This book describes the Christian religious movement led by Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita in the Kingdom of Kongo, from her birth in 1684 until her death, by burning at the stake, in 1706, only two years after the movement had started. Beatriz, a young woman, claimed to be possessed by Saint Anthony, argued that Jesus was a Kongolese, and criticized Italian Capuchin missionaries in her country for not supporting black saints. Thornton supplies background information on the Kingdom of Kongo, the development of Catholicism in Kongo since 1491, the nature and role of local warfare in the Atlantic slave trade, and contemporary everyday life, as well as sketching the lives of some local personalities.
"Thornton's study of Beatriz Kimpa Vita is a new departure in slave studies. African history is propelled to the fore; Thornton's approach taps the potential of the Afro-centric vision." Paul Lovejoy, York University "Perhaps the greatest of the many achievements of Thornton's book is its depiction of Africans in very much the same terms that he, and most other European or American writers, would use to describe their own pasts. With that, Thornton bridges the gap between 'us' and 'them' that still lurks subtly in much scholarship on Africa. This is accordingly a book for non-specialists in many fields--and that is not to say that Africanists will not also find it fascinating." Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia "...a most impressive study." Richard Gray, The Catholic Historical Review "John K. Thornton's study of political and religious turmoil in the Kongo kingdom at the close of the seventeenth century will appeal to several audiences..." Wyatt MacGaffey, The International History Review "...this is a very good publication, which portrays in a very lively way a society and conflicts hidden for almost three centuries. The narrative has a certain dramatic, almost Shakespearean tension, which is likely to engross the reader's attention." International Journal of African Historical Studies "Thornton presents a fascinating and comprehensive account of the Christian movement led by Donna Beatriz Kimpa Vita in the Kingdom of the Kongo, from her birth in 1684 until her death...This study relies upon an impressive body of sources." Journal of Women's History "Altogether this is a masterly reconstruction of events in late seventeenth-century Kongo by an experienced scholar who for over twenty years has published on many aspects of Kongo history from politics top demography, from church history to family history, and from the slave trade to the diaspora. Thornton's acquaintance with a host of difficult sources is well displayed." American Historical Review "The Kongolese Saint Anthony...reflects a superb mastery of the rich multilayered texture of the Kongolese Christian experience...immensely pleasing...the unexpected twists and subplots provide ample footholds for the most tentative reader...the book constitutes a valuable academic resource. That it makes a pleasant read is surely a welcome bonus." Church History "I know of no other book that recreates the history of precolonial African society in such a vivid and compelling way. It should become standard reading in courses on African history and diaspora history." Historian, Robert Harms, Yale University