Church Connections

Capuchin Missionaries and Papal Nuncios as Economic Brokers in the Portuguese Atlantic (17th-19th Centuries)

Eva Dal Canto

While scholars have mostly studied Capuchin missionaries and Papal nuncios as agents of evangelization or as diplomatic and cultural intermediaries, this sub-project analyses them as economic actors implicated in commercial, productive and financial activities, and as brokers of economic knowledge pertaining to overseas territories. It focuses on a group of Italian Capuchins who established links between the Italian states and the markets of the ‘Portuguese Atlantic’ – i.e., the interconnected space between Lisbon, Brazil and West-Central Africa (Kongo, Angola, São Tomé) – between the 1640s to the 1830s.  Their establishment in these regions began during the Thirty Years War, when the Dutch launched an offensive against Portuguese overseas possessions – temporarily occupying north-eastern Brazil (1630-1654) as well as São Tomé and Luanda (1641-1648) – and destroyed the Portuguese monopoly over relations between Europe and Atlantic Africa. The Capuchins were accountable to Propaganda Fide as well as to Portuguese and Kongolese authorities. They interacted with free and unfree Africans, European settlers, Dutch Protestants, Amerindians as well as the regular clergy and the nuncios. How, then, did these configurations shape their economic practices? How were migratory, religious and commercial networks interrelated? How did the particularly strict interpretation of the vow of poverty influence actual economic practices enacted by Capuchin missionaries and how were they justified (or concealed) in the missionaries’ writings? What differences, continuities and transfers can be ascertained – with a view to slavery and other practices – between colonial and non-colonial as well as between African and American territories? What knowledge of markets, agriculture and medical/botanical resources did missionaries mediate? What role did the nuncios play in knowledge circulation, and how were they connected to Lisbon-based Genoese and Tuscan merchants?