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Mission in Colonial America, II (Portuguese Missions)


The history of the missions in Brazil can be divided into two characteristic periods: that from the discovery in 1500 to independence, and that from independence to 1964. The Society of Jesus began the work with the help of the Portuguese governors general, and other religious orders gradually joined in catechizing and civilizing the Brazilian native inhabitants.

1500 to 1822. The first missionaries in Brazil were the Franciscans Henrique de Coimbra and his companions together with Álvares Cabral, who raised the first cross at the mouth of the Mutari or Itacumirim on May 1, 1500. In the armadas of 1501 and the years immediately following came other priests and brothers, who went to Paraíba do Norte, Pôrto Seguro (1516), São Catarina, Iguaraçu (1521) and Pernambuco (1526). Systematic colonization (1530), led by Martim Afonso de Sousa, brought up the problem of organized evangelization. It was begun in Olinda in 1534, in São Vicente in 1535 and in Bahia in 1545. A group of Spanish Franciscans started the mission among the Carijós of Laguna (1538), but had to abandon it in 1548. Other attempts were made in Espírito Santo (1541), in Ilheus and Paraíba (1545), but all were in precarious condition in the middle of the century when a central government was established. Effective evangelization then began with the first contingent of Jesuit missionaries, led by the active Manuel da nÓbrega (1549). While the Jesuits extended their work in Bahia, São Vicente, São Paulo and Pernambuco, the Carmelites arrived in Olinda (1580), where they founded the first convent in 1583. They spread to Salvador (1586), Santos (1589), Recife (1654) and in the south, to Rio de Janeiro (1590), São Paulo (1594), Angra dos Reis (1608), Mogi das Cruzes (1629), and Itú (1719). By the 18th century they had in Brazil three provinces with approximately 500 religious. In Maranhão they established themselves in São Luis (1615), Pará (1624), Gurupé (1639), Alcântara (1647), Bonfim (1718) and Vigia (1737). By 1674 there were 60 religious evangelizing the area of Alto Solimões, Rio Negro and other parts of the Amazon basin, where Father José da Madalena introduced vaccine in 1728. In Maranhão in 1722 they administered 15 missions and in 1751, 18. The number decreased considerably in the 19th century.

The Franciscan missions achieved a firm foundation in 1585 in Olinda. The seat of the first custody of the Friars Minor in Brazil was the convent of Na Sra das Neves with a novitiate (1586) and a school for native children. From here the Franciscans went to Bahia (1587), Iguaraçu (1588) and Paraíba and Espírito Santo (1589). The Indian missions gained importance at the end of the century through the work of Father Antônio de Campo Maior in Itapessima, Ponta das Pedras, and Itamaracá. In São Paulo a Franciscan convent was founded in 1639.

In the 17th century Capuchins established the province of Santo Antônio in Brazil (1657) with numerous foundations in Ipojuca and Recife (1606), Rio de Janeiro (1607), Pará (1617), Serinhaem (1630), Santos and São Paulo (1639), Espírito Santo (1650) and Aracaju (1687). In 1733 there were 15 convents, one hospice, and 13 missions among the native inhabitants. Simultaneously, the Franciscans continued to maintain houses and missions in Pará and in Maranhão. Those of the province of Santo Antônio in Belém possessed one convent and seven missions; those of the province of the Immaculate Conception, 1 convent in São Luis, and one hospice and one mission in Grão-Pará; and those of the province of Piedade in Pará, two hospices and ten missions. Noteworthy were the missions of the Padres da Piedade in Pará and in Rio Tocantins among the Cametás and Aruãs. In the division of 1693 these fathers received the missions of Gurupatuba, Urubaguara, Rio Paru and Jamundã and, in that of 1699, all the missions between Amazónas and Cabo Norte. From Quito (163234) they had also contacted the Tapuias of the Amazon and reached the Encabelados (1635). In 1637 Father Agostinho das Chagas and Father Domingos de Brieva along with Jesuits and Mercedarians accompanied Pedro Teixeira on his return to Pará (1638). The province of the Immaculate Conception of Rio de Janeiro in 1675 continued with the foundation of Cabo Frio (1687).

The French Capuchins, at the suggestion of María de Médicis, accompanied the expedition of La Ravardière (1611), beginning their evangelization on the island of Fernando de Noronha and continuing it in Maranhão from where Claude d' abbeville and Father Ivo d'Evreux sent to France (1612) a group of Tupinambas, who were baptized in Paris with great solemnity. When the French were expelled, the Capuchins had to abandon the mission (1615) and were replaced by Franciscans, Jesuits and Carmelites. In 1705 Italian Capuchins, constituted in the Prefectures of Bahia (1712), Pernambuco (1725) and Rio de Janeiro (1737), directed 17 native inhabitant settlements.

The Mercedarians entered Brazil with Pedro Teixeira on his return from Quito to Pará (163739) and founded there the convent of Na Sra das Mercês (1640), from which they spread to São Luis do Maranhão (1664),

and to Alcântara, creating or administrating several missions in Urubu (1665) and in Amazonas (1699). Father Teodósio da Veiga was the one who initiated regular mission establishments as far as Aiurim on the Rio Negro (166869). Difficulties with the Trinitarians, which impeded their expansion in Portugal in the 17th and 18th centuries, limited their recruitment of personnel for Brazil. In 1785 Pius VI secularized some convents in Pará. In 1749 the Mercedarians were ordered to withdraw to Maranhão, and their properties were confiscated. In 1758 in Maranhão and in Pará they had only five Indian settlements.

Of all the male religious orders after the Jesuits, the Franciscans were the ones that prospered and exerted the most influence. Missionary activity was not limited to the teaching of the Christian doctrine. It opposed cannibalism vigorously, turned nomadic native inhabitants into sedentary peoples by means of settlements where they were taught cattle raising, arts and trades in which many became eminent, as well as utilization of hygiene and prophylaxis in times of epidemic when smallpox, yellow fever, or malaria produced terrible devastation. Peaceful expeditions among rival clans for the ransoming of prisoners or their establishment in healthful places appropriate for the raising of cattle saved thousands of natives from extermination. On punitive expeditions the missionaries attempted to lessen the penalties inflicted and to prevent unjust imprisonment. Since colonists fought with a shortage of manpower, the missionaries did not always prevent excesses. They even participated at times in these and took unscrupulous advantage of the captives, disobeying the laws of the Church and the king in the regulation or distribution of prisoners. Nevertheless, the total result was the Christianization and civilization of many Stone-Age savages in the 16th century.

The political-administrative reforms imposed by Pombal on the American missions, because of the drastic and sudden way in which they were executed, were disastrous both from a religious and from a socio-economic point of view. Culturally, the expulsion of the religious orders from the settlements marked a return to "obscurantism." The monastic decadence in the Portugal Pombaline period (175077) and in the liberal period up to 1820, followed by the subsequent extinction of the Portuguese religious orders in 1834, and the increase in Gallican and Jansenist influences, made missionary conditions in Brazil deplorable in the last days of the colonial period.

1822 to 1964. With the political agitation that preceded independence (Inconfidência Mineira of 1789) and followed it during the empire and with the influx of ideas of the French Revolution, of poorly assimilated Anglo-American liberalism, of regalism during the stay of the Portuguese court in Rio de Janeiro and of Masonry, the crisis begun by Pombal aggravated the situation of the missions in Brazil. During the empire Vidigal's instructions (1824) for the separation of Brazilian religious houses from their superiors in Europe, the extinction of Oratorian, Carmelite and Capuchin convents in Pernambuco in 1830, 1831, 1835 and 1840, in addition to the closing of the novitiates in 1855, pointed to a dismal future.

Fortunately, the popularity gained by the clergy and the religious orders in the civil struggles (183548) and in the wars with Argentina (1852) and Paraguay (186570), the zeal devoted to the missions, above all by the Italian Capuchins from 1843 and by the Sisters of Charity from 1849 and the agreement of the Holy See with Brazil on apostolic missions among the natives in 1862, backed by the liberties that the Republican Constitution of 1890 eventually guaranteed, all led to a new missionary expansion that is still going on throughout all of Brazil.

See Also: brazil.

Bibliography: d. alden. The Making of an Enterprise. The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire and Beyond, 15401750 (Stanford 1996). p. camargo, História eclesiástica do Brasil (Petrópolis, 1965). t. m. cohen, The Fire of Tongues: Antonio Vieira and the Missionary Church in Brazil and Portugal (Stanford 1998). j. a. gagliano and c. e. ronan (eds.) Jesuit Encounters in the New World (Rome 1997). j. hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 15001760 (Cambridge, Mass. 1978). e. hoornaert, La Igreja na Amazônia (Petrópolis 1992); História da Igreja no Brasil (Petrópolis 1992). j. v. jacobsen, "Jesuit Founders in Portugual and Brazil," Mid-America, 24 (Jan. 1942) 326. s. leite, História da Companhia de Jesús no Brasil, 10 v (Lisbon 19381950). a. prat, Notas históricas sobre as missões carmelitas no extremo norte do Brasil (Recife 1941). b. rÖwer, A ordem franciscana no Brasil (Petrópolis 1942). m. m. wermers, A ordem carmelita e o Carmo en Portugal (Lisbon 1963).

[d. mauricio/

j. l. klaiber]

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