Rosa Egipcíaca da Vera Cruz is certainly the eighteenth-century black African woman about whose life there exist the most documentary details and writings—in Africa, in the Afro-American diaspora, and in Brazil. She was the first Afro-Brazilian woman to have written a book, of which there remain some manuscript copies, and two dozen of her letters survive. She was considered at the time as "the holiest saint in heaven," whom whites, mestizos, and blacks, including all the family of her master and respectable Catholic priests, adored on their knees, kissing her feet, venerating her relics, and calling her "the Flower of Rio de Janeiro." Rosa founded a convent for exprostitutes, most of them black and mestizo women, the chapel of which, although remodeled, remains to this day in the same place in central Rio. She was imprisoned by the Inquisition of Lisbon on the charge of being a false saint.
Rosa Egipcíaca was born to the Koura Nation ("Courana"), on the Costa de Mina, close to where Lagos is today in Nigeria. She came to Rio de Janeiro on a slave ship in 1725 at age six. At the age of twelve she was sexually abused by her master and sold to the Captaincy of Minas Gerais, earning a living as a prostitute in the village of Inficcionado until she was twenty-nine, when she started to have supernatural visions and was exorcized by an old Portuguese Catholic priest. Examined by a group of theologians, she was accused of being a witch and was brutally whipped on the pillory in Vila de Mariana, after which the right side of her body was paralyzed for the rest of her life. She fled with her guardian priest to Rio de Janeiro, where she began to receive spiritual guidance from the Franciscans, who believed in her visions and encouraged her Christian virtues in their wish to have a black model of holiness for Brazil's slaves.
Rosa Egipcíaca learned to read and wrote 250 pages of a book titled Sacred Theology of the Love of God Shining Light of the Pilgrim Souls, in which she said that the infant Jesus came every day to feed on her breast and, in gratitude, combed her hair; that the Lord had exchanged his heart with hers, and that Jesus, transubstantiated, was in her bosom; that she had died and been resuscitated; that Mary was the mother of mercy and that she, Rosa Egipcíaca, was the mother of justice, on whose will it depended whether souls went to heaven or hell; and that she was the wife of the Holy Trinity, the new redeemer of the world. In 1754 she founded the Convent of Our Lady of Childbirth, where numerous devotees venerated her as the holiest saint in heaven. She prophesized that there would be a new flood and that her nunnery would become an ark of salvation that would take her disciples to Portugal, where she would marry the mysterious King Dom Sebastião and give birth to a redeemer of mankind. Arrested by the Inquisition, she spent several years in Lisbon's jails, where she always maintained that her visions were true. She was not condemned to death by burning, but it is unknown how her life ended.
Rosa Egipcíaca da Vera Cruz is the Afro-Brazilian woman who best typifies the diversity and force of Catholic Afro-Brazilian syncretism. All the details of her life are found in three documents conserved in the Torre do Tombo, the Portuguese national archives in Lisbon, and published in Luiz Mott's Rosa Egipcíaca: Uma Santa Africana no Brasil (1993).
See also Catholicism in the Americas
Mott, Luiz R. B. Rosa Egipcíaca: Uma Santa Africana no Brasil (Rosa Egipcíaca: An African Saint in Brazil). Rio de Janeiro: Bertrand, 1993.
luiz mott (2005)