Publication Date

January 1991


The Luso-Brazilian Review is published by University of Wisconsin Press,


Between 1819 and 1897, three messianic movements were launched in the north- eastern interior region of Brazil, in the states of Pernambuco and Bahia, drawing to their enclaves not only hundreds of backlanders but also extensive military repression. The three unsuccessful sects prophesied the imminence of the Last Days, of the End of the World in cosmic terms, and had as their extraordinary emissary of the final catastrophe neither Jesus nor any Christian saint but rather a short-lived but long-lamented Portuguese monarch of the sixteenth century. The nostalgia for Rei Dom Sebastião was, however, not limited to a cluster of fanatics or esoteric visionaries isolated from the religious mainstream but emerged in the doctrines of the three messianic movements because it had been a fundamental part of Luso-Brazilian Roman Catholicism, the dominant religious tradition conveyed to immigrants and native inhabitants alike since the early days of the Brazilian colony. It is the thesis of this essay that the messianism which made its brief and dramatic appearance in Serra do Rodeador in the 1820s, in Pedra Bonita in the late 1830s, and in Canudos in the 1870s and 1880s, was an integral component of the Portuguese religion and religious ideology of the sixteenth century.


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