Sacred Art Series: St. José de Anchieta

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
(The Sacred Art Series will feature and explain the artwork which will be included in the Our Lady of Belen Chapel. This painting was commissioned to Spanish artist Raúl Berzosa and will be included in one of the side chapels. The chapel is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021.)

St. José de Anchieta was born in San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, on March 19, 1534. His father was originally from the Basque Country but fled to the Canary Islands after participating in an unsuccessful rebellion against Emperor Charles V. Through his father, Anchieta was related to St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.

He spent time at a young age studying in Portugal at the University of Coimbra where he became fluent in Portuguese. At 17, he entered the Jesuits on May 1, 1551.

In 1553, he was part of a group of Jesuit missionaries sent to the Portuguese colony of Brazil. His ship landed in São Vicente, the first village founded in Brazil, and it was here that he first came in contact with the Tapuia Indians.

Anchieta, along with 13 other Jesuits, made his way to the Serra do Mar Plateau, where he established a small mission. He celebrated the first mass on January 25, 1554, on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This is considered to be the founding of the city of São Paulo. 

Anchieta fiercely opposed the ill-treatment of the Indians by the Portuguese colonists. He wrote the first book of grammar of the Tupi language, and was a prolific poet and dramatist. Anchieta was also a keen naturalist writing extensively about native species of animals and plants. In addition, he was an excellent surgeon and physician.

He died in Reritiba, Espírito Santo, Brazil on June 9, 1597. He was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1980, and canonized by Pope Francis on April 3, 2014. 

Painting References:

Writing on the Sand: On many occasions, Anchieta was arrested by the Portuguese colonists for his speeches and writings against the abuse of the native Indians. During one of his incarcerations in Iperoig in 1563, he wrote his most famous poem dedicated to the VirginMary titled De Beata Virgine Dei Matre. Tradition holds that he wrote it on the wet sand of the beach, memorizing each day’s lines so he could write it on paper upon his release.

Virgin Mary: Anchieta had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother and dedicated many of his poems and writings to her. In the painting, she is portrayed looking lovingly at Anchieta as he dedicates a poem in the sand to her. The Virgin Mary is wearing a green wrap and yellow veil, the colors of the Brazilian flag.

Native Background: Behind and to the right of the image of Anchieta is a natural landscape that includes several Tapuia Indians. These were the first people Anchieta came in contact with when arriving in Brazil. They taught him their native language and he catechized them. He spent all his life in Brazil defending their rights against Portuguese interests. The parrots and trees exemplify the work Anchieta did documenting the rich natural setting of the land.  

Angel(s): The four angels represent the great diversity of the Brazilian people of today. Native Indians, descendants of African slaves, and European settlers comprise the richness of South America’s largest country.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.