How to deal with the Church and colonial power

By: José Luis Sáez, S. J.

Imagen antigua de la Ermita de Potosí.
Imagen antigua de la Ermita de Potosí.

A brief history of two 17th-century cappuccinos, who preached

against slave forks in a poor hermitage of Guanabacoa

Dominican Academy of History


These are the young Br. Francisco José de Jaca, Aragonese, and the French or Burgundy Fr. Epifanio de Moirans who, as early as the end of the seventeenth century, were apprehended for their performance, without plugs, and then deported to Spain. And they were not reduced to preaching or the written word: the silence of the confessional was, so to speak, one of his most effective accomplice grandstands. A simple metal plate, placed on May 18, 2007, in the old hermitage of santo Cristo del Potosí in Guanabacoa (Havana), has since recalled its relatively brief passage through Cuba at the end of the seventeenth century:

“To the brave Capuchin priests Francisco José de Jaca (1645-1686) and Epiphany of Moirans (1644-1686), who spoke from this hermitage against slavery in 1681. Cuban Slave Route Committee. Guanabacoa Monuments Delegation. April 18, 2007.”1

Who kept the powers in that environment?

The main civil and ecclesiastical powers were practically in the hands of foreigners. The king was Charles II of Habsburg – the last Spaniard of the Austrian dynasty (1665–1700) – whom his people baptized with the nickname “The Bewitched”, assuming that someone bewitched him, strangely from his conduct, his birth hydrocephalus, his congenital-urinary pathology for life, which slowed his growth and prevented him from procreating an heir with either of his two wives , French and German. During the long years of his “minority of age,” his mother and even two of the kingdom’s valids took care of the government.

In the broadest ecclesiastical sphere, since 1676 – after a conclave of forty-five days – the Pope was Cardinal Benedetto Odescalchi, of a distinguished family of the city of Como, who under the name of Innocent XI, ruled the Church for thirteen years and died in Rome on August 12, 1689.2

On the large island of the Antilles, the Spanish Captain General José Fernández de Córdoba Ponce de León, knight of Calatrava (1680-1685), ruled, and in the ecclesiastical held power the Mexican Mr. Juan García de Palacios y García (1678-1682), who had as a provisional judge and vicar general to the Licdo. Fr. Francisco de Sotolongo.3 Havana’s tax promoter was Fr. Juan Alonso Camacho, and Captain Juan Prado Carvajal was perpetual ruler of the same city. Finally, in 1681 he was solicitor general of the former Indian village of Guanabacoa, D. Diego de la Fuente, and the chapel of Christ of Potosí, had no permanent cure. The last had been Mr. Baltasar González in 1678, who was the case with Mr. Miguel de Quiñones, appointed on September 15, 1660.4

Identity and chores of the two cappuccinos

The first of these was Br. Francisco José de Jaca or Aragon, a native of Jaca (Huesca, Spain), who was born around 1645, but his original name and the identity of his parents are unknown. He entered the order at the Novitiate Convent of Tarazona (Aragón) on January 14, 1665, and received the priesthood in 1672. After being a missionary in Cumaná and Los Llanos (Venezuela) from 1676 to 1681, he was sent to Havana, where he lived for only one year (1681-1682), apparently in the hermitage of the Immaculate and the Holy Christ of Potosí in Guanabacoa. After being deported, he would be imprisoned in Spain for two more years (1684-1686), possibly in Valladolid, and once released, he is supposed to have resided in the defunct Capuchin convent of San Antonio del Prado (1612-1890), at Cervantes 17 Street in Madrid – where his last known letter is dated – and it is possible that he also died there, probably, in 1690.5

Although the highlight of his production is the treatise in Spanish, which constitutes his anti-slavery work, from 1681 (“Resolution on the Freedom of Blacks and their Originals, in a State of Pagans and later, Already Christians”), the Indians’ File also preserves, among other texts, two long letters of his to King Charles II written from Caracas in the first two days of December 1678 , released by the noted Galician historian Miguel-Anxo Pena González, O.F.M. Cap. in 2001.6

From his 1681 treatise – his arguments are markedly sentimental, perhaps as an Aragonese—a short text, often cited by some authors, stands out: “What consistent reason can there be to enslave breast children brought to these lands as dogs, cats or sheep, condemned to slavery, with no fault other than that of original sin, exposed to the sorrows they must suffer without counting those who die on the journey?” 7

Fr. Epifanio de Moirans was a native of Moirans-en-Montagne (Grenoble, France) where he was born in 1644. His family name was Epiphane Dunod. In 1665, at the age of twenty-one, he entered the order in the Capuchin Novitiate of Vesoul (Haute-Saéne, Burgundy). His first American adventure occurred in 1676, when the provincial of Normandy sent him to the island of Cayenne in the company of Br. Buenaventura de Courtray or Flanders. Being the island in the hands of Dutch, they asked Pedro II of Portugal for permission to cross through Pará (Brazil), but upon receiving the refusal, the two returned to Europe. Being catechetical to the black slaves of Cumaná (now Sucre, Venezuela) in 1678, and apparently without any permission, he was kept in prison for almost two months, between November and December 1680. It has not become clear why, more than a year later, he embarked on Cartagena de Indias – there he would perhaps come into contact with the thought of Sandoval, Claver and other anti-slavery Jesuits – and from there he traveled to Havana in June 1681, aboard the ship of Juan Martin Legorburu, and, although this time with all permits, apparently in the same chapel of the Holy Christ of Potosí , was soon imprisoned once again, subjected to an accelerated process, with abundant paperwork, and then deported to Spain. In Seville he kept prison for two years, as his capuchin companion, and once freed in 1685, he returned to his country and died in Tours (France) on 6 January 1689 at the age of forty-five.

Although I necessarily do not do him the justice he deserves, I would like to sum up his thought of this quote from his long Latin treaty, written or initiated just before his admission to provisional prison in 1682: “Black people suffer horrendous torments and continuous martyrdom; because they work all day and night, receiving a minimum wage or at the whim and to the rhythm of the passion of the lord or the lady or the foreman, they are whipped with inhuman whips until bloodshed, the derailing of the bones and with the flesh shattered… These instruments are so inhumane that some bishops came to promulgate excommunication latae sententiae against those who used fish skins as a whip; the reason for excommunication lay in the fact that with such scourings the bones were exposed.”8

From his preachings and his general attitude we know through the testimony of some ecclesiasticals. And the main one of them is the vicar general of Havana in letter to King Charles II, who, among the things preached or said by the cappuccino, affirmed:

“That the blacks who bring thee to sell and have the same as slaves are free, and that the holders are obliged to give their children freedom, and to restore them the served, denying the sacramental acquittal in the confessions to those who did not promise to give them freedom, that it was very serious scandal, by the good faith and just title of the holders.”9

Although it is known that he had already made himself known as a fiery preacher, defending time and time again that the slaves were free, and those who kept them that way were against the law, it is said that Friar Francisco José came to confess in that small chapel of Guanabacoa, the wife of a wealthy Hispanic-Cuban rancher. And shortly after the confession began, the friar asked him without ambages, “Do you have slaves?” And she said, “Yes.” To which he confessor said, “Well, if you don’t give them freedom, I can’t acquit you.” The lady explained, just in case: “Slaves are well-established, inherited.” Faced with this statement, which the confessor judged a manifestation of guilt without regret, he refused to continue to hear his confession.10

As a result of their obvious, almost stubborn attitude, the two capuchins were suspenseful to divinis on 3 December 1681. As they did not abide by the sentence, he ruled against them excommunication late sententiae, the vicar general of Havana, Francisco de Soto Longo, under the mandate of the Mexican Juan García de Trespalacios (Bishop of Cuba, Jamaica and Florida). In almost obvious reaction, cappuccinos excommunicat their accusers. And again and again, they claim that the only judges who can sentence or acquit them were the Pope and the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide.11

Rejected what they considered absurd claim, from January 13, 1682, already in Havana, they were kept imprisoned in the Hospital of San Juan de Dios, and then taken to the Franciscan convent. However, a short time later, while following the judicial process, Br. Francisco José de Jaca was transferred to La Punta, and Br. Epifanio de Moirans to the Castle of the Old Force, awaiting his definitive transfer to the Peninsula. The captain of the shipman’s galleon, Andrés Tello de Guzmán, was given the papers of the process, which he was to deliver on time to the Council of The Indies. In addition to that, he was entrusted with the surveillance of the prisoners, who allegedly arrived in Cadiz on 4 October 1682.

Metal plate reminiscent of the passage of the two capuchins through Cuba and their stances against slavery.
Metal plate reminiscent of the passage of the two capuchins through Cuba and their stances against slavery.


Two equally controversial writers

Apparently, being in one or the other of their cells, they initiate or plan their work against slavery. However, as the judges seize all the papers, it was possibly during the voyage that Br. Francisco José de Jaca wrote the first version of “Resolution on the Freedom of Blacks and their Originating in the State of Pagans and then Christians”, even though it is dated 1681.12 The draft he was drawing up in Cuba was seized, like those of his companion. This was certainly not his first theoretical work, so to speak. In addition to an extensive collection of letters to King Charles II, dated in Caracas from January 1678, two are preserved to the Council of the Indies, three to Msgr. Marcelo Durazzo, nuncio in Spain, two memorials to the Congregation of Propaganda Fide and a letter of Ecclesiastical Immunity, an interesting work of his already mentioned is told, undoubtedly of his missionary time in the plains of Venezuela , in which he also raised the irrationality of the practical slavery of the Indians.13

Frenchman Moirans, apparently, being at the Hospital de San Juan de Dios, begins or advances his work in Latin, in 164 folios and 15 chapters, Servi Liberi seu Naturalis Mancipiorum Libertatis Juxta Defensio (“Free Servants or The Just Defense of the Natural Freedom of Slaves”), dated 1682 and published in the twentieth century in Spanish.

This was not the first of his abundant Works in Latin. In a recount by Br. Bernardo de Bologna, O.F.M. Cap., sixteen theoretical works of different category and extension are quoted, although most of them only include the title – two of them he refers to in his work cited above – on the vocation of blacks to freedom, produced by this controversial French author, on an indeterminate date , and probably before his missionary destiny in South America or the Caribbean.14

The first to decide the controversial nature of the two writings of the capuchins were their captors in Havana, beginning on January 14, 1682, when they seize their papers and books – and the minutes refer to the requisitioned writings not yet complete – and this was recorded by the tax promoter and vicar general , Licdo. Francisco de Soto Longo, and corroborated it with his signature by the notary public, Juan Rodríguez Vicario.15

The new ecclesiastical legislation of the 17th century

With regard to this episode of the two Capuchins in Havana of the seventeenth century, it is worth remembering that the Cuban Church, following the provisions of the Council of Trent, had held the first Diocesan Synod in Havana in June 1680, thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned Mexican bishop Fr. Juan García de Palacios. Its first solemn session was held on Sunday, June 2, 1680. Its constitutions were read in public in the Parish of Havana from Sunday 9th of the same month and year.16 Those constitutions were sent to Charles II of Habsburg, forwarded by Real Cédula of August 9, 1682, and only then could they be printed, possibly in the printing press of the colonial government.

However, although radical changes of a Synod cannot be expected, its rules might even seem bold, not so much as the preaching and action of the Capuchins, to many of their contemporaries, especially in the regard of the obligations imposed on the amos with regard to the religious duties of their slaves. To illustrate these rules, even if they are economic in nature, suffice to mention some allusions to the amos and slaves.

Although it is not a real change, in terms of the quotas due by the sacraments or “altar rights” – from afar it is seen that the truly benefited were the amos – those of baptism, marriage and burial were substantially reduced, when it came to slaves. Suffice it to say that “a Christian slave burial cost 12 reais, and 16 if he was not baptized; that of an Indian or black free adult was worth 20 reais, and 16 if it was a child.” Marriage, including Mass, in the case of free or Spanish people, cost 32 reais; and among slaves, only 24 reais.17

In order not to seem so bold, other synodal norms close the way to the ordination of black slaves and others, which, although white, were for granted to them for other compelling reasons: “The children of those punished by the Holy Office should not be promoted to sacred orders, being descendants in the first and second degrees of the father, and first to the mother , nor blacks, mulates and half-breeds, because of the indecency that results from the ecclesiastical state.”18

Threatening the penalty of excommunication or a mere fine, the Synod, however, required the master’s hands of ingenuities to “discipline the tasks of sugar, so that it does not catch them on part of the holiday, nor make them twist ropes” or other tasks, “nor do they do chores, throwing slaves to grind from the first night of the holiday; and that the amos who bring jornal slaves and slaves, do not beat them in those days, nor bring them day in them, under the same penalty of censorship and pecuniary.”19

As for the work in general, certainly somewhat sweetened, and with regard to the Catholic formation of slaves, he legislized: “We command, and on the part of Almighty God, we affectionately ask the amos, and the butlers and mayorals, that in all the ingenuities, herds, corrals and other haciendas of the countryside, before entering the work of the day , in the morning, all slaves pray the Christian Doctrine, being taught by the person who knew it best, and it is with all space, and taking into account those who are most careless in learning it will show the thee, and do not wait for it to be after work, when weary cannot attend to what they are told.”20

As for the obligation of Sunday Mass, both for the reluctant loves who relyed on the remoteness of temples of the estates or ingenuities, he also emphasizes the need to also send to the slave labor: “We command that all free men, and the amos of slaves, who are not distant more than a league , go and hear Mass on Sundays to your parishes and churches, and send your slaves, if not in the distance you are there a hermitage or chapel closer to the cities, villas and places where you can hear it; penalty of sin that they will commit, and of two ducats applied to the churches, in which we certainly take them for condemned otherwise by doing for every time they are missing.”

The provincial legislation of the Spanish Antilles

Some authors, I do not know why, mention as legislation in force yet, albeit already a little late, the First Provincial Council of Santo Domingo (September 21, 1622-1623 February 1623), emphasizing certain advances in race relations, precisely more than half a century earlier. Undoubtedly, these authors wanted to make them see their readers, that some of the doctrine of the Franciscans already had a history in the same Church of the Hispanic Caribbean.

In fact, the second session (November 6, 1622) requires and facilitates the access of so-called “Ethiopians” to the sacraments, and not just the obligatoryness of baptism and the antecedent and consequent doctrine. Referring to the priestly order, the Council established as a rule that black people should also be admitted, as long as they were “from the Ethiopian trunk for three generations”.22

In addition to the representatives of Santo Domingo, and the presidency of Br. Pedro de Oviedo, S. O.C., representatives of the five dioceses that were then part of this ecclesiastical province, that is, Br. Gonzalo de Angulo, O.M., Bishop of Venezuela, Don Bernardo de Valbuena, Bishop of Puerto Rico, that of Agustín Serrano Pimentel, representing Fr. Alonso Enríquez. , O. de M., Bishop of Santiago de Cuba, and Don Francisco de Medina Moreno, Abbot of Jamaica.

However, these authors do not mention that the Council, despite its progress, and perhaps precisely for them, was never actually applied. More words, the text that the other four participating countries were waiting for, apart from Santo Domingo, never left the Royal Palace or was never authorized to be valid in the other dioceses of the province of Santo Domingo. The reason is that the other copies, apart from the one left in the archives of the Archbishopric of Santo Domingo, appeared in 1934 in the archive of the Royal Palace of Madrid, awaiting its approval and distribution, which never arrived.23 The Dominican text was released in 1938 in its original Latin version, thanks to Fr. Cipriano de Utrera, O. F.M. Cap. , who published it in the Ecclesiastical Bulletin of Santo Domingo, for more than two years, from number 29 to 37 (1938-1940).24

They also omit many authors that I have read that, even behind the back of the Provincial Council cited, there were already former slaves of Dominican origin who had reached the priesthood. The most obvious case is that of Tomás Rodríguez de Sosa (1605-1670), illegitimate son of a slave, ordained in 1625, who was an accomplished Latinist and professor of the nascent Seminary of St. Thomas.25 A short time later, in 1665 Diego de Quesada Torres was ordained, grandson of an officer of the Royal Audience, who had also been born a slave. And the tonic, despite racism, even within a clear majority of Hispanic origin, he soon had the case of Rodríguez de Sosa repeated, and, although later, sufficient to complete, the remarkable Pedro Agustín Morell de Santa Cruz (1694–1768), a descendant of black slaves by mother, who became Bishop of Nicaragua (1749–1753) and Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba (1753–1768).26 Ω



[1] The placement of the plaque coincided with the closure of the X Guanabacoa Colloquium in History and International Monuments Day. Msgr. Ramón Suárez Polcari, Chancellor of the Archbishopric of Havana, Dr. Jesús Guanche Pérez and historian Pedro A. Herrera, were present at the event.

2 Cfr. J.M. González-Cremora: Dictionary of popes, Barcelona, Editorial Mitre, 1989, pp. 164-165; Nicolas Cheetham: A History of the Popes, New York, Barnes & Noble, 1982, p. 227.

3 Cfr. P. Ismael Testé: Ecclesiastical History of Cuba, Volume I, Burgos, Editorial El Monte Carmelo, 1969, pp. 110-112; Fr. Reinerio Lebroc Martínez: Episcopologio, Miami, Hispamerican Books, 1985, p. 13.

4 Cfr. Félix Vidal Cicera: History of the town of Guanabacoa from colonization to the present day, Havana, La Universal Printing, 1877, pp. 20-24; Fr. Ismael Testé: Ecclesiastical History of Cuba, Volume II, Burgos, El Monte Carmelo Press, 1970, pp. 319-326.

5 Until now, most of the authors repeated one another, that the cappuccino had died in Daroca (Zaragoza) in 1686 at the age of forty-one. However, Br. Gregorio Smutko noticed the error, since two years after that date, the Roman file of the Capuchins retains a letter of his to the Congregation of Propaganda Fide dated Madrid (February 18, 1688), and another to the Nuncio in Madrid, dated October 11, 1689 from San Antonio del Prado (Madrid). Cfr. Gregorio Smutko, O. F.M. Cap.: “The Struggle of the Capuchins against Slavery in the Xvii and Xviii Centuries”, Nature and Grace, Year XI, No. 2, Salamanca, May-August 1990, p. 299.

6 Cfr. Miguel-Anxo Pena González: “A singular document by Br. Francisco José de Jaca, on the slavery of the Indians”, Revista de Indias, year LXV, No. 223, Madrid, Higher Council for Scientific Research, 2001, pp. 708-712.

7 Cfr. Jesús Guanche Pérez: “From the bowels of the island. Two Capuchin priests in Havana against slavery in the 17th century,” Lay Space, Year X, No. 37, Havana, January-March 2014, p. 124.

8 The text comes from No. 11 of Chapter 1. of the work of Epiphany of Moirans, O.F.M. Capt. Cfr. AGI. Audience of Santo Domingo, leg. 527, f. 22; Miguel-Anxo Pena González: “A first-hour anti-slavery proposal: the Servi Liberi de Epifanio de Moirans”, in Summa Historiae, year II, No. 2, Lima, December 2007, pp. 30-31.

9 Cfr. “Letter of the Licdo. Francisco de Soto Longo to King Charles II (Havana, July 3, 1682)”, AGI. Audience of Santo Domingo, leg. 527, ff. 5-6v; Rep. Francisco José de Jaca: Resolution on the Freedom of Blacks, Madrid, Higher Council for Scientific Research, 2002, pp. 193-194.

[1]0 This and other anecdotes appear in the oral testimonies of the process and in the Prologue to the book of Br. Epiphany of Moirans: Free Servants or The Righteous Defense of the Natural Freedom of Slaves (1682), pp.181-182.

[1]1 Cfr. Miguel-Anxo Pena González: “Epifanio de Moirans (1644-1689): Capuchin missionary and anti-slavery”, Franciscan Collectanea, vol. 74, nn. 1-2, Rome-Assisi, 2004, p. 118.

[1]2 The original text is preserved in AGI. Audience of Santo Domingo, leg. 527, No. 13; Rep. Medellin, year V, No. 6, Bogota, 1980, pp. 543-551.

[1]3 Cfr. Miguel-Anxo Pena González: “A singular document by Friar Francisco José de Jaca, on the practical slavery of the Indians”, Journal of the Indies, vol. 6, No. 223, Madrid, Higher Council for Scientific Research, 2001, pp. 708-711.

[1]4 Cfr. Bibliotheca Scriptorum Ordinis Minorum Sancti Francisci Capuccinorum (Venice, 1717), f. 80. Among these works are a volume on the life of St. Joseph the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, two volumes of the treatise De Vera Humilitate, a volume as an Appendix to the literal explanation of the Apocalypse, and a Mystic Theology in four volumes. Cfr. Miguel-Anxo Pena González: “Anti-slavery Doctrine of Epiphany of Moirans”, Summa Historiae, Year II, No. 2, Lima, December 2005, pp. 279-281.

[1]5 Cfr. Miguel-Anxo Pena González (ed.). Francisco José de Jaca, Cap. Resolution on the freedom of blacks and their natives in the state of pagans, and then already Christians. The first condemnation of slavery in Hispanic thought, Madrid, Higher Council for Scientific Research, 2002, pp. 130-132.

[1]6 Cfr. Rigoberto Segreo Ricardo: The Church in the Origins of Cuban Culture, Havana, Editorial of Social Sciences, 2016, p. 109; Manuel Maza, S. J.: Cuban Church: five centuries of challenges and answers, Santo Domingo, Friend of the Home, 1995, pp. 22-23.

[1]7 Cfr. Rigoberto Segreo Ricardo: op. cit., p. 113.

[1]8 Diocesan Synod held.M by the very lord Mr. Don Juan García de Palacios, Havana, Government Printing and Captaincy General by S.M., 1684, p. 27.

19 Ibid., p. 61.

20 Ibid. p. 9.

2[1] Ibid., pp. 61-62.

22 Cfr. Br. Cesáreo de Armellada (ed.): Proceedings of the Provincial Council of Santo Domingo, Caracas, 1970, pp. 25-26.

23 Cfr. Fray Cipriano de Utrera, O. F.M. Cap.: “The Synods of the Archbishopric of Santo Domingo”, Clío No. 100, Trujillo City, July-September 1954, p. 162; Rep. Antonio Camilo G.: The historical framework of Dominican pastoral care, Santo Domingo, Amigo del Hogar, 1983, p. 163. Also fr. Cipriano is due to the discovery of a copy of the Council in the File of the Archbishopric of Caracas in 1934.

24 The first spanish version was due to Fr. Cesáreo de Armellada. O.F.M. Cap., who published the full text with the title of Acts of the Provincial Council of Santo Domingo. 1622-1623, Caracas, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 1970.

25 On this interesting priest, see my biography “A slave who gave himself to another lord”, in Half-body Portraits. Nine Church figures in Santo Domingo, Santo Domingo, Friend of the Home, 2012, pp. 71-101.

26 See in this regard my work “Black Clerics or Their Descendants in Colonial Santo Domingo. Centuries xvii-xviii”, Clío year 87, No. 195, Santo Domingo, January-June 2018, pp. 15-34.

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