Beatrice Kimpa Vita, often called Dona Beatrice, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1706 for attempting to create a uniquely African church.
2006 marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Congolese prophetess and religious reformer Beatrice Kimpa Vita. She was burned at the stake for heresy when she was only 22 years old.
Beatrice was born into a time of turmoil. The traditional Congo kingdom was wracked by internal strife: four kings were competing for a token monarchy ( the Portugese were the colonial overlords and the real source of power ) and the Atlantic slave trade was in full force, breaking apart families and transplanting Africans to the plantations of Brazil. The Congo was also a stronghold of Catholicism at the time, and Capuchin missionaries wielded much clout.
It’s no wonder that Dona Beatrice is often called The African Joan of Arc as there is considerable biographical overlap between her and the Maid of Orleans. Beatrice was born into Congolese nobility, performed as an actor in traditional religious ceremonies, and, while suffering from a raging fever, claimed to have died and been reincarnated as St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of both the Congo and Portugal. In a situation similar to that of Joan of Arc, we are forced to wonder how much of this was Divine inspiration and how much was psychiatric delusion.
Beatrice wasted no time in putting her revelations into practice: she led thousands to repopulate the capital city of Mbanza Kongo ( or as the Portugese called it – San Salvador ), claimed that Jesus and his entire family were of African descent, incorporated traditional African drumming and dancing into the Roman Catholic liturgy, and discarded both crosses and traditional Congolese amulets as “unnecessary fetishes.” She claimed to die each Friday, spend the weekend “dining with God,” and return to the mortal plain each Monday with new decrees from Heaven.
Needless to say, she did little to ingratiate herself to the Papacy and the powers-that-be. Her message of an independent African church, as well as her willingness to give up all her worldly possessions, resonated with the poor. When she insisted that confession, marriage, and baptism were all meaningless concepts ( since the Lord already knows the secrets of our hearts ) and proclaimed her God-given right to select a King for her people, the local church fathers ear-marked her for an auto-de-fe.
Dona Beatrice, her companion Barros, and, according to some accounts, the baby that she insisted was the product of immaculate conception, were burned at the stake on July 2, 1706. Her mortal remains were burned twice to ensure that no relics could be salvaged from the flames. The movement that she founded, Antonianism, survived her death and became an important influence in future rebellions against a stifling and superimposed European dominance.
Joan of Arc was re-embraced by the Catholic Church five hundred years after her demise. When a similar request was made to rehabilitate the reputation of Dona Beatrice in 1966, the Vatican flatly refused. Was Beatrice Kimpa Vita a saint or a schizophrenic? A prophetess or a madwoman? Only God knows for sure.
- “Donna Beatrice and the Antonian Movement.” Africa Source.Com
- “Tribute to Dona Beatrice Kimpa Vita.” Black News.Com