José de Anchieta

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Saint José de Anchieta, S.J.
Apostle of Brazil
Priest, Missionary, Religious
Born (1534-03-19)19 March 1534
San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Died 9 June 1597(1597-06-09) (aged 63)
Reritiba, Espírito Santo, Governorate General of Brazil, Portuguese Empire
Venerated in Catholic Church
(Brazil, Canary Islands, and the Society of Jesus)
Beatified 22 June 1980, Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City, by Pope John Paul II
Canonized 3 April 2014 (equivalent canonization), Vatican City, by Pope Francis
Major shrine Santuário Nacional do São José de Anchieta,
Anchieta, Espírito Santo, Brazil
Feast 9 June
Attributes Gospel Book and Cane
Patronage Catechists and compatrono of Brazil
Society of Jesus

History of the Jesuits
Regimini militantis

Jesuit Hierarchy
Superior General
Adolfo Nicolás

Ignatian Spirituality
Spiritual Exercises
Ad majorem Dei gloriam

Notable Jesuits
St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Francis Xavier
St. Peter Faber
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Peter Canisius
St. Edmund Campion
Pope Francis

José de Anchieta y Díaz de Clavijo, S.J. (19 March 1534 – 9 June 1597) was a Spanish Jesuit missionary to the Portuguese colony of Brazil in the second half of the 16th century. A highly influential figure in Brazil's history in the first century after its European discovery, Anchieta was one of the founders of São Paulo in 1554 and of Rio de Janeiro in 1565. He is the first playwright, the first grammarian and the first poet born in the Canary Islands, and the father of Brazilian literature. Anchieta was also involved in the religious instruction and conversion to the Catholic faith of the Indian population. His efforts along with those of another Jesuit missionary, Manuel da Nóbrega, at Indian pacification were crucial to the establishment of stable colonial settlements in the colony.

With his book The Art of Grammar, Anchieta became the first person to provide an orthography to the Old Tupi language most commonly spoken by the indigenous people of Brazil. It is recognized as the first written compilation of an indigenous language made in the Americas.

Anchieta is commonly known as "the Apostle of Brazil". He was canonized by Pope Francis on 3 April 2014. He was the second native of the Canary Islands, after Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur, also a missionary to Latin America, declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

Early life

Anchieta was born on 19 March 1534, in San Cristóbal de La Laguna on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Spain, to a wealthy family.[1] He was baptized on 7 April 1534 in the Parish of Our Lady of Remedies (now La Laguna Cathedral).[2]

His father, Juan Antxieta (hispanicized to Anchieta) y Zelaiaran, was a landowner from Urrestilla, in the Basque Country, who had escaped to Tenerife in 1525 after participating in an unsuccessful rebellion against the Emperor Charles V. Through him, Anchieta was related to Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.[1] His mother was Mencia Díaz de Clavijo y Llarena, a descendant of the conquerors of Tenerife.

When he was 14 years old, Anchieta went to study in Portugal at the Royal College of Arts in Coimbra. He was intensely religious and felt he had a vocation for the priesthood. He sought admission to the Jesuit College of the University of Coimbra and was accepted into the Jesuits on 1 May 1551, at the age of 17.[1] While he was a novice, he nearly ruined his health by his excessive austerity, causing an injury to the spine that made him almost a hunchback.[3] He learned to write Portuguese and Latin as well as his mother tongue.

Missionary in Brazil

In 1553, the Jesuits included Anchieta among the third group of their members sent to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, believing that the climate would improve his health.[1][3] After a perilous journey and a shipwreck, Anchieta and his small group arrived in São Vicente, the first village that had been founded in Brazil in 1534. There he made his first contact with the Tapuia Indians living in the region.

In late 1553, Manuel da Nóbrega, the first Provincial of the Jesuits in Brazil, sent 13 Jesuits including Anchieta to climb the Serra do Mar to a plateau along the Tietê River that the Indians called piratininga (from Tupi pira "fish" + tininga "drying" – according to Anchieta, more than 12,000 fish could be found drying along the Tietê river floodplains after one of its customary floods.) There the Jesuits established a small missionary settlement and celebrated Mass for the first time on 25 January 1554, date of the conversion of Saint Paul, according to tradition. That date is now celebrated as the founding of São Paulo.[4] Anchieta and his Jesuit colleagues began their efforts to instruct the native people in the rudiments of Christianity and convert them, while also introducing basic education in other subjects. He taught Latin to the Indians, began to learn their language, Old Tupi, and started compiling a dictionary and a grammar. Their mission settlement, the Jesuit College of São Paulo of Piratininga, soon developed into a small population center.

Anchieta and Nóbrega had long opposed the way the Portuguese colonists were treating the Indians and had a serious conflict about it with Duarte da Costa, who served as Governor-General of Brazil from 1553 to 1558. They nevertheless supported the Portuguese against their French rivals in establishing claims to Brazil and welcomed the support of Portuguese authorities against the Huguenot Protestants whom the French at times welcomed to their settlements. In fact, the two Jesuits saw the French colony as a generally Protestant enterprise, ignoring its Catholic components and making no distinction between Lutherans and Calvinists.[5] Anchieta recognized that violence could be necessary to create the conditions for evangelizing the indigenous inhabitants and later praised the colony's third Governor General, Mem de Sá (1500–1572), for what he accomplished in killing large numbers of Amerindians.[6]

Due to the systematic killings and ransacking of their villages by the Portuguese colonists and attempts at enslaving them, the Indian tribes along the coast of the present-day states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo rebelled and formed an alliance, the Tamoyo Confederation, which soon allied themselves the French colonists who had settled in Guanabara Bay in 1555 under the command of Vice-Admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon. The conflict was brutal and at once both international and inter-religious. In one instance the Portuguese hung ten Frenchmen in an attempt to intimidate their enemies into submission. In another in 1557, a Protestant named Jacques le Balleur was put to death and Anchieta, in some interpretations, helped the executioner carry out the sentence,[7] though the facts are much disputed.[8]

The Tamoyo Confederation attacked São Paulo several times between 1562 and 1564 without success. Anchieta and Nóbrega initiated peace negotiations with the Tamoyos in the village of Iperoig in modern Ubatuba on the northern coast of São Paulo state. Anchieta's skill with the Tupi language was crucial in these efforts. After many incidents and the near massacre of Anchieta and Nóbrega by the Indians, they finally succeeded in gaining the Indians' confidence, and peace was established between the Tamoyo and Tupiniquim nations and the Portuguese.

Portuguese-French hostilities were renewed when Estácio de Sá, a nephew of the new Governor-General of Brazil, Mem de Sá (1500–1572), was ordered to expel the French colonists. With the support and blessings of Anchieta and Nóbrega, he departed with an army from São Vicente and founded the ramparts of Rio de Janeiro at the foot of Pão de Açúcar, in 1565. Anchieta was with him and participated in a number of battles between the Portuguese and the French, each side supported by their Indian allies. He acted as a surgeon and interpreter. He was also responsible for reporting back to the governor-general's headquarters in Salvador, Bahia, and participated in the final victorious battle against the French in 1567.

Statue of Father Anchieta in Santos, Brazil

After the peace settlement, a Jesuit college was founded in Rio under the direction of Nóbrega. Anchieta was invited to remain and succeeded him upon his death in 1570. Despite his frailty and ill health, and the rigors of slow travel by foot and ship of the time, over the next ten years Anchieta traveled extensively between Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Espírito Santo and São Paulo, consolidating the Jesuit mission in Brazil. In 1577 the fourth superior general of the Jesuits, Everard Mercurian, appointed Anchieta provincial superior of the order's members in Brazil.

As his health worsened, Anchieta requested relief from his duties in 1591. He died in Brazil on 9 June 1597, at Reritiba, Espírito Santo, mourned by more than 3,000 Indians.


In the tradition of Jesuits, Anchieta was a prolific rapporteur, communicating by letters to his superiors. His reports establish him as an ethnographer, though he focused on Amerindian behavior that did not follow European norms, such as their choice of marriage partners, cannibalism, and the role of sorcerers.[9] His detailed testimony with respect to cannibalism is often cited by anthropologists. He explained, for example, that the Amerindians "believe that true kinship comes from the side of the fathers, who are the agents, and ... that the mothers are nothing more than bags in which the children grow" and therefore treat the children of a captured female and a member of their tribe with respect but sometimes eat the children of a captured male and a female member of their own tribe.[10] He detailed the practice of polygamy and, because it had produced dense networks of interrelations, advocated easing the Church's consanguinity rules to allow all but brothers and sisters to marry.[6]

Anchieta was pioneer in transcribing the Old Tupi language and authored the first published work on that language, a "pathbreaking" grammar, Arte de gramática da língua mais usada na costa do Brasil, written in 1555 and published in 1589.[11] According to one assessment, "His grammar and dictionary still rank among the best ever produced of a Brazilian language, nearly 500 years later.... Anchieta was a dedicated linguist whose work can be considered the beginning of Amazonian linguistics (indeed it would not be stretching matters too far to call his work the beginning of linguistics in the Americas."[12] His written works in the indigenous language span theology, religious instruction, theater and poetry.

He was also a historian, author of a biography of Mem de Sá (1500–1572), the third governor of the colony of Brazil. Composed of hexameters, De Gestis Meni de Saa, is the first epic about the Americas. It presents de Sá as "a Christian Ulysses determined to oust Satan" who "presides ... over hordes of demonic Amerindians, creatures devoted to dismembering bodies". With the arrival of the Jesuits, "the Cross expels demons" and "shamans lose preternatural power as they move from the wilderness into the civilized missions".[13] That work of history was one of his two major poems. The other was De Beata Virgine Dei Matre, a poem to the Virgin Mary. Tradition holds that Anchieta composed it while in captivity at Iperoig in 1563 by writing verses in the wet sand of the beach and memorizing each day's lines so that upon his release he could write its 4,900 verses on paper in their entirety.[14]

Anchieta in an 1807 engraving.

His dramas, written in a combination of Tupi, Portuguese, Spanish, and Latin, were not meant for the stage, but for performance by local amateurs in village squares and churchyards. They were traditional in form, written in verse with five-line stanzas, a literary form known as the auto, a Portuguese devotional drama, following the tradition the Jesuits had developed of using the theater first in classrooms and then for popular instruction. Casts were all male, both native and European, and both groups were meant to learn from the dramas' instruction in Christian morals. They were written for special occasions like a saint's feast day or to mark the arrival of relics in the colony. Scholars have noted that they contain considerable "contextual information", that is references to local events such as village rivalries. For example, Amerindian cannibalism is juxtaposed with the roasting of St. Lawrence.[9] Few of his plays survive, but those that do have been praised, despite being crafted for a local audience with a didactic purpose, for their "remarkable feeling for spectacle, calling for the use of body paint, native costumes, song and dance, fights, torches, and processions".[14] A performance might even call for cannon fire from a nearby ship, though the plays were typically "short on action and long on explanations of doctrine" and characters that fall clearly into positive and negative types.[9] Anchieta's "auto da pregação universel" of 1567 and published in 1672, is the first dramatic text in Brazilian letters.[14]

As a keen naturalist, he described several new plants and animals among the novelties of Brazil's wildlife and geography. A climbing vine has been named for him: Anchietea A. St.-Hil. Violaceae.[15]

His lucid and detailed reports are still important for understand the beliefs, manners, and customs of the native peoples and European settlers of the sixteenth century.

He was also an excellent surgeon and physician.

His manuscripts were gathered from archives in Portugal and Brazil in the 1730s as part of the process for Anchieta's beatification and deposited in Rome.[9] His works have been published as Cartas, Informações, Fragmentos Históricos e Sermões (Letters, Reports, Historical Fragments and Sermons).


José de Anchieta is celebrated as the founder of Brazilian letters and, with Nóbrega, Apostle of Brazil.[3] He has given his name to two cities, Anchieta, in the State of Espírito Santo (formerly called Reritiba, the place where he died), and Anchieta, in the state of Santa Catarina, as well as many other places, roads, institutions, hospitals, and schools.

In 1965, the Spanish postal service issued a stamp with the image of Anchieta, in a series called "Los Forjadores de América".[16]

Ney Latorraca starred in the Brazilian biographical film, Anchieta, José do Brasil, which was released in 1977.[17][18]


Monument to José de Anchieta in San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Tenerife.

When beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, Anchieta acquired the title "Blessed José de Anchieta." Pope Francis announced his canonization as a saint on 3 April 2014. He used a process known as equivalent canonization that dispenses with the standard judicial procedures and ceremonies in the case of someone long venerated.[19]

During and after his life, José de Anchieta was considered almost a supernatural being. Many legends formed around him, such as that he once preached and calmed an attacking jaguar. To this day, a popular devotion holds that praying to Anchieta protects against animal attacks.

José de Anchieta is highly revered in the Canary Islands. A bronze statue by Brazilian artist Bruno Giorgi in the city of San Cristóbal de La Laguna depicts José de Anchieta departing for Portugal. It was a gift from the Government of Brazil to Anchieta's hometown, where a wooden image of him is also venerated in the Cathedral of La Laguna and carried in procession through the streets every 9 June. In the Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria (patron saint of the Canary Islands), there is a painting of José de Anchieta founding the city of São Paulo. In 1997, a biographical comic was published.


Saint José de Anchieta is the patron and model of catechists. Anchieta was also declared by Pope Benedict XVI as one of the thirteen Intercessors of the World Youth Day 2013, held in Rio de Janeiro.[20]

In April 2015 it was declared by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil as compatrono of this country,[21] because in Brazil the patron saint is Our Lady of Aparecida.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sladky, Joseph F.X. (10 June 2013). "José de Anchieta, S.J.: Apostle of Brazil". Crisis Magazine. Retrieved 8 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. La Catedral custodia una reliquia de Anchieta
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Campbell, Thomas. "Joseph Anchieta", The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907). Retrieved 6 February 2013
  4. "Piratininga became São Paulo: the old college is today a metropolis". City of Sao Paulo. Retrieved 8 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nowell, Charles E. (April 1949). "The French in Sixteenth-Century Brazil". The Americas. 5 (4): 381, 393. doi:10.2307/978082.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Metcalf, Alida C. (2014). "The Society of Jesus and the First Aldeias of Brazil". In Langfur, Hal (ed.). Native Brazil: Beyond the Convert and the Cannibal, 1500–1900. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 35–7, 44.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Prien, Hans-Jürgen (2013). Christianity in Latin America: Revised and Expanded Edition. Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 147.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Conheça a vida do Beato José de Anchieta, fundador de cidades, missionário gramático, poeta, teatrólogo e historiador". C3 Press. 18 December 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Wasserman, Renata (Summer 1999). "The Theater of José de Anchieta and the Definition of Brazilian Literature". Luso-Brazilian Review. 36 (1): 71–85. Retrieved 10 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Forsyth, Donald W. (Winter 1985). "Three Cheers for Hans Staden: The Case for Brazilian Cannibalism". Ethnohistory. 3 (1): 18. doi:10.2307/482091. Retrieved 10 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Derbyshire, Desmond C. (1998). Handbook of Amazonian Languages, vol. 4. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 4–5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Sakel, Jeanette; Everett, Daniel L. (2012). Linguistic Fieldwork: A Student Guide. Cambridge University Press. p. 153.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge (2006). Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550–1700. Stanford University Press. p. 40.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Castro-Klaren, Sara, ed. (2013). A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 168.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology, vol. 1. CRC Press. p. 131.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 1683 – Forjadores de América. Padre José de Anchieta.
  17. Anchieta, José do Brasil on IMDb
  18. Maria Ignês Carlos Magno, "História e literatura através do cinema", in Videografia, available online, accessed 9 April 2014
  19. Scaramuzzi, Jacopo (3 April 2014). "'Flying Priest' Becomes a Saint". Vatican Insider. Retrieved 3 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Patrones e Intercesores de la Jornada Mundial de la Juventud 2013
  21. 53ª Assembleia Geral da CNBB.

Additional sources

  • Helen Dominian, Apostle of Brazil: The Biography of Padre José Achieta, S.J. (1534–1597) (NY: Exposition Press, 1958)
  • Jorge de Lima, Anchieta (Rio de Janeiro: Civilisaçao Brisiliera, 1934)

External links