Heterodoxy, Gender, and the Brazilian Inquisition: Patterns in Religion in the 1590s

Publication Date

January 1992


The Journal of Latin American Lore is published by The Latin American Institute of UCLA. For more information see http://www.international.ucla.edu/lai/publications/lore


In 1591, the Portuguese Inquisition visited Salvador, the colonial capital of Brazil. In the course of that and the following year, 80 men and 38 women confessed their sins during two periods of grace, before the tribunal of Visitor General, Notary, and Bailiff (and their Secretary). While the men and women who came before the tribunal to confess shared an understanding of public shame and personal responsibility, they nonetheless diverged in the crimes they admitted and in their attitudes toward their moral duty. This article analyzes the pattern of similarities and differences in men's and women's confessions and relates that pattern to the nature of religion in the colony against the background of the social history of the Inquisition and the Brazilian colony. Following a brief introduction to the development of the Inquisition, I will relate the conditions of the 1591-1593 Visit of the Portuguese Inquisition to Brazil and review the categories and content of the confession statements. The conclusions include consideration of the limits of guilt in the confession of sins, and elaboration of the patterns of divergence between the sexes in early colonial Brazilian religious life within and without the ecclesiastical institution.


Latin American Languages and Societies | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Religion

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