Fray José de Pernambuco (José Ruiz)

Place and date of birth: Olinda (Pernambuco, Brazil), 1609

Place and date of death: Bemba (Congo), 1653

Catholic missionary and teacher of the first religious schools for nobles in the capital San Salvador del Congo. Due to his knowledge of several languages, he participated in the first Kikongo/Spanish/Latin dictionary.

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Africa’s connection from the 16th century with Europe and America cannot be understood without the slave trade across the Atlantic. It was the backbone of the broad relationships and interests that arose. The role played by the missionaries was increasingly prominent in the articulation of networks of influence and pressure, apart from their pastoral work. Conquest, religion and trade were a fundamental part of the European presence in the Atlantic. In addition, of these three elements, the Capuchins became involved in the political networks that they created through ambassadors and treaties that definitively connected different peoples and kingdoms in modern times. The different missions directed to Africa will be complemented with those sent to America. A policy articulated from the Hispanic Monarchy in collaboration with the Holy See, where the Capuchins formed, together with the Jesuits, the vanguard of the expansion of Christianity in Central Africa and Tierra Firme in America.

The characters and religious networks that interacted during this period, in the different continents, did so under the same premises of expanding the Orbis Cristiana at the service of different monarchies.

The secession of Portugal in 1640 did not change this context, since the Holy See considered the Spanish crown as the repository of legitimacy. The vanguard of expansionist Catholicism in modern times was led by Jesuits and Capuchins, with a strong rivalry between the two congregations, the Jesuits were subject to the Portuguese Padroado, while the Capuchins joined Propaganda Fide, which depended directly on Rome. As heir to the Portuguese throne, it was up to the Spanish monarch to take the appropriate measures in relation to Propaganda Fide, created in 1622.

In this way, the missionaries could act without restrictions in the “four parts of the world” (TARDIEU, 2002: 85). In the same way as in other kingdoms of Christianity, the Catholic Church was placed at the service of royal power, both in the West and in some Christian kingdoms in Africa. But the Portuguese hostility, in the presence of Spanish missionaries or sent from the Spanish religious provinces in the areas of influence of the royal padroado, constituted a continuous source of problems and conflicts. These disagreements will end after the defeat of the Congo kingdom in 1665, which will block the entry of more Spanish Capuchins in Western Central Africa and, from then on, the displacement of many of them towards Spanish America.

Our character is the young man from Pernambuco, José Ruiz, who will move to the Iberian Peninsula to complete his academic training. He was born in 1609 in Olinda, Pernambuco captaincy and at the age of 20 he is in Coimbra studying at the Society of Jesus school, passing the grammar exams that year. Later, he moved to Salamanca to complete his studies at the University of this city, passing the courses of arts, philosophy and moral law in 1630. After several years of stay, he decided to take the habit on April 20, 1634, being called, according to the norms of the Capuchins, José de Pernambuco. In 1644 he was appointed master of “news and grammars” at the convent of Toro. The following year, he will be part of the third group of Capuchin missionaries from the province of Castile who leave for Africa bound for the kingdom of the Congo.

His knowledge of the Portuguese and Spanish languages ​​made him a perfect candidate for this mission. Especially, his command of Portuguese made it easier for him to be the interlocutor of his Castilian companions in the African territory. Meanwhile, the Portuguese language was used for commercial relations and the evangelization of African and European peoples on the coasts of West Africa (ANGUIANO, 1950). The Europeans residing in Africa, the interpreters or línguas (languages ​​in Spanish) of the different kingdoms of the coast, communicated mainly in that language (THORTON, 2004: 290).

Father José de Pernambuco, through learning the Kikongo language, the most widely used in the kingdom, launched the first religious schools in the capital for the noblemen of the kingdom, giving classes on various subjects including Latin and Castilian grammar, geography, history, etc., and participated in the first Kikongo/Spanish/Latin dictionary. Later, he was sent to the Bata or province of Nkusu, accompanied by Father Teruel for two years, and after becoming seriously ill he went to the banza of Bemba, where he died at the age of 44 in 1653 (TERUEL, 1664).

The figure of José de Pernambuco is framed in the transit of these circulation networks between Brazil and the territories of the Hispanic Monarchy. Networks and exchanges that were created between Africa, America and Europe and that will give rise to a new Atlantic space.


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– Anguiano, M. de Of. F. M. Cap. (1950/57). Misiones capuchinas en África. I. La misión del Congo. Con introducción y notas del P. Buenaventura de Carrocera, O. F. M. Cap., Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo.

– Brásio, A. (1981 a 1988) Monumenta Missionária Africana (África Ocidental), colig. e anot., Lisboa, Vols I a XI, Agência Geral do Ultramar, 1952-1971, y Vol XII e XV, Lisboa: Academia Portuguesa de História.

– Souza M. de M. e. (2016) “O cristianismo congo e as relações atlânticas”. Revista de História. São Paulo, nº. 175, pp. 451-463.

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– Tardieu, J.P. 2002). De L’Afrique aux Amériques Espagnoles (XV-XIX siècles). Utopies et réalités de l’esclavage. Paris: L’Harmattan/Université de la Réunion.

– Teruel, A. (c.1664). “Descripción narrativa de la misión del PP. Capuchinos en el reyno de Congo”. BIBLIOTECA NACIONAL DE MADRID. BNM, Manuscrito 3533.

– Thorton, J. (2004). A África e os africanos na formação do mundo Atlântico, 1400-1800. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier.


José Luis Ruíz Peinado

How to quote this entry:

José Luis Ruíz Peinado (Universitat de Barcelona). “Fray José de Pernambuco (José Ruiz)“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: Date of access: 25/02/2024.

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