June 9 – Apostle of Brazil

June 9, 2014

St. Joseph Anchieta

St. José de Anchieta

A famous Jesuit missionary, commonly known as the Apostle of Brazil, born on the Island of Tenerife, in 1553, of noble family; died in Brazil, 1596.

After studying in Coimbra, he entered the Society of Jesus, at the age of seventeen, and when a novice nearly ruined his health by his excessive austerity, causing an injury to the spine which made him almost a hunchback. He was sent to the New World, with no idea of making him a missionary, but in the hope of restoring his shattered health. He reached Brazil in 1553, and laboured there among the colonists and savage natives for about forty-four years. His first work was teaching Latin to some of the junior members of the Society and to a certain number of externs. Very likely it was the first classical school in America. He was a perfect master of Latin, Castilian, and Portuguese, and quickly acquired a knowledge of the native tongue, as well as two books of religious instruction, to assist the missionaries in the work of converting the natives. He was a poet, and wrote canticles which immediately became very popular among the natives and Portuguese. To effect a reformation of morals, he composed and directed a drama which was acted in the open air at Bahia.

St. José de Anchieta preaching in the jungle. Painting by Benedito Calixto.

St. José de Anchieta preaching in the jungle. Painting by Benedito Calixto.

By means of interludes in Brazilian the Indians were able to grasp its meaning. This also was possibly the first attempt at dramatic art in the New World. Though not a priest, he accompanied the missionaries on their apostolic journeys, and on one occasion remained a willing hostage among the wild Tamuins who were waging a fierce war against the settlers; twice he was on the point of being killed and eaten. During his captivity he is said to have composed a poem of nearly five thousand verses, and, as there were no means of putting it on paper, he committed it to memory and wrote it out after he returned to the colony. It was during the last military operations to suppress the Tamuin uprising that he was recalled from the expedition, and ordained a priest by Peter Leitano, the first bishop who arrived in Brazil. Apart from his supernatural gifts, he was remarkable for his captivating eloquence and gracefulness of speech. He had a fair knowledge of medicine, which he made of in helping his Indians, and he displayed an unusual skill in the details of business when, latter in life, he was called to the office of rector and provincial.

St. José de Anchieta

But it is chiefly as a thaumaturgus, as a daring missionary, and as a man of extraordinary holiness, that Anchieta is remembered. It is narrated of him that the birds of the forest submitted to his caresses; the waters of the sea formed a wall about him while he was praying; the touch of his garments restored health to the sick. He possessed the gift of prophecy and frequently described events that were occurring at great distances. Though constantly suffering from bodily infirmities, he undertook the most laborious missions, and thus at times seemed to have a supernatural power to do without sleep or rest. The districts which he evangelized were always the most exhausting and dangerous. His power over men, both savage and civilized, was irresistible. His prayer was constant, and he was frequently, though unaware of it himself, surrounded by a dazzling light. He was almost absolutely without any earthly possessions, and went barefooted on his apostolic expeditions. Even before he was a priest he was entrusted with the investigation of the houses of the Society; and when he could be spared from his missions, he was made rector of the College of St. Vincent, and, subsequently, Provincial of Brazil, relinquishing this post only when his failing strength made it impossible for him to fulfill his duties. The people clamoured for his canonization…


Compendio de la vida de el apóstol de el Brazil, V.P. J. de Anchieta (Xeres de la Fr., 1677) translated by Balthazar Anchieta; Simon de Vasconcelos, Vida do vener. padre J. de Anchieta (Lisbon, 1673); Life of Anchieta in Oratorian Series (London,1849); Crétineau-Jolly, Hist. of S,J., II, 119 (Paris, 1851).


Rui A.C. Costa (cfr. Catholic Encyclopedia)


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