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Judging Maria de Macedo

A Female Visionary and the Inquisition in Early Modern Portugal

272 pages / 9.00 x 6.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available

West European History | Spanish & Portuguese History

  Hardcover / 9780807137024 / January 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.

Bryan Givens is an assistant professor of history at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

Praise for Judging Maria de Macedo

“A fascinating microhistory, the story of an individual woman, her relationship to and understanding of sebastianismo, and her contact with the officers of the Inquisition. . . . [Givens’s] book delivers the first full-blown close reading and microhistory of Macedo’s visions and trial, and in so doing introduces us to a unique female voice, a previously unknown and unpublished non-elite woman writer. In this very important way, Maria de Macedo’s visions are a revelation.”—Seventeenth Century News

“An excellent exercise in microhistory.”—Religious Studies Review

“It is not surprising that Givens has done much more than tell a simple story; he has produced thickly contextualized, persuasive microhistory. . . . Chapter 6 is particularly stunning. Givens meticulously traces the strands—from traditional lore about ‘enchanted Moors’ and the land of Cockaigne to a particular variety of Sebastianism, and more—that came together, most likely in oral form, to shape Maria's vision.”—Journal of Modern History

“Givens’s reading of Macedo’s ideas as expressed in the pamphlet and in her interrogation is careful and sensitive. Using small details as a means to opening up the cultural strands within her visions, he examines Macedo’s folkloric and millenarian sources.”—Catholic Historical Review

“[Givens presents] his evidence and his arguments clearly. This is a valuable book for the history of Sebastianism, the operations of the Inquisition, and the religious culture of early modern Portugal.”—American Historical Review

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