“For a city built on the slave trade, Cidade Velha had a lot of Christian churches.”
This curious line appeared in a recent story from LiveScience (re-posted by FoxNews). In the story, a reporter discussed the recent discovery of the ruins of a church in the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa. Interestingly, Charles Darwin may have seen the same ruins during a stop on Cape Verde at the beginning of his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands.
But the reason this story connects with church history is that the church was not built by African Christians, or by islanders sympathetic to the faith, but rather by Portuguese colonizers. Sadly, this particular area, and its main settlement Cidade Velha, ended up being part of the slave-industry network that began with European explorations in the 1400s. And what the writer seems to have been unaware of is the deep set of connections with Christianity that the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers possessed. In reality, it is no surprise at all that a European slave settlement would possess Christian churches.
Happily (for us), one of the archaeologists she interviewed explains things better:
“Religion was an integral part of early Portuguese colonialism. … People were competitively building churches. You also have religious orders establishing themselves in the early 16th century, and Cidade Velha becomes the seat of the bishopric of Africa.”
If you want to know more about slavery at this time, and especially its connections with Christianity, see the set of pages available here. For an article from Christianity Today in 2014 that focuses especially on slavery and Christianity in America, click here (I recommend clicking the “single page” link).
One final note: one could read this story not as one of ignorance, but as one of hope. Thanks to the work of Christians like William Wilberforce and MANY others, people have so dissociated the ideas of Christianity and slavery, that it does seem odd to find churches and the slave trade existing together. May it be so in our day: that our work for the gospel and God’s kingdom will flourish — by God’s grace — with the result that people will never again associate Christianity with the non-gospel-ish, non-kingdom aspects of our world.
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