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Black Saint of the Americas
The Life and Afterlife of Martín de Porres


Part of Cambridge Latin American Studies

  • Date Published: April 2017
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108404174

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About the Authors
  • In May 1962, as the struggle for civil rights heated up in the United States and leaders of the Catholic Church prepared to meet for Vatican Council II, Pope John XXIII named the first black saint of the Americas, the Peruvian Martín de Porres (1579–1639), and designated him the patron of racial justice. The son of a Spanish father and a former slavewoman from Panamá, Martín served a lifetime as the barber and nurse at the great Dominican monastery in Lima. This book draws on visual representations of Martín and the testimony of his contemporaries to produce the first biography of this pious and industrious black man from the cosmopolitan capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. The book vividly chronicles the evolving interpretations of his legend and his miracles, and traces the centuries-long campaign to formally proclaim Martín de Porres a hero of universal Catholicism.

    • The first full-length work dedicated to Martín de Porres from a scholarly viewpoint
    • An analysis of witness testimonies and images that portrayed the virtues and miracles of Martín
    • A readable discussion of how the cult of the first black saint of the Americas evolved along with the needs and attitudes of Catholics in Peru and elsewhere
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In a time of change and promise for the Catholic Church under its first Latin American Pope, Celia Cussen offers readers a fascinating account of the first black saint of the Americas, Peru's Fray Martín de Porres. From his emergence as the son of a Spanish American father and formerly enslaved woman, to the movement to canonize him long after his death, Black Saint of the Americas has much to teach us about the history of Catholicism in the New World. And, like the saint she reveals in this impeccably researched and highly readable life and afterlife of de Porres, Cussen's book is 'good to think with'.' Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

    '… a deft new portrait of Lima's kiln of spiritual longing and fluorescence in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Celia Cussen's angle - a Mulato barber-surgeon whose vectors of interaction lead within and without the cloisters of powerful Santo Domingo - interrupts as it enhances our understanding of an age still most often defined through its contemporaneous saintly, variously white contemporaries. Thanks to sustained engagement with the hard limits and overspilling promise of hagiography, visual imagery, and layers upon layers of sacred history, purported margins are shown to have been central. Cussen's Martín de Porres raises questions that are sure to excite further research into multiethnic sanctities in the early modern Spanish world and well beyond.' Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto

    'In her study of Martín de Porres, Celia Cussen sets out to provide an invaluable perspective that allows for the study of religious figures from a historical standpoint. Cussen reconstructs society, culture, and politics out of mystical experiences and happenings, recounting not just the story of Fray Martín de Porres but also the contexts in which the process of his canonization and beatification took place … Professor Cussen's book clearly opens several perspectives for the study of the men and women who dedicated their life to religion. Perhaps the most valuable thing about this book is that it never loses sight of the two things that have made these religious figures invaluable through time: that they were flesh-and-blood human beings, and that they were trying at the same time to live in a way that would transcend time itself.' Mark J. Crowley, Hispanic American Historical Review

    'Cussen offers valuable insight into the role of saints and holy models in colonial Peru: varying depictions of Martín reveal changing cultural and social values while affirming the healer's ongoing relevance in his followers' daily lives. Cussen's research will be of additional significance to readers interested in racial diversity and African presence in seventeenth-century Lima; colonial Catholicism and popular piety, including relationships between saints and devotees; and the politics of canonization. Furthermore, Cussen affirms the ability of past holy figures to speak to current concerns as she details the portrayals of Martín leading to his canonization in 1962.' Teresa Hancock-Palmer, The Catholic Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108404174
    • length: 311 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • contains: 16 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Life:
    1. Race and family
    2. The convent and the colonial world
    3. Healing and faith
    4. Death and the heavenly transit
    Part II. The Afterlife:
    5. Creating a Vida from a life
    6. The miracles
    7. Images in black and white
    8. Sainthood

  • Author

    Celia Cussen, Universidad de Chile
    Celia Cussen is an Associate Professor of History at Universidad de Chile, where she has worked since 2004, and focuses on colonial Latin American history. She holds a BA from Stanford University, California and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Cussen is the editor of Huellas de Africa en América, Perspectivas para Chile (2009) and the author of articles in the Hispanic American Historical Review and the Colonial Latin American Historical Review. Her work has appeared in volumes edited in Peru, Chile, Italy and Argentina. She has been awarded fellowships and grants by the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, the John Carter Brown Library, and the Chilean government's Fondo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (Fondecyt).

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