mina, Pero Lopes, on 7 April 1540, and then later her case was transferred to Dom Diogo Ortiz de Vilhegas, bishop of São Tomé, who had also jurisdiction over São Jorge da Mina, but lived in Lisbon. Thus, Grácia was sent to Portugal with the permission of the captain of São Jorge da Mina, Manuel de Albuquerque. From 15 September 1540 onwards, the trial was continued by Bishop Ortiz in Lisbon. The sessions of the trial took place in his lodgings in Rua do Saco, while Grácia was kept under arrest in the city’s ecclesiastical prison, called Aljube, next to the Cathedral. As she formally was a resident in the diocese headed by Bishop Ortiz as well as a king property, several authorities took part in Grácia’s trial before the Inquisition took charge of it in May 1541. Eventually, on 22 December of that year, Grácia was sentenced to “perpetual imprisonment” in the Monastery of Santa Clara, which was often chosen as a prison for women because it was a peripheral convent for cloistered nuns. Grácia was delivered to the convent on the very day in which the Inquisition issued her verdict. The punishment of perpetual incarceration in practice signified a limited amount of time, normally a few months to three years. 

From the archives

The inquisitorial trial of Grácia, “slave of the king”
Questioning of Grácia on the day of her denunciation in São Jorge da Mina (7 April 1540) 

And then in the same day and month as declared above, the vicar [Pero Lopes] together with me the scrivener went to the gaol where Grácia was kep under arrest. He asked her if she was Christan and she said yes; what she was called, and she said Grácia; and where she was made Christian, and she said in the church of this fort. And in the same way he asked her who the captain was at the time when she was made Christian. She said Diogo Lopes de Sequeira. Then he asked her what the vicar who baptised her was called. She said that she only remembered that it was a big man who left for the kingdom right away and lodged with the factor who was named Barros, and did not say anything else. And I, Ambrósio Cosairo, wrote it. (fls. 14v-15r)  

Questioning of Grácia in Lisbon (22 September 1540) 

In the year of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christs 1540, in the city of Lisbon, in the Rua do Saco, in the lodgings of the very magnificent and very reverend lord Dom Diogo Ortiz de Vilhegas, bishop of São Tomé and Mina, member of the King’s Council, and his dean etc., in the presence of lordship and myself, the scrivener named below, his lordship immediately ordered me, the scrivener, to bring Grácia, a slave who was under arrest in the Aljube prison by order of the bishop. I executed it and she was brought right away, and his lordship asked Grácia the following questions. The bishop asked her if she was Christian. She said yes. He asked her what she was called. She said Grácia. He asked her if she had been baptised. She said yes, in the church of Mina Castle. He asked her who the vicar was who had baptised her and what he was called. She said that she did not know his name. He asked her who the godparents at her baptism were. She said João Machado and Grácia de Leão, who had returned to Portugal when their term had ended. He asked her if her godparents had taught her the Our Father or the Hail Mary. She said no. He asked her if she knew the Our Father and the Hail Mary. She only said the first words of these prayers. He asked her if she knew the Credo. She did not say a single word and said that now the vicar started teaching it to her. And she said that she had been baptised in the time of the late King Emmanuel, and nobody had ever taught her the Our Father, the Hail Mary or the Credo. He asked her who her god was. She said that her god was the Lord of all and was in the church and she had only one god, who was the one who was in the church. He asked her if the bowl that was found in her possession was her god. She said that the bowl was to serve food and was not god. He asked her if she intended to do something with the sticks that were in the bowl. She said no and that a nephew of hers, who was called Martinho, had put them in the bowl to play with them. He asked her if she was able to make fetishes. She said no and that she believed in God and the Virgin Mary and rejected the devil. He asked her if Jesus Christ was the son of Our Lady the Virgin Mary. She said that she did not know, and neither the vicar nor her godparents had ever taught her that thing. His lordship asked these questions in front of me, the scrivener, and ordered me to write them together with her answers as is written above. And I, António de Paiva, scrivener of the chamber of the bishop, wrote it on 22 September of that year. (fl. 3rv)

Formal charges against Grácia submitted by the prosecutor Manuel Manriques (27 September 1540) 

He intends to prove that being Christian and having received the water of the holy sacrament of the baptism in the city of São Jorge da Mina, Grácia was forgetful of our holy Catholic faith, and did not behave as a true Christian or care about learning the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Credo, and the Salve Regina, as she was required. On the contrary, being forgetful of everything and having little fear and respect of the Lord God, she made idols, owned and worshipped them, and made fetishes and hid them in her house. She was publicly defamed for it and this was the public rumour and bad reputation of Grácia in the city of São Jorge where she lived.

He intends to prove that persisting in her pertinacity and perfidy, on 7 April of the current year of Our Lord 1540, in the fort of the city of São Jorge, Grácia was found in possession of some idols in the oven and her house. They were a small bowl of the size of a small dish with four round sticks which were four fingers high, all floured or limewashed so that they were of white colour. And being asked what it was, the defendant answered that it was her god and she worshipped it. And soon after another person asked her about it and she said again with pride and great pertinacy that it was her god, leading to think that she firmly believed it. And she frowned on this being brought into question, considering it undubitable, and had these things as idols. 

He will prove that in the same place and day she was found in possession of fetishes and artefacts and materials to make them, namely, two small clay pots between two chests, that is, a small pot and the bottom of another next to each other on the earthen floor containing feathers mixed with some disgusting mush. And being asked what it was, the defendant answered that it was food for her father and mother who would come there to eat. Her father and mother had died and left this world many years earlier, but as a bad Christian and infidel the defendant was certain that they would come there, and as an idolater she worshipped and believed in those idols and had faith in them and at night she said prayers to those small pots in the manner of a gentile and idolater. 

He intends to prove that insisting so obstinately in her bad habits without trying to learn the things of our holy faith as she is obliged, when asked if Jesus Christ our saviour was the son of the Virgin Mary, she answered that she did not know it as if she were a person who had little interest in matters of faith that were necessary to the salvation of her soul. Indeed, she did everything in the opposite way. For this and what was said above she deserves to be harshly punished. (fls. 5r-6r)

Written defence of Grácia submitted by a King’s attorney (14 October 1540)

The King’s attorney intends to prove that Grácia, slave of the King, is sixty to seventy years old, a woman of little knowledge and a newly-arrived slave (boçal) who cannot speak except as a black woman who is new to the place. Most of what she understands is by means of signs and gestures and she has to comprehend what is told her through them. The reason is that Grácia lived in Mina without coming to this Kingdom and most of the time she dealt and spoke with black people, therefore it is in keeping that Grácia is has not been sufficiently instructed to know and do what it is said by the prosecution.

The King’s attorney intends to prove that the denunciation against her was made by a bitter enemy of her, who was called João da Mata, intendant of the oven of São Jorge da Mina Castle. The defendant Grácia lived there, was kneader in this oven, and baked the bread for the people. Being this João da Mata intendant of the oven, he engaged in conversation with a mulata called Margarida, who lived in Mina and having such conversation with this mulata, he said that he had to take on the mulatta in the oven and send away the defendant Grácia and speak against her. And he said that she was a fetish maker and prayed to the artefacts in the bowl and all the rest of which she is currently accused. For all this, the mulata with Mata took the sticks with which a nephew of the defendant Grácia played tipcat and put them in the bowl, and then they reported it to the vicar. And all this was to send away the defendant and keep the said mulata in the oven as in fact happened, and today there is this woman. Therefore, in light of this she should not be prosecuted for anything.

He intends to prove that Grácia, slave of the King, is a good Christian and has done all she could to learn how a Christian woman should behave, but being recently arrived (boçal) and being unable to speak, she could not learn the prayers that any Christian believer is required to know. However, for what she can do, she always went to the church in that castle both on Sundays and on the days which the holy Church order to observe, and on the other days in which the divine office was celebrated she was soon in the church and with her heart and the external acts that she performed, she demonstrated that she was Christian and did all she could because her language did not and does not enable her to know and learn more. And for all this Grácia is not guilty of anything for which she has to be punished. Rather she can be acquitted of all against her. (fls. 8v-9r

Questioning of witnesses of the defence carried out by Cosme Dias, inspector of the judge of the Custom House (9 November 1540) 

Item – António Gonçalves, servant of Manuel de Albuquerque, witness who swore on the holy gospel, being asked about the habit he said nothing. 

Item – Being asked about the first article of the written defence of the defendant, which was fully read and declared to him in detail, he, the witness, said that it is true that he stayed in Mina as an intendant of Manuel de Albuquerque and at that time this slave Grácia also lived there and served in the place where the dough is kneaded, and he, the witness, does not know how old she is. He only knows that she is very old and does not speak as well as the slave women of this land and he did not say anything else about the rest of the article.

Item – Being asked about the second article of the written defence of the defendant which was fully read and declared to him, he, the witness, said that it is true that João da Mata mentioned in the article was intendant of the oven of Mina and the defendant was slave of the King, also went in the place where the dough is kneaded, and kneaded it. And it is true that he, the witness, saw João da Mata complain about this slave and say that he was badly served by her and he, the witness, does not know if the said João da Mata was hostile to the defendant and did not say anything else.

Item – Being asked about the third article in the written defence, he, the witness, said that he often saw Grácia go to the church and stay on her knees, praying and raising her arms as if she implored God, and this was in the church of Mina. And he did not say anything else about the other acts and the article. And he, the witness, signed here below and I, António de Paiva the scrivener, wrote it. (fl. 24rv)

Verdict on Grácia issued by the Inquisition of Lisbon (22 December 1541)

We, the deputies of the holy Inquisition and ordinaries, have seen these records, namely, the formal charges and evidence submitted, and how they show that the defendant Grácia, despite being Christian, said that some sticks which she had were her god, with the rest that is shown in the records. Nonetheless, considering the quality of evidence, as well as the fact that after being Christian the defendant was not instructed in our holy faith, we agree to sentence the defendant to perpetual imprisonment in which she will be educated in the faith and we give her the Monastery of Santa Clara of this city of Lisbon as her prison and bind in conscience the mother abbess and nuns of this monastery to take great care in her instruction and salvation. (fl. 26r)

(Trial of Grácia, in Lisbon, Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo, Proc. 11041)

E logo no dito dia, mes e era acima esprito ho dito vigairo comigo esprivão foi ao tronquo omde a dita Gracia presa estaua e lhe fez pergunta se era cristã – por ella foi dito que si – e como se chamava – dixe que Gracia – e que omde a fizeram cristã – dixe que na igreja desta fortaleza. E asi lhe fez pergunta que quem era capitão ao tempo que ha fizeram cristã. Dixe que Diogo Lopez de Sequejra. E asi lhe perguntou que como se chamaua o vigairo que ha bautizara. Dixe que não se era lembrada, somente ser hum homem groso que se fora logo para o reino e que pousava com ho feitor que se chamava de Barros e all não dise. E eu Ambrosio Cosairo que isto esprevi. 


Anno do nascimento de Nosso Senhor Jesus Cristo de 1540 annos, na cidade de Lixboa e Rua do Saco della, nas pousadas do muito magnifico e muito reverendo senhor ho senhor Dom Diogo Ortiz de Vilhegas, bispo de San Thome e Mina, do conselho d’el-Rei nosso senhor e seu daiam etc., estando sua senhoria presente e em presença de mim sprivam adiante nomeado, logo por sua senhoria foi mandado a mim spriuam que trouxesse Gracia scrava presa que estava no aljube por mandado dele senhor bispo, ho que por mim sprivam foi satisfeito. E foi logo hi trazida presa à qual Gracia sua senhoria fez as preguntas seguintes. Fez-lhe ho dito senhor bispo pregunta se era cristã. Disse que si. Fez-lhe pregunta como se chamava. Disse que Gracia. Fez-lhe pregunta se fora baptizada. Disse que si, na igreja do castello da dita Mina. Fez-lhe pregunta qual fora ho vigairo que a baptizara e como se chamava. Disse que lhe nam sabia ho nome. Fez-lhe pregunta quaes forom seus padrinhos do baptismo. Disse que Joam Machado e Graçia de Liam, os quaes des que acabaram seu tempo se vieram para Portugal. Fez-lhe pregunta se os preditos senhores padrinhos lhe ensinaram ho Pater Noster ou Ave Maria. Disse que nam. Fez-lhe pregunta se sabia ho Pater Noster e Ave Maria. Nam disse mais que as primeiras palauras das ditas orações. Fez-lhe pregunta se sabia ho Credo. Não disse palaura delle e disse que agora lho começava a ensinar ho vigairo e disse que fora baptizada em tempo d’el-Rei Dom Manoel que Deos tem. E disse que nunca lhe ninguem ensinara ho Pater Noster, nem Ave Maria, nem ho Credo. Fez-lhe pregunta quem era ho seu deos. Disse que era ho Senhor de todos e que estava na igreja e que nam tinha mais que hum só deos, que era ho que estava na igreja. Fez-lhe pregunta se a gamella que lhe fora achada se era seu deos. Disse que a gamella que era para servir e que nam era deos. Fez-lhe pregunta se os paos que estavam na gamella eram para fazer alguma obra com elles. Disse que nam, que hum seu neto por nome Martinho hos metera dentro na gamella para brincar com elles. Fez-lhe pregunta se sabia fazer feitiços. Disse que nam, que cria em Deos e na Virgem Maria e que arrenegava ho diabo. Fez-lhe pregunta se Jesus Cristo era filho de Nossa Senhora Virgem Maria. Disse que nam sabia, nem ho vigairo nem padrinhos nunca lhe tal cousa ensinaram. As quaes preguntas lhe sua senhoria perante mim esprivam fez e as mandou sprever com as respostas della como acima e atras he sprito. E eu António de Paiua, sprivam da Camara do dito senhor bispo que isto sprevi e aos vinte dous dias do mes de Setembro do dito anno. 


Entende provar que sendo a dita Graçia cristã e recebendo a augoa do sancto sacramento do baptismo em a cidade de Sam Jorge da Mina, a dita Graçia escquecida de nossa sancta fé catholica nom fazia autos de verdadeira cristã nem curou de saber o Pater Noster e Aue Maria, Credo, nem Salue Regina como era obrigada, antes esquecida de tudo e com pouco temor e acatamento do Senhor Deos fazia idolos e os tinha e adorava e fazia feitiços e os tinha escondidos em sua casa e era publicamente infamada disto e tal era a publica voz e fama contra ella Gracia ré na dita cidade de Sam Jorge onde era morador. 

Entende provar que permanecendo asi a dita ré Gracia em sua pertinacia e perfidia, aos sete dias do mes d’Abril da era presente de Nosso Senhor de 1540 annos, em a fortaleza da dita cidade de Sam Jorge, em o forno e na poussada da dita ré lhe foram achados certos idolos, § huma gamelinha pequena de grandura de hum pratel, e dentro della quatro paos roliços de altura de quatro dedos, todos enfarinhados ou caidos em modo que estavam branqueados. E sendo preguntada a ré que cousa era aquella, respondeu que era o seu deos e que ella adorava. E despois dai a pedaço preguntando-lho outra pessoa por iso, tornou a dizer com soberva e grande pertinacia que era o seu deos, dando a entender que aquilo cria e tinha firmemente, e com rosto torvado de lhe duvidarem diso, e tendo isto asi por sem duuida, e sendo e tendo-os por idolos.

Provara que em o dito logar e dia lhe foram achados feitiços e artificios e materiaes para elles, §. dous pucaros de barro antre duas arcas, §. huum pucaro e huum fundo doutro pegados no chaom em barro e dentro penas mesturadas com outra cousa nojenta a maneira de papas. E perguntando-lhe que cousa era aquella respondeu ella ré que era para comer ali seu pai e mai que auiam ali de vir comer. Os quaes seu pai e mãi avia muitos annos que eram ja falecidos da vida deste mundo, tendo e credo a dita ré, como má cristã e infiel, que ali aviam de vir. Como idolatra cria e adorava os ditos idolos e nelles cria razando sobre os ditos pucaros de noite orações de gentia e idolatra.

Entende provar que estando asi a ré obstinada em seus maos custumes, sem dar-se a saber as cousas de nossa sancta fé como he obrigada, sendo preguntada se Jesus Christo nosso saluador era filho da Virgem Maria, respondeu que nom sabia isto, como pessoa que tinha pouco cudado de saber as cousas da fé e necessarias a salvaçam de sua alma; antes fazia tudo pelo contrairo. Pelo que e por o acima dito meresce gravemente ser punida. 


Entende provar ho procurador do dito senhor que Gracia, estrava do dito senhor, he de idade de sesenta ate setenta annos, molher de pouquo saber e buçal, sem saber falar somente como negra nova, que ho mais que a dita estrava entende he por seinos e amostras para que por elas o que lhe dizem aja de entender. E a causa he por a dita Gracia estar na Mina sem vir a este reino e tratar a mais parte do tempo com negros com que falava, pelo que nom he inconveniente a dita Gracia nam ser tam instructa para que ouvese de saber e fazer o que se diz por parte da Justiça.   

Entende provar ho procurador do dito senhor que a denuncia que lhe se fez foi por inimigo seu capital, que era hum Joham da Mata, veador do forno do castelo de Sam Jorje da Mina, onde a dita ré Gracia estava e era amaçadeira no dito forno e cozia o pão para gente. R estando asi o dito Joham da Mata por veador do forno veo a tomar conversaçom com huma mulata por nome Margarida que na dita Mina estava, e tendo asi a dita conversaçom com a dita mullata, dise nisto para que a ouvese de meter no forno a dita mullata e lançar a ela ré Gracia fora e dizer contra ela ré que ela era feiticeira e que rezava os artificios da gamela e asi o mais por que ora he acusada. Por que tudo a dita mulata com ho Mata hordenarom e tomarom os paos com que hum neto dela ré Gracia jugava a biliarda e os meterom na guamela e metidos se foram ao vigairo fazer a dita denunciaçom e tudo a fim de lançarem a ela ré fora e ficar a dita mullata, como de feito ficou, no forno. E oje avia esta molher pelo que por asi ser contra ela se nom deva proceder em cousa alguma. 

Entende provar que a dita Gracia, estrava do dito senhor, he boa cristã e por saber os actos de cristã fez o que pode, mas por ser buçal e nam saber falar nom pode aprender as orações que he obrigada a saber todo fiell cristão, porem em tudo o que nela he sempre foi ter a igreja que esta no dito castelo asi aos domingos como os outros dias que a santa Igreja manda para gardar, e nos outros dias que se celebrava ho oficio divino llogo era na igreja e com seu coraçom e actos exteriores fazia e demonstrava ser cristã e fazer todo o que nela era. Por sua llinguoa para mais saber e aprender nom foi nem he para mais capaz. Pelo que tudo ela dita ré Gracia nom he em cullpa para que aja de ser punida antes de todo ho contra ela pode ser absolluta. 


Item – Antonio Gonçaluez criado de Manoel d’Albuquerque testemunha jurado nos santos avangelhos e preguntado pollo costume dise nichil. 

Item – Perguntado elle testemunha pollo primeiro artigo da dita contrariedade da re, que lhe todo foi lido e declarado pollo miudo, disse elle testemunha que he verdade que elle testemunha esteve na Mina por veador de Manoel d’Albuquerque e que neste tempo esta scrava Gracia estava na Mina e servia na amaçaria, e que de sua idade elle testemunha a nam sabe, somente sabe que he muito velha e não falla tam bem como fallam as scravas desta terra e do mais do artigo all nam dise.

Item – Perguntado elle testemunha pelo segundo artigo da dita contrariedade da re, que lhe todo foi lido e declarado, disse elle testemunha que he verdade que Joam da Nata conteudo no artigo era veador do forno da Mina e a dita re ser d’el-Rey, e tambem andava na amaçaria e amassaua, e he verdade que elle testemunha vio queixar desta scrava a elle Joam da Mata de ser mao servido e se por esta razam ho dito Joam da Mata tinha má vontade à ré elle testemunha ho não sabe e all não dise.

Item – Perguntado elle testemunha pollo terceiro artigo da dita contrariedade, disse elle testemunha que muitas vezes via hir a dita Gracia à igreja e estar em joelhos razando e alevantando as maos como que se encomendava a Deos e que isto era na igreja da Mina, e dos mais [autos] e artigo all nam disse. E elle testemunha asinou aqui e eu Antonio de Paiua sprivão que ho sprevi.

Acordam os deputados da Santa Inquisiçam e ordinarios, que vistos estes autos, § o libello da Justiça e a prova dada e como se mostra a ré Gracia, sendo cristã, dizer que huns paos que tinha eram seu deos com o mais que pellos autos se mostra, e porem avendo-se respeito a qualidade da prova, e asi a dita ré depois de ser cristã nam ser instructa nem doutrinada na nosa santa fé, condenam a dita ré em carcer perpetuo honde sera insinada na fé e lhe asinam por carcer o Mosteiro de Santa Clara desta cidade de Lixboa, e encaregam a conciencia a madre abbadesa e religiosas do dito Mosteiro que tenham muito cuidado em sua instrução e saluação.