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Revista Brasileira de História

On-line version ISSN 1806-9347

Rev. Bras. Hist. vol.32 no.63 São Paulo  2012 



In the arena of the sacred: political power and religious life in the Goiás mines



Fernando Lobo Lemes

Université Sorbonne – Paris III. IHEAL – CREDAL. 28, rue Saint-Guillaume. Paris – France – 75007.




A place where many kinds of power were concentrated, Vila Boa de Goiás was supported by a political body. The Municipal Council, crucial in the genesis of the city's political body, was organized and projected on the urban space, bringing other social bodies under its rule and government. In this process, neither the sacred space of the city nor the groups or members of the religious institutions, were immune to the actions of municipal officers. Their initiatives, however, provoked resistance that conditioned the conflicts between the secular and the ecclesiastical authorities in the mines of Goiás.

Keywords: political power; Goiás mines; religious festivities.


Lugar de concentração de poderes diversos, Vila Boa de Goiás se ampara de um corpo político. Pedra angular na gênese do corpo político da cidade, o Municipal Council se organiza e se projeta sobre o espaço urbano, submetendo os outros corpos sociais a seu comando e governo. Nesse processo, nem o espaço sagrado da cidade, nem os grupos ou membros das instituições religiosas, ficarão imunes às ações dos oficiais municipais. Suas iniciativas, contudo, vão suscitar resistências que darão forma aos embates entre o poder secular e as autoridades eclesiásticas nas minas de Goiás.

Palavras-chave: poder político; minas de Goiás; festas religiosas.




Since the beginning of gold mining in Goiás and the foundation of the first camps, two competing hierarchical structures emerged: one associated with the secular power of the monarch and the other with colonial ecclesiastic authority. In the Sant'Anna camp (arrayal), the first mining settlement founded in 1726, the superintendent-general and first discoverer, Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, had his authority supported by powers granted by the king of Portugal. A little later in 1733, the Brotherhood ofSão Miguel e Almas, the first to be created in the mines, based its influence on the authority of the bishopric of Rio de Janeiro.

Each had a legitimacy recognized by local society. Both demanded a privileged relationship with the sacred: in 1727 under the auspices of Bueno da Silva the first chapel was constructed in the arraial of Sant' Anna, while the Brotherhood of São Miguel e Almas was concerned with masses and spiritual activities associated with this chapel. The sacred was, thus, from the genesis of the relations of power in the Goiás mines, at the heart of the disputed field of politics.1 In this way the founding of the first vila colonial (colonial town) did not substantially alter the nature of the powers in play in the region.

Nevertheless, after the creation of Vila Boa in 1739, the institutional presence of the Municipal Council (Senado do Câmara) would produce specific contours throughout the political history of the colonial period in Goiás, influencing the relations of power until the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and even during the process of the formation of the Empire.

A place where various powers were concentrated, Vila Boa de Goiás was also supported by a political body. The cornerstone of the genesis of the political body in the city, the Municipal Council organized itself and projected its power over the urban space, submitting the other social bodies to its command and government. In this process not even the sacred space of the city, nor groups or members of religious institutions, were immune to the actions of municipal officials. However, their initiatives would meet resistance which would take shape in the clashes between the secular power and the ecclesiastic authorities.

In this context, while the forms of resistance to the full exercise of political power by the Municipal Council, on the one hand, and to the influence of Vila Boa as a privileged place for decision making, on the other, appear as struggles which hinder the imposition of its power and the effective realization of its sovereignty, they represent for us an element of inflection and, at the same time, a starting point to understand the fights waged in the Goiás political sphere.

From our point of view, the resistance and the conflict allow the nature of the relations of power to be identified, exposing the most evident motives and strategies of the actors in the city. Using a metaphor proposed by Michel Foucault, this involves making forms of resistance a "chemical catalyzer which allows the relations of power to be put into evidence, to see where they are inscribed, to discover their points of application and the method they use."2 At the same time resistance or opposition to the government strategies produced in Vila Boa by members of the Municipal Council produced a privileged environment for the study of political relations in the city. As we will see in the city the political sphere had the intention of controlling time, imposing its calendar on the spaces it governed.

The creation of Vila Boa de Goiás and the legitimation of its power through the actions of municipal officials modified the nature of the political field in the mines, altering the existing balance of forces. In the middle of the inevitable arrangements and misunderstandings which defined the rhythm of urban life in the Goiás mines, Vila Boa imposed its preeminence in the local scenario, establishing the foundations on which the ties of a new collectivity were built. As the city took shape, it was society that was being incorporated into a new logic of power. In this movement disputes between representatives of the secular power of the monarch and local authorities linked to the colonial ecclesiastic power gave form to the relations of strength which would emerge in this new territory conquered by the monarchy.



One of the strategies which the members of the Municipal Council found to demarcate their territory in the religious field was their involvement in the construction of a new church built to replace the old Sant'Anna chapel. With the emergence of Vila Boa, a new and large church aimed to give the sacred universe of the city a dimension comparable with the future capital. In the words of the then intendent of the Royal Treasury, Sebastião Mendes de Carvalho, the magnitude of the new church was such, "that in no mine could such a grandiose church be found, even in the larger settlements of Beyramar there was no other more advantageous."3

Leaving the exaggeration aside, alleging the growth in the number of faithful, the Brotherhood de São Miguel and Almas submitted, as the body responsible for the building of a new church on 22 August 1739, a petition to the Municipal Council (the entity responsible for the control of public buildings) requesting authorization for the construction of a new church. After the solemnity of the submission of the document to the councilors, with this being registered in the annals of the Municipal Council, the members of the Brotherhood of São Miguel and Almas solemnly walked through the streets of the city in a procession of notables.4

However, it was the councilors of the city who took center stage with the aim of raising the funds necessary to construct a new matriz (parish) church. Three years later, on 21 March 1742, given the danger of the old chapel collapsing, the Municipal Council petitioned the King of Portugal for help in the building of a new church. The response from Lisbon was not slow: around a year later, a provision of the monarch, dated 2 April 1743, authorized the Royal Treasury to participate in a consortium in Vila Boa, which already had received donations from residents and contributions from the Municipal Council.5

However, the intendent and provedor of the Royal Treasury, Sebastião Mendes de Carvalho, wrote to the monarch on 22 April 1744, confirming his participation in the project of the construction of the parish church, also stating that due to the precarious state of the old chapel, when the royal provision reached his hands the work had already been started at the initiative of the residents of Vila Boa. He also explained that the use of the old chapel created much inconvenience as it could not hold the large number of believers who used it. In the busiest festivities, entire families did not go to church due to the precarious state of the building.

A year later on 26 April 1745, the Overseas Council, judging 'very imperfect' the map sent from the Goiás mines, ordered that a project for a new church drafted in Lisbon be sent to the Council of Vila Boa. It also noted that if there were still voluntary donations from residents or funds from the Royal Treasury to be invested in the construction, they were to deposited in a safe with three keys, and disbursements could only be made with the authorization of the Municipal Council and the approval of the ouvidor, keeping informed the governor of the Captaincy of São Paulo.6

In 1746 Council officials once again petitioned the monarch for funds to complete the building of the parish church of Nossa Senhora de Sant'Anna de Vila Boa de Goiás. Since the construction differed considerably from the plan conceived in Lisbon, it was argued that when the architectural project reached Goiás, the construction work was almost completed, all that was lacking being the entablement of the frontispiece and the towers, which it was intended to complete in accordance with the royal project.

This liberty to construct was associated with the absence of religious orders, prohibited by the crown from establishing themselves in the mining regions, thereby transferring the responsibility for the construction and maintenance of building to believers. Thus, it was the leaders of brotherhoods and fraternities who defined the general lines to be followed in buildings, profoundly influencing regional architectural forms.7 Nevertheless, the building required constant repairs until its collapse in 1759, and was abandoned until 1777, when renovations were concluded by master Manoel José do Nascimento. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there were constant interventions by the Municipal Council in order to guarantee financial support for the repeated refurbishments and reconstructions of the parish church.8



However, the initiatives of the Council officials did not remain confined to the material sphere in the organization of the sacred spaces of Goiás. It also influenced the immaterial spheres of its constitution. In 1742 members of the Municipal Council created in Vila Boa the Fraternity of Devotion of Republicans, whose protector saint was St. Sebastian, creating more profound roots in the consecrated devotional circles of the spiritual world. 9 Years before in 1733, King João V had ordered the governor of Captaincy of Rio de Janeiro to create a solemn procession in homage of the same saint, also obliging the participation of regular and secular clergy (Santos, 2005, p.48). In Goiás, responsible for his cult, municipal officials organized festivals and procession and took care of the altar and ornaments installed in the Senate building:

It is required, as it is of service to God and to the benefit of this Villa, that a Fraternity of Republicans be established, with the protector the undefeated martyr St. Sebastian, who was from this Bishopric, whose image is given by one devote; and it is also intended that the government of this Villa shall ornament its Altar; and the responsibility for the care and zeal for its cult shall be the Council's; and annually holding its Corpo de Mesa, it shall also be invoked in one of the Royal Festivities ordered by law...10

In the holy Sundays of the city, the Municipal Council also sought to exercise its attributions in the sphere of official and religious festivals. In addition to the functions they were responsible for in governing the city, and despite the frequent complaints about the financial difficulties which undermined the Municipal Council, the regulation, organization and sponsorship of festivals was also part of the agenda of municipal officials. In this aspect, reinforcing social ties and making public its place in the hierarchies of powers of Vila Boa, they assumed their role very early, in obedience both with canon law and the royal legislation which regulated public festivities in overseas dominions.

The devotion to St. Sebastian, patron of the Bishopric of the city of Rio de Janeiro began in Goiás when a devotee made a donation of an image of a saint to adorn the offices of the Municipal Council. The example of other festivities associated with royal power, the emergence of the Fraternity of Republicans, and shortly afterwards the procession of St. Sebastian, are practically simultaneous, occurring a short while after the foundation of Vila Boa, as happened in the genesis of other colonial cities.11 A essential moment in the calendar of royal festivities, the Procession of Republicans, in homage of St. Sebastian, was held in Vila Boa under the auspices of the Municipal Council, every 20 January. As can be noticed, the fact that inaugurates and allows the holding of the festival and procession of St. Sebastian is its creation and the status of being an important urban center acquired by Vila Boa, since this implies an initial gesture by the Municipal Council as a political vertex of the colonial city.

Usually during the second half of the eighteenth century, the minutes of council meetings included reports about preparations for the Procession of Republicans. Preparation for these festivities began at the beginning of the year, and there was a need to concede official authorization to the Council Attorney (procurador da Câmara) to allow the necessary expenditure for the acquisition and preparation of the material used, such as wax, music and other things, all paid by the Municipal Council, as shown in the petition transcribed below:

Herein, the said Procurador petitions, since the Festival of the Glorious Martyr St. Sebastian is [close], that he wants to have the ability to prepare what is needed and necessary for this. It was determined to prepare all the wax necessary in the manner practiced in other years both for the exposition of the Holy Sacrament and, for the Republicans and the body of this Council, whose expenses shall be taken into account, and paid from the earnings of this Council.12

The councilors were responsible for monitoring the entire organizational process, indicating the position and the places of the authorities who would participate in the procession, "nominating the Republicans ... for the festivities of the glorious martyr St. Sebastian": for the standard, for the pallium, torches, lanterns and litter. Furthermore, they showed that they had an ascendency over the local clergy, more specifically over the vicar and the brotherhoods of Vila Boa, as shown in the minutes for the same meeting, when "official letters [were sent] to the Reverend Vicar of the Matriz to assist with what was necessary for the festivities of St. Sebastian, as well as to the Irmandade do Santissimo Sacramento" (Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament).13

The Procession of Republicans, like the feast of Corpus Christi which we shall examine below, consisted of a parade in which the different social bodies of Vila Boa de Goiás participated, hierarchically ordered and forming a single body, the Body of God. We can infer, due to the recurrence and the various functions attributed to it, that the Municipal Council played a specific role in the social framework during the procession ritual. The description of the cortege which moved through the city streets reveals the position and order of the social bodies. It also indicates, as in a play staged for a large audience, the hierarchy which straddled the places of the secular and ecclesiastic power in Vila Boa de Goiás:

First, a dance between Turks and Christians followed by other dances, all wearing rich clothes. Shortly afterwards two mounted figures representing the Council and the Church, preceded gentlemen dressed as Fame with their headers girthed in hats of flowers and diamonds. These were followed, along the sides, by two pageboys dressed as Mercury. Behind these came eight black men on foot and dressed in great style playing charamelas [an old wind instrument]. At the distance of two paces, dressed in clothes of gold and with turbans, came a mounted figure with the royal arms on his breast and the words: Viva the Council. This figure was followed, along the side, by two others on horseback dressed in the same way with two pageboys on each side dressed as tragedy. Afterwards came the figures representing the seven planets. Next the Brotherhood of São Miguel e Almas formed part of the procession, whose provedor was the then Ordinary Judge and a numerous retinue of the nobility of the Vila and its districts which had served the Republic, the Holy Sacrament, that of N. Sra. Da Lapa, Santo Antonio, and N. Sra. Da Boa Morte. Underneath a cross came the numerous clergy of the parish and its freguesias with the Divine Sacrament below the precious Palluim in the hand of the Reverend Vicar of the Parish Church (Matriz). Behind came the Captain General [and governor] of Guayazes Alvaro Joseph Botelho, Conde de São Miguel, followed by a company of Dragons and Pedestrians carrying the litter with the image of the saint. The procession came to an end at the Parish Church of Santa Ana where high mass was celebrated with a sermon.14

We can note that through the intermediation of a sacred ritual, all of society can be seen and represented as a unity, as order and permanence. In the same manner, while the political field emerges, as we have seen before, from the sacred giving form and contours to society, in the Procession of Republicans it is the representation of the ritual in honor of St. Sebastian which offered the avid eyes of the public the spectacular image of political power in the city: "dressed in clothes of gold and with turbans, came a mounted figure with the royal arms on his breast and the words: Viva the Council."

Integrating the social universe and the hierarchy of institutions as members of a single body, the Municipal Council united with the local community, establishing at the same time the bases and the foundations of its power. Having said this, we can observe the "symbolic convergence of the cortege through the Mystical Body, in other words the participation of the will of all the orders – from the feet to the head – of the kingdom in a unified whole. This meant that the top of the hierarchy, or the head of the mystical body, was constituted in the best figure of its unity, namely the Municipal Council" (Moraes, 2005, p.431).

Based on this reflection, the image of the Municipal Council on the top of this hierarchy, as the 'head of the mystical body', relates to the legitimacy of its power erected in the meanderings of the public spaces of Vila Boa de Goiás. In the same way that in Rio de Janeiro in the first half of the eighteenth century a new sociability took form which submitted the inhabitants of the city to the logic of control and monitoring, altering the relations of power within the urban space. In the case of Vila Boa, this sociability, as noted by Maria Fernanda Bicalho in the case of Rio de Janeiro, is in the origin of the "changes which point to the complexity of uses of spaces in the city, its symbolic wealth, and the effectiveness of its political instrumentalization."15

However, the constitution of this unity of the mystical body followed the ordinary course of time and things, compounding a vision of the world compatible with the natural universe experienced by the inhabitants of Vila Boa. Despite the social distinctions and the unequal political powers, the belief that instituted and nurtured the existence of the sacred appeared equal to men facing the insecurities and storms brought by the unknown. Thus, in 1794, the councilors proposed festivities with great pomp and solemnity: plagued by the fear of illnesses and epidemics which were spreading, through the Procession of Republicans they sought the recognition of the 'Almighty' and the reduction in the punishments which had fallen upon the people.

In the first meeting of the year held by municipal officials, the ordinary judges were absent, laid low by an illness that was spreading through the city. After authorizing the expenses for the festivities in honor of St. Sebastian, Council officials stated that it was an exceptional year. For this reason, due to the excessive presence of illnesses, "since the year is critical and the diseases continuous," this year "the festivities would have to be held with greater solemnity, so that through the intercession of this saint we will deserve the pardon of the Almighty, and the epidemics that have raged shall be stopped." Also proposed was a feast day "with a High Mass, exposition and a sermon."16

In the distant Vila Boa in that year of 1794, the ritual of the Procession of Republicans assumed a special tonality with the high mass, the body of Christ shown to the public and a sermon paid with the weight of gold: calling for the intervention of St. Sebastian, the protector saint of the Bishopric, the Municipal Council resolved to pay the reverend and professor Luis Antonio da Silva e Souza "alms of twenty oitavas of gold." Council officials thus made their actions in the world of the sacred a political instrument which sacramented its position in the social hierarchy of Vila Boa.



In the Portuguese overseas world, in addition to the festivities of St. Sebastian, there were various moments in which festivities and procession offered the fraternities and brotherhoods occasions for a public demonstration of their religious manifestations: the Advent of the Lord, the feast and the revelry of the Holy Kings (Santos Reis), Lent, Holy Week and Easter, the Procession of the Steps of the Passion, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, the Holy Thursday Procession, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost and the festivities on days of obligation. These were liturgical celebrations which each fraternity and brotherhood dedicated to their own patron, whose dates were distributed throughout the year, filling the civil calendar of colonial society.

In Goiás, a world invaded by religious activities and representations, the frequency of royal processions tended to impose the dominion of Vila Boa over all the territory occupied, where daily life was marked by frenetic activities associated with the mining economy. In the heart of the mines, in the principal urban center of the region, it was the colonial authorities and the authorities from the Municipal Council who defined working days and holidays, movement and rest, setting the rhythm for the social life of the inhabitants. For the most important feasts days religious practices were regulated in accordance with the Archbishopric of Bahia, imposing the compulsory nature of processions and the obligation for residents to participate.

The attributions of the Municipal Council and the power which emanated from Vila Boa did not occur by chance. When it was founded Vila Boa de Goiás was geographically superimposed on Arraial de Sant'Anna, the place chosen for the creation of the first town. Under the auspices of Lisbon its influence imposes the marks a new time, new powers and a new society. With the strong and intense gesture represented by its creation, the colonial time intended to substitute the time of the arraiais, where the field of the sacred was associated with the practices dictated by the first discovers and religious associations. The colonial project, with the foundation of Vila Boa, had the intention of imposing another rhythm on economic relations, new forms of judicial and administrative control and other forms of power in the Goiás mines. In relation to this, the creation of Vila Boa at the order of the king of Portugal represented the inscription of a new time on the memory and the still vivid traits of the arraiais (Vidal, 2007, p.589).

In this context in 1742, in addition to the festivities organized in homage to Sant'Anna, patron of the vila, four other festivities were programmed in Vila Boa: Corpus Christi, Guardian Angel, St. Isabel and St. Sebastian.17 Of these, the procession of Corpus Christi, or the Body of God, since it constituted an important festival for the monarchy, in addition to offering a crystallized image of the positions of each social body, reveals the oppositions and struggles which aimed to guarantee or preserve the preeminence of each layer in the social and political hierarchy of the Goiás mines.

A religious festival which was made universal by the Church during the Middle Ages, it was appropriated by the Portuguese monarchy in the early modern period, creating a context in which the spheres of religion and politics were ordinarily superimposed. Ordered both by the Church and the monarchy, its contours indicated a ceremony in the confluence of a dual ordination, which during the processions held in Goiás potentialized disputes for space and power between representatives of Church and Crown.

Organized by the Municipal Council, it was to be expected that the festival of Corpus Christi would be a large, solemn and celebrated procession. It is interesting to note, as Cruz Santos did, that this dual ordination or simultaneity, seen by today's observer as mixing the domains of religion and politics, "was precisely one of the elements that nurtured the festival, celebrating CorpusChristi in the Kingdom and its dominions" (Santos, 2005, p.33-34). In Goiás the dual command of the Church and the monarch nourished the festival and at the same time it stimulated the frequent intrigues between local religious and political authorities.

In Portugal the history of the feast of Corpus Christi was always associated with municipal councils, with there being reports that it was created in 1387 by the Municipal Council of Lisbon in commemoration of the battle of Aljubarrota against the Spanish. In Portuguese America, as in the kingdom, the propagation and emergence of this festival were linked to initiatives of Council officials, and thus were closely tied to the colonial cities. In the Goiás mines, when the date of the festival was drawing near, it was the Municipal Council of Vila Boa which announced its arrival in a public notification, which punished any infractions committed by participants in the parade or among the watching public who were legally obliged to attend the procession, which took charge of the organizational costs, paid the clergy for the sermons, kept order within the cortege, as well as along its path, meticulously planned and prepared, through the streets of the town.

The minutes of the Goiás Municipal Council also register the preparations for the festival. In the sessions of 11 and 15 May 1793, expenses were authorized for the purchase of wax and judges of the manual trades were appointed – representatives associated with the various craft activities inspected by municipal officials – to participate in the procession. On 22 May, the authorities or 'republican persons,' were nominated, as well as their strategic disposition in the hierarchy of the cortege, a public notification was issued summoning the population to prepare the city streets and letters were dispatched to the Vicar of the Matriz Church and to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament:

Herein the Republican persons are nominated for the Insignias of the Procession of the Body of God; and the following have been chosen: For the Standard, the Chief Surgeon Joaquim da Silva Freitas. For the Pallium, Sergeant Major Alvaro Joze Xavier da Sª, Ensign Joze Ribeiro da Costa, Ensigns Bernardo Joze de Souza, João Loureiro Gomes, Furriel Simão de Souza Lima, Joaquim Pereira Pays Peçanha (and) Manoel Joze Leite; For the lanterns, Ensign Thomé Ferreira Pacheco, Doctor Gregório da Costa Mattos, Joze Ferreira Coelho, Theodozio Manoel da Sylva. The various requirements shall be carried out, and a Public Notification shall be published calling on the residents of this Villa to prepare the streets and to affix this (the notification) on their doors and windows ... In this it is determined that I the clerk shall write official letters to the Vicar of the Matriz and to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament; and also to the said Republicans.18

Plural Elites: Religious Brotherhoods and the Municipal Council

It is worth noting that the movements, and the political and institutional advances, of the Municipal Council into the urban space of the Goiás mines never occurred without resistance. Since the creation of Vila Boa, Council officials took advantage of special occasions to exercise their authority, imposing and legitimating, step by step, their power in all spheres of daily life in mining society. As a local political institution, it invested in and sought an increasingly expanded autonomy, presenting itself in relation to the multiplicity of existing powers as the direct representative of the king and the Portuguese monarchy. Therefore, behind the scenes of the drama enacted in the Corpus Christi festivities on the streets of Vila Boa, the scenario that is unveiled before the eyes of the observer, and the actions and methods used by Council officials confirm this tendency.

At each stage of the festival, municipal officials had the clear intention of submitting to their control – to the will imposed by the official discourse which only they, allegedly, incarnated – the leaders of the other social bodies, and the other elites who were part of the social universe of the Goiás mines. Vila Boa emerged as a space for the unfolding of connections which sustained and legitimated the authority and capacity for action of political elites in the Goiás mines.

From the start, among various aspects of mining social life, the actions of the Municipal Council functioned as an important source of power and assumed pedagogical forms: religious life, led by brotherhoods and fraternities, and public ceremonies, both dynastic and official, were the targets of actions by Council officials. In this context the set of social practices, usually treated in the historiography in terms of instruments of control and domination of royal power, can also be interpreted as a means of socialization, learning, and the formation of habits, values and knowledge. Religious ceremonies and public festivities, in addition to promoting integration between different social bodies, functioned as productive mechanisms of individual and collective autonomy.19 More than this, the pedagogical nature of the action of municipal officials induced the appropriation of political and judicial knowledge, which would be spread by the Municipal Council, reaching ever more extensive sectors of the population.

However, in a regime based on a multiplicity of powers, the elites in turn are plural and maintain conflicting and competitive relations among themselves. This is what happened in Goiás. As a result, in order to understand how the various elites related with each other and the impact of their connections based on strategies implemented by municipal officials, the exchanges and mediations which occurred in the social context in which they found themselves have to be measured.

In this aspect the debate about a possible definition for the term 'elite', in a wider fashion in the social sciences and in more restricted form among historians, goes far beyond the field of political discussion and the limits of this article. Nevertheless, an appropriate meaning for the term can better translate the coexistence of plural elites – notably religious and political – in the same environment. The coexistence between them gives rise to a set of powers based on a hierarchy which defines the place of each in the broader structure of society. In this way the definition borrowed from William Genieys seems to us interesting for the purposes of this study:

The uses progressively give the word elite its own meaning, designating a minority who at a given moment in a determined society, have a prestige resulting from socially valorized natural qualities (for example, race, blood, etc.) or acquired qualities (culture, merit, capacity, etc.). The vocabulary thus designates both the environment (social, territorial, etc.,) from where the elite originated, and the actors who compose it, or also the area in which they manifest their preeminence. In this case, the determining factor is always followed by a qualification which allows the field of the group of actors to be restricted as constituting an elite.20

Moreover, unlike an approach with an essentialist form, the status of elite, for the purposes applied in this text, should not be confused with an innate concept of elite, given exclusively via natural means, but as the result of a process which has a direct relationship with the possibilities of access to a specific field of activity.

Much more than a monistic and homogeneous view of the elite, if we consider the influence of the groups of high-ranking people, or more properly the landed nobility, in the decision making processes that defined the destiny of the city, we can say that power was distributed among various or some groups who composed the local elites. Most especially the perception of the social ties that connected the political and religious elites within the Goiásmines allows us see how the relations of these institutions with Lisbon led to the formation of individuals who occupied key posts and strategic positions in the fundamental organizations for society.

Based on relations which integrated them, developing close ties of dependency and occupying particular institutional positions, these groups of actors, who were capable of influencing the decisions that affected mining society, constitute the elites of the social bodies in the city.

Above all, it is their initiatives and their capacity for action that defines their condition within Goiás mining society. Here we are concerned with the Municipal Council, and the religious fraternities and brotherhoods as spaces of decision making and the production of power, capable of creating diverse elites, whose participants have, at a determined moment, prestige resulting from the natural qualities that are socially valorized or qualities acquired through culture, merit, or personal aptitudes. However, the vocabulary which designates the environment in which the elite originates, as well as the actors who compose it (the brotherhoods and fraternities, or the Municipal Council) has a direct relationship with the terrain in which they manifest their preeminence: the religious (brotherhoods and fraternities) and the political (Municipal Council).

As a consequence of this, when one talks of an elite in (political) power it is necessary to state and acknowledge that this is an elite integrated by high-ranking people or members of the Municipal Council (political elite), due to the nature and the existing hierarchies within the political field of the Goiás mines. While other social bodies did not constitute elites which directly commanded power and political institutions in Vila Boa, they certainly composed what we can understand as elites strategies,21 due to the strategic role they played in maintaining a certain balance of powers, capable of acting based on circumstances that were, we can say, unfavorable in the strongly hierarchal political and social context of the Goiás mines.

Nevertheless, if we start with the idea that the power of the Municipal Council was not unlimited, we can understand that decision making possibilities were distributed among various groups of elites, with the same condition of balancing the system (Vidal, 2007, p.592). In these conditions it is necessary to negotiate. In addition to the administrators nominated by the Crown, in permanent conflict with local political groups, Council officials had to establish dialogues and negotiations with other social bodies, such as the brotherhoods and fraternities. However, the existence of these social bodies expanded the platform and the scope of action of elites, also certainly multiplying the conflicts, but at the same time organizing the powers and the political relations of mining society.

Taking as a backdrop the form in which the Municipal Council made the other elites submit, it is important to us to essentially verify how these elites inter-related in the political micro-system and how their powers were capitalized by officials from the Council of Vila Boa. Drawing on the understanding of elites proposed by Antônio Manuel Hespanha, this involves perceiving how the powers of some corrode the powers of others.22

The divided Body of God: Council Officials and the "brothers of the Lord"

In 1742, aware of the importance and significance of the festivities in the heart of the Portuguese monarchy and its overseas possessions, Council officials ordered the arrest of four members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament and threatened to no longer hold the procession of the Corpus Christi (Body of God) in the Goiás mines. The initial cause of this conflict was the how members of the brotherhood treated the sacred space of the church. They alleged that people nominated by the Council to transport the pallium did not have the right to collect it from the internal enclosure of the church, a ritual destined only for the 'Brothers of the Lord,' in other words members of the brotherhood.

The second motive for the discord makes the tense nature of the relationship between Council officials and members of the brotherhood more clear: according to the councilors, 'the brotherhoods of this Villa' had refused to 'accompany the Royal Processions' and to hand over the 'holy ornaments' needed to hold the festival. On their part the members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament alleged that it was not their obligation to incur expenditure with the wax used in the procession, since it was always them who paid 'costs of arrobas of gold' for the rebuilding of the church and paid for the costs of the canonicals 'necessary to celebrate the divine office.' After hours of negotiations aimed at convincing them to rent the canonicals used in the cortege, even involving the intervention of the governor the Captaincy, the councilors stated that they

had done this [the renting] much against their will, and the solemnity of the festival was as was usual; however, with so much murmuring of the people and of the same Brotherhood against this Council that we have determined not to hold any Royal festivities while Your Majesty does not take measures against these disorders...23

However, the first and second causes of the conflict only hid the real motive of the dissatisfaction of the members of the brotherhood who, by trying to impede access to the main altar of the church and the use of the canonicals indispensible for the procession, were retaliating against another of the Municipal Council's decisions: the exclusion of the provedor of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament from the place immediately after the Pallium. In fact, Council officials had threatened to arrest the provedor if he tried to occupy that place during the Corpus Christi procession.

In response to the notification sent by Council officials, the members of the brotherhood, in a letter dated 20 May 1742, stated that they would not give up the provedor's position in the hierarchy of the procession, the place they had occupied in 'previous years,' except at the order of the King of Portugal. Otherwise they would not permit the use of the ornaments, nor even the pallium, since they were the sole property of the brotherhood. In addition, they alleged that the canonicals were acquired with resources from the religious association and not by the Royal Treasury, as was usual in Corpus Christi processions in other parts of the empire.

The following day, in reprisal to the brotherhood's resistance, the councilors summoned to the Council building the provedor, the clerk, the treasurer, and the procurador (lawyer) of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament. After being interrogated, they were arrested and placed in the 'trunk,' "a place for the delinquents with the greatest crimes." Reporting the incident to the monarch on 8 June 1742, the members of the brotherhood alleged that they were victims of "scandalous reproaches," demanded justice, asking the King of Portugal to "order the Council" to abstain from its pretensions, "so alien to reason."24

The Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament was demanding precedence and therefore preeminence in the places of the procession, against the impositions of the Municipal Council. In this aspect the feast of Corpus Christi entails an ideal field of disputes between the members of the brotherhood and the Municipal Council. For this reason, alleging that the 'custom' of the brotherhood did not harm the 'common good,' they stated that their right came from a 'possession' acquired upon the creation of the freguesia of Sant'Anna and conserved even after the establishment of Vila Boa and the Municipal Council.

They argued before the King of Portugal that this right could not be taken from them without an explicit order from the monarch. They also noted that in relation to similar misunderstanding custom should prevail, with the attitudes of the Municipal Council being contrary to the expressed law.25

The following year, ignoring the brotherhood's petition, the Crown answered a letter from Council officials in which the latter reported the reasons for the imprisonment of the four officials from the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament. The decision of the monarch vehemently contradicted the expectations of the members of the Brotherhood. The content of the correspondence sent from Lisbon, in addition to approving the initiative of the Municipal Council, included a severe reprimand for the members of the Brotherhood: the ouvidor was ordered to summon the four fraternity officials to the Council and in the presences of the senate officials give them

a severe reprimand for not giving the fraternity's ornaments to serve in the cult and veneration of such an important mystery as the solemn procession which takes place every year, for which the secular jurisdiction contributes with everything necessary for the greater gift, given that the Ecclesiastic estate and even more so the fraternity created for the service of this Holy Sacrament had a particular and close obligation to do this; for which they were unworthy of serving in this Fraternity.26

The harsh words from Lisbon were also aimed at guaranteeing the holding of future festivities, with the ouvidor-geral being given responsibility of ensuring that the members of the brotherhood continued to contribute to the celebrate and the veneration of the 'divine cult':

[that the ouvidores] ensure that the procession in the future had greater solemnity, with the Fraternity contributing, not only with the richest ornaments it has, but with everything that is conducive to the celebration of the act; and the veneration of the divine cult; and records of everything are ordered to be kept in the Council's records.27

The Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament's demand to return to the past, seeking to maintain the old hierarchy in the Corpus Christi procession did not produce the expected effect. In this point the Municipal Council of Vila Boa was in perfect harmony with Lisbon: maintaining the preeminence of the brotherhood, allowing the provedor occupy a leading position, letting the procession continue in accordance with the traditional manner signified, above all, consenting to the continuity of a previous order which could, at the limit, contest the new order implanted by the Municipal Council. As Laurent Vidal stated, it was not just due to simple arrogance that Council officials wanted to put an end to this custom. Above all, because it constituted a habit which referred to the past, to a time that had to be forgotten and overcome. It involved the better manifestation of the arrival of a new time represented by Vila Boa (Vidal, 2007, p.589).

As we have seen, although the ordered aspect of society in the scenario of the Corpus Christi procession imperiously had the Municipal Council as the head of the mystical body, representing the unity of the monarchy, the imposition of the power of the officials of Vila Boa Council over the sacred dominions of the mines of Goiás encountered much resistance.

The affluence of a dual ordination, as we have stated, common during the processions, aggravated the disputes between representatives of the Church and the authorities linked to the Crown. Years later, in the occasion of the 1748 Corpus Christi procession, the Municipal Council, facing a new impasse "between the members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament and the Republicans," solicited the king of Portugal to determine the order of places to be occupied by the brotherhoods. The discord which involved a dispute over who would occupy the place behind the pallium, once again ended with the arrest by the Municipal Council of some members of the brotherhood, "in punishment for their rebelliousness." Moreover, the municipal officials guaranteed to the monarch that they only did not arrest the provedor of the brotherhood "as he was an ecclesiastic person." This was the "Reverend Doctor, vicar of the Matriz Church, João Perestrello de Vasconcellos Espinolla".28

In 1750 the officials of Vila Boa Council simply decided not to hold the Corpus Christi procession. They informed the monarch that the coadjutor of the Matriz Church demanded that a high mass with a sermon be said before the cortege, asking for 'alms' of 50,000 réis. Alleging that the mass 'was not usual' and that they did not have authorization from the crown for that expense the procession was suspended. The Municipal Council accused the coadjutor of having an unjust attitude, asserting that he would only subject himself to the warnings of his supervisions or the actual king of Portugal.

In fact, they pointed to a dispute which involved, on the one hand, the representatives of the Church, and on the other the authority of the Crown. Furthermore, they made an accusation of 'disobedience' of ecclesiastics. According to the Council officials, this 'scandalous procedure,' which resulted in the suspension of the procession and which had as a cause the 'alms of a mass,' was associated with the fact that the ecclesiastics did not fulfill the royal commands, but only followed the orders of their prelate. Above all, they stimulated the feeling that they were not "vassals of Your Majesty, for which reason they usually do not execute nor obey Royal Commands."29

In the middle of conflicts over jurisdiction, the resistance to the position of Council officials indicates the limits of the latter's power in the sphere of the sacred spaces of the mines. Despite being the head of the mystical body of the monarchy, they very often had to negotiate with the fraternities and the brotherhoods, holders of the divine ornaments and a far from vulgar power, in the religious activities which ordered the calendar of the city.



From the beginning it is in the interweaving of social bodies that we can identify the forms of resistance to the actions of the Municipal Council. Resistance which revealed the points of application, the mechanisms and the ordinary strategies in the struggles for preeminence in the political field of the mines. These struggles, it is worth noting, instead of compromising the unity of the monarchy, produced a type of 'structuring connections,' to use an expression from J. M. Imizcoz,30 which molds the general framework of the colonial project in Goiás, where the differences reflected in a hierarchy of powers were not translated into a separation or social distance, to the contrary, they reinforced and tightened ties of dependency and mutual collaboration.

From there, as we have said, the city emerged as a space for the unfolding of the links and networks and power which sustained and legitimated the authority and capacity for action of the political elites in Goiás. In the critical moments of its constitution and legitimation, the conflicts and confrontations offer a privileged panorama to observe the interactions between politics and the city. In the city the political controlled the time, imposed its calendar and affirmed its power in the urban spaces it governed.

Due to the political nature of their actions, the municipal officials penetrated the arena of the sacred and had access to the religious life of the inhabitants of the city: while the interventions of the King of Portugal contributed to the construction of a new parish church, the creation of the fraternity of Republicans deepened their influence in the spheres of the spiritual world. Through official festivities they negotiated with the religious brotherhoods and lay fraternities. Against the persistence of the old customs, it was necessary to demonstrate the arrival of the new time, of the capital city. In Vila Boa, the vertex of an extensive urban mining network, the Municipal Council submitted other elites, other social bodies, to its hegemonic position. Thus, it added to its agenda saturated with tensions and conflicts the articulation of a dense social network woven in the daily conflicts that have a place in the Goiás mines.

As an inseparable instrument from the political project of the monarch, which ultimately gambled on harmonious coexistence between the colonial elites, the Municipal Council, with its distinctive signals, its visibility and its forms of hegemony, had the intention of constraining, integrating and submitting to its power the social bodies whose legitimacy was based on colonial ecclesiastic authority. In this multiple society par excellence it contributed to the building of the unity of the monarchy. In this aspect it is perhaps not exaggeration to describe the Municipal Council, as the historian Charles Ralph Boxer did, as one of the pillars which guaranteed the continuity – and why not the unity? – of Portuguese colonial society in overseas territories.31



1 VIDAL, Laurent. Sous le masque du colonial – Naissances et 'décadence' d'une Vila dans le Brésil moderne: Vila Boa de Goiás au XVIIIe siècle. Annales HSS, n.3, 2007. p.584.         [ Links ]

2 FOUCAULT, Michel. Deux essais sur le sujet et le pouvoir. In: DREYFUS, Hubert; RABINOW, Paul. Michel Foucault: un parcours philosophique. Paris: Gallimard, 1984. p.300.         [ Links ]

3 Carta do intendente e provedor da Fazenda Real de Goiás, Sebastião Mendes de Carvalho, ao rei João V, sobre a carta da Câmara de Vila Boa (22 abr. 1744). Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino, doravante AHU, Administração Central, Conselho Ultramarino, série 008, Caixa 3, Documento 235.         [ Links ]

4 Arquivo Frei Simão Dorvi, doravante AFSD, Documentos avulsos: ata da Câmara de 22 de agosto de 1739, fl. 104 v. Os motivos que suscitavam a realização de uma procissão na sociedade colonial eram diversos. Conferir, por exemplo, LEITE, Serafim.         [ Links ] História da Companhia de Jesus no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Nacional do Livro, 1950. v.3, Tomo III, p.299-342. Enquanto prática religiosa e manifestação da cultura barroca, na sociedade colonial e na América portuguesa era comum sua realização por ocasião da construção de novos templos. Cf. SANTOS, Beatriz Catão Cruz.         [ Links ] O corpo de Deus na América: a festa de Corpus Christi nas cidades da América Portuguesa – século XVIII. São Paulo: Annablume, 2005. Neste caso, é interessante observar que o Senado da Câmara aparece como ponto de partida da procissão, como instituição que teria o poder de deflagrar o passeio pela cidade, revelando a legitimidade nascente do poder dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa, criada muito recentemente, ainda no mês de julho de 1739.         [ Links ]

5 Provisão do rei João V, ao intendente e provedor da Real Fazenda de Goiás, Sebastião Mendes de Carvalho, sobre carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa (2 abr. 1743). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 3, D. 215.         [ Links ]

6 Carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa ao rei João V, solicitando esmola para o término das obras da igreja matriz de Nossa Senhora Santa Ana de Vila Boa de Goiás (30 mar. 1746). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 4, D. 301.         [ Links ]

7 COELHO, Gustavo N. O espaço urbano em Vila Boa. Goiânia: PUC, 2001. p.213-214.         [ Links ]

8 MORAES, Cristina de Cássia Pereira. Do corpo místico de Cristo: irmandades e confrarias na Capitania de Goiás (1736-1808). Tese (Doutorado em História) – Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Lisboa, 2005. p.169-171.         [ Links ]

9 Em Goiás existiram as Irmandades leigas sujeitas à jurisdição da Coroa e as Irmandades leigas sujeitas à jurisdição da Igreja, fundadas e instituídas mediante aprovação eclesiástica, após a criação da Capitania. As Irmandades de devoção, ao contrário, precederam a organização administrativa e eclesiástica da Capitania. Até meados do século XVIII, encontramos agremiações chamadas de Irmandades por possuírem capelas ou templos próprios e associações chamadas de confrarias (como é o caso daquela dos Republicanos) que possuíam altares laterais em certas igrejas, em honra de seu santo protetor. Durante o século XVIII, quando a prelazia de Goiás foi criada (1745) e, pouco depois, quando da criação da Capitania (1749), já havia as Irmandades de São Miguel e Almas (1733), a de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos (1734), a do Santíssimo Sacramento (1742), a de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (1749), a de São José (1749), a de Santa Efigênia (anterior a 1752) e a do Senhor dos Passos (anterior a 1751). Existiam, também, em Vila Boa as confrarias de Santo Antônio e a dos Republicanos. Cf. MORAES, 2005, p.147.         [ Links ]

10 AFSD: Livro 192 nº 042, Atas da Câmara 1736-1762, 062v-063f.         [ Links ]

11 Cruz Santos lembra a simultaneidade da festa de Corpus Christi com o nascimento das cidades coloniais de Salvador, em 1549, Princesa, na região das Minas Gerais, e Recife, em 1710. Cf. SANTOS, 2005, p.73. Em Goiás, após a instituição de Vila Boa, apesar da criação da confraria dos Republicanos, a procissão de são Sebastião não foi organizada imediatamente pelos vereadores. De acordo com Manuel Antunes da Fonseca, então ouvidor-geral das minas, dentre as festividades religiosas previstas para o ano de 1742, o Senado da Câmara promoveu apenas a festa de Corpus Christi. Por essa razão, pediam ao rei os mesmos privilégios e propinas conferidos à Câmara de Vila Rica, estando "persuadidos de vir a ser a Capital desta comarca e Minas", e poderem, assim, fazer cumprir todo o calendário das festas religiosas sob sua responsabilidade. Cf. Carta do ouvidor-geral das Minas de Goiás, Manuel Antunes da Fonseca, ao rei João V, sobre a carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa solicitando propina igual a concedida à Câmara de Vila Rica para poderem realizar todas as festividades religiosas previstas. AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 160.         [ Links ]

12 Instituto de Pesquisa e Estudos Históricos do Brasil Central, doravante IPEHBC, Documentos Avulsos, Atas do Senado da Câmara de Vila Boa de Goiás, 2 jan. 1793, folha 82v e 113v.         [ Links ]

13 IPEHBC, Documentos Avulsos, Atas do Senado da Câmara de Vila Boa de Goiás, 12 jan. 1793, folha 84.         [ Links ]

14 Descrição feita em MORAES, 2005, p.431. Cf. Arquivo Frei Simão Dorvi, doravante AFSD, Documentos avulsos: Atas da Câmara 1736-1762. Livro 192, nº 42, fls. 081v-082 e 082v.         [ Links ]

15 BICALHO, Maria Fernanda Batista. A cidade e o Império: o Rio de Janeiro no século XVIII. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2003. p.231-255.         [ Links ]

16 IPEHBC, Documentos Avulsos, Atas do Senado da Câmara de Vila Boa de Goiás, 1794, folha 113v.         [ Links ]

17 Carta do ouvidor-geral das Minas de Goiás, Manuel Antunes da Fonseca, ao rei João V, sobre a carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa solicitando propina igual a concedida à Câmara de Vila Rica para poderem realizar todas as festividades religiosas previstas (15 mar. 1742). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 160.         [ Links ]

18 IPEHBC, Documentos Avulsos, Atas do Senado da Câmara de Vila Boa de Goiás, 1793, folhas 92v-96.         [ Links ]

19 Cf. LEMPÉRIÈRE, Annick. El paradigma colonial en la historiografía latinoamericanista. Istor, México, ano V, n.19, 2004. p.121.         [ Links ]

20 GRENIEYS, William. Nouveaux regards sur les élites du politique. Revue française de science politique, v.56, n.1, 2006. p.121.         [ Links ]

21 O termo strategic elites põe em relevo o papel estratégico de certas elites com habilidades para agir mesmo ante a existência de um poder controlado por outras 'elites no poder', que atuam mais diretamente no âmbito das instituições políticas. Cf. KELLER, Suzanne. Beyond the ruling class: strategic elites in modern society. New York: Random House, 1963. Pensamos ser esclarecedor o uso dessa noção para o estudo das relações estabelecidas entre as elites que compunham o universo dos corpos sociais nas minas de Goiás.         [ Links ]

22 HESPANHA, Antônio M. Governo, elites e competência social: sugestões para um entendimento renovado da história das elites. In: BICALHO, Maria Fernanda Batista; FERLINI, Vera Lúcia Amaral (Org.) Modos de governar: ideias e práticas políticas no império português – séculos XVI-XIX. São Paulo: Alameda, 2005. p.44.         [ Links ]

23 Carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa, ao rei João V, sobre a ordem para a prisão de quatro oficiais da Irmandade do Santíssimo Sacramento de Vila Boa (26 maio 1742). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 192.         [ Links ]

24 AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 192.         [ Links ]

25 Carta do escrivão da Câmara de Vila Boa, ao rei João V, sobre a Câmara pretender excluir o provedor da Fazenda Real das Minas de Goiás, Sebastião Mendes de Carvalho, do seu lugar imediato atrás do pálio, nas procissões que nessa vila se fazem (8 jun. 1742). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 195.         [ Links ]

26 AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 195.         [ Links ]

27 AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 2, D. 195.         [ Links ]

28 Carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa, ao rei João V, solicitando que se determine qual a ordem dos lugares a serem ocupados pelas Irmandades e dignitários nas procissões em Vila Boa (6 jul. 1748). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 5, D. 370. O relacionamento com o vigário da vara e da matriz de Vila Boa, João Perestrello de Vasconcelos, foi muito problemático durante todo o período de sua permanência nas minas de Goiás. Acusado pela Inquisição de Lisboa de pecado contra a castidade, o padre João Perestrello obteve 'justiça e misericórdia' do Tribunal da Inquisição. Por decisão do Senado da Câmara e do 'povo' de Vila Boa, foi declarado demente, preso e enviado para o Rio de Janeiro. Libertado por simpatizantes antes mesmo de chegar à Meia Ponte, excomungou as pessoas envolvidas, sendo algumas delas presas pelo juízo eclesiástico. Sobre os acontecimentos envolvendo o vigário João Perestrello, ver MORAES, Cristina de Cássia Pereira. Deus e o Diabo no sertão dos Guayazes: abusos e desmandos do vigário da Vara de Vila Boa. Sociedade e Cultura, 2006, v.9, n.1, p.91-103.         [ Links ]

29 Carta dos oficiais da Câmara de Vila Boa, ao rei João V, sobre não se ter realizado a procissão de Corpus Christi em Vila Boa, devido o coadjutor da matriz da mesma vila alegar, contra o costume, a necessidade de uma esmola para se cantar uma missa, após a qual se poderia realizar a procissão (30 maio 1750). AHU_ACL_CU_008, Cx. 6, D. 435        [ Links ]

30 BEUNZA, José María Imizcoz. Comunidad, red social y élites. Un análisis de la vertebración social en el Antiguo Régimen. In: BEUNZA, José María Imízcoz (Org.) Elites, poder y red social: las élites del País Vasco y Navarra en la Edad Moderna. Bilbao: Universidad del País Vasco, 1996. p.27.         [ Links ]

31 BOXER, Charles Ralph. O império marítimo português – 1415-1825. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2002. p.286.         [ Links ]

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