Carlota Simões, Margarida Miranda, and Pedro Casaleiro, eds., Visto de Coimbra: Colégio de Jesus entre Portugal e o Mundo

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
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  • 1 cham – Centro de Humanidades, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal,
Open Access
Carlota Simões, Margarida Miranda, and Pedro Casaleiro, eds., Visto de Coimbra: Colégio de Jesus entre Portugal e o Mundo. Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2020. Pp. 424, e-book:

Visto de Coimbra is the result of various initiatives that took place in Coimbra between 2016 and 2017. The historical-cultural complex of The University of Coimbra–Alta and Sofia has been a unesco World Heritage site since 2013 and includes an architectural complex that was home to the first Jesuit college in Portugal—the College of Jesus—and, later, the College of the Arts. A series of conferences and exhibitions were organized in Coimbra to study the role these institutions played in spreading European culture and science, and the Christian message throughout the world from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The proceedings have been gathered in this e-book. The volume is divided into two parts: the first is a collection of the papers presented at the colloquia and conferences in 2016 and 2017 (23–288), and the second presents the three exhibitions held at the College of Jesus, the Joanina Library, and the University of Coimbra’s Science Museum (289–418).

The articles are organized under three central themes: The History of the Society; The College of Jesus; The Society of Jesus and Culture. The first section opens with “The Jesuits in Coimbra” (23–31), by António Trigueiros, S.J. and “The Colleges of Jesus and of the Arts: A Chronology of Their Construction (1547–1759)” (33–64), by Rui Lobo. In these texts, the researchers sketch out, in broad but precise strokes, the history of the Society of Jesus in Coimbra, from the laying of the first stone of the College of Jesus, under the patronage of King John iii (1547), up to the time when, by order of King Joseph I, an edict was issued to expel the Society of Jesus from Portugal and its overseas territories (1759). Rui Lobo also provides a detailed description of the expansion of the buildings in Coimbra which, he argues, reflected the growing importance of these Coimbra institutions in the scientific and human education of all those who attended lessons there. In “Jesuits in Portuguese America: The Case of the Amazon” (65–90), Anete Costa Ferreira focuses on the Brazilian Mission and analyzes the role of the men religious who were involved in the implementation of the mission in Maranhão and Grão Pará. The chapter ends with two essays concerning the documents recently discovered in one of the College of Jesus’s chapels. In “The Discoveries at the College of Jesus: 260 Years later, the Legacy of an Exiled Jesuit” (91–112), Carlota Miranda Urbano and Margarida Miranda present dozens of writings that provide information on episodes occurred over almost two centuries. This recently unearthed and important documental collection will help to shed a light on some of the key moments in the history of the Society of Jesus. In “António de Vasconcelos (1727–1801)—the Jesuit Who Hid the Manuscripts in the Church of the College of Coimbra” (113–118), Trigueiros traces the background and ultimate fate of this Jesuit who was teaching mathematics in Coimbra when, by royal decree, the colleges were surrounded and, like so many other Jesuits, he was expelled from Portugal.

The chapter “The College of Jesus—Education and Science” consists of three essays. Mário Santiago de Carvalho’s “From Coimbra to Beijing: The History and Geography of Coimbra Aristotelianism” (121–43) analyzes the adaptations made to the Aristotelian course in order to ensure a better reception in China. In “Tiles that Testify to the Teaching of Sciences in the Jesuit Schools of Coimbra” (145–57), António Duarte, Carlota Simões, and Francisco Gil examine the tiles used at the Coimbra colleges to teach mathematics, astronomy, and geography. Reproducing images from seminal works, such as André Tacquet’s Elements of Euclid (1654) or Willem Janszoon’s Blaeau’s Mapa Mundi (seventeenth century), these tile panels of considerable size were innovative pedagogical tools and were used in Coimbra in the teaching of the physical sciences and mathematics. In “The Scholarly Context of the College of Jesus/College of the Arts in Coimbra in the Second Half of the 17th Century, through the Eyes of Four ‘extranei’ (I. Hartoghvelt; F. Verbiest; A. Aigenler; A. Thomas)” (159–71), Nöel Golvers analyzes the testimony of four Jesuits who spent time at the Coimbra schools. As was often the case, men religious arriving from different parts of Europe stayed at the college as they awaited ships of the Carreira da Índia to take them to mission lands. During their stay, they learned Portuguese, taught scientific subjects, and familiarized themselves with pedagogy and teaching. Passing through Coimbra, these four men left behind records that allowed Golvers to examine the cultural and human atmosphere in these institutions.

The last section entitled “The Society of Jesus and Culture,” consists of four articles. In “Coimbra and the Japanese Mission in the Sixteenth Century from a Historical–Artistic Perspective,” on the Japanese mission to Catholic Europe (1582–90), Alexandra Curvelo examines the influence that Coimbra and the Society of the time had on the dissemination of news about imperial Japan. In “The Society of Jesus in Coimbra and Macau: Spirituality and Science,” Maria de Lurdes Craveiro compares the architecture of the churches in Coimbra and Macau and the iconography with which both were adorned. María Paz Sáez–Pérez and Jorge Durán–Suárez bring a different focus in “Construction Techniques of Classical Antiquity in Jesuit Architecture of the Seventeenth Century in Ethiopia: A Model for the Restoration of Historical Heritage.” By analyzing the raw materials used in the buildings erected in the Ethiopia region, the authors conclude that the Jesuits made use of both local materials and their profound knowledge of classical architectural treatises to create syncretic construction methods. The final article focuses on “Kongo’s Traditional Religion: Between Fetishism and Resistance.” In this study, Fernando Florêncio analyzes the Jesuit mission in the Kingdom of the Congo and stresses their opposition to local forms of worship and the resistance they encountered from the local Congolese when their symbols, worship, and traditions were attacked.

The second part of the volume is dedicated to the three aforementioned exhibitions. The first, “Culture, Science and Worship: Documental Testimonies of the Colégio de Jesus in Coimbra,” organized by José Pedro Paiva and Ana Maria Leitão Bandeira was intended to make the audience more aware of the College of Jesus collection at the University of Coimbra Archive as well as the collection from the College of the Arts during the period of its attachment to the College of Jesus. The second, “From Coimbra to the World: An Exhibition of Early Modern Printed Works,” organized by José Augusto Bernardes, presents some of the publications of the thousands of Jesuits who spent time at the colleges in Coimbra and who contributed to the spread of European culture, science, and the Christian religion. Finally, “The View from Coimbra: The Concept of an Exhibition on the Memory of the Place,” the exhibition that gave this e-book its name, was held at the University of Coimbra’s Science Museum. Commissioned by Pedro Casaleiro, the exhibition brought together an impressive array of objects, documents, and books. One of its displayed treasures, a depiction of the Moon by Cristóvão Borri (Collecta Astronomica, 1629), the oldest depiction of an astronomical observation published in Portugal (Coimbra, 1627), was used to illustrate the cover of the e-book. This notable exhibition reminds us of the role that Jesuit missionaries, especially those associated with Coimbra, played in the transmission of culture, science, and the Catholic faith.

This e-book, with its various contributions relating to the Portuguese province of the Society of Jesus is, without any doubt, mandatory reading for anyone wishing to keep up to date with the most recent research into the Society’s contribution to the expansion of science, European culture, and Roman Catholicism from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. A final remark: apart from the bilingual version of some of the titles and abstracts, the majority of the essays are in Portuguese, but, I believe, the entire volume merits an English translation.

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