ASCENSÃO, D. Fr. Sebastião da (c. 1555-1614)
7th bishop of Cape Verde.
He was from the bishopric of Aveiro, where he was born circa 1555. His birth name was Sebastião da Costa Andrade, but he later took the name of D. Fr. Sebastião da Ascenção when he entered the Dominican order in 1586. He was a theology teacher in the University of Coimbra and establishments of the order for more than 20 years, and he reached the position of provincial definitor. He was considered a theology specialist, a man of letters and a good predicant. After the renouncement of the name Sebastião da Costa, he was presented, confirmed and consecrated in the convent of S. Domingos in Lisbon as doctoral canon of the cathedral of Évora in the year 1611. He frequented the court of Filipe II, where he exhibited his oratorical art. He also preached in Lisbon in two autos-da-fé in July 1611 and in February 1612. It did not take long for him to relocate to Santiago, arriving there in the middle of 1612. He was given specific instructions to find information about the presence of New Christians who converted to Judaism in the region of the Rivers of Guinea, as governor Francisco Martins de Sequeira had informed. A consultation and papers on this subject were later done by the bishop-inquisitor. If, during an inspection, the bishop found offenders, he would send them to the tribunal of the Holy Office in Lisbon in order to proceed judicially against them. Concerning the work of the diocese, D. Fr. Sebastião da Ascensão, probably at the request of the capitulars and other island clergy, made an unusual appeal to the king which implicated a formal cession of the ecclesiastical patronage. So, to ?avoid the work, hardship and expense? of the resident priests to have confirmation of the presentations carried out by bishop D. Fr. Sebastião da Ascensão to the vacant benefice and dignities, Filipe III, on January 23, 1621, granted commission and power to the governors, so that, on behalf of the king, they could confirm locally the referred letters and only during this episcopate, with an expressed mention that they were of royal presentation. This episcopate of about three years in residence seems to have been relatively calm, particularly the relationship of the church with the local society, and even within the ecclesiastical body. Much like his predecessor, he seems to have been a moderate person who did not create or exacerbate conflicts at the local level. D. Fr. Sebastião da Ascensão, as his predecessor, must have maintained a close and friendly relationship with the Jesuit missionaries, who seem to have been his great source of material and ecclesiastic support, since they officiated solemn masses together, during which there was common preaching. As for the diocesan chapter, the relationship must have been cordial and even mutually cooperative, as the bishop was considered a man of many ?virtues and talents? whose death had left many poor clergymen of the bishopric ?orphans,? as they had taken lessons from him and had begun to receive holy orders. However, the capitulars lamented the poverty of the prelate, who brought little money from the kingdom and could not pay the debts contracted by his predecessor, not even with the payments from the royal treasury, because there was no money in the local coffers. They added that the cathedral was unadorned, because D. Fr. Sebastião da Ascensão hadn?t brought any ornaments, vestments or liturgical robes to Cape Verde, and so he had the need to borrow pontifical items from other churches of the city to celebrate mass on solemn days. He also maintained a very close relationship with the brotherhood of Misericórdia, of which he was the purveyor in 1613, and in that same year, he authorized the presence of a permanent chaplain in that church, as it didn?t have one before because it housed the cathedral. However, this whole climate of apparent concordance in the Church had its reverse side in the conflict that the society of Santiago, namely the diocesan chapter, the Jesuits and the town-council, maintained with governor Francisco Martins Sequeira (1611-1614). D. Fr. Sebastião de Ascensão, even if very displeased, was forced to side with the locals, which is one of many examples of the exploitation of the church by the active local forces. D. Fr. Sebastião de Ascensão died after his first illness, precisely on the 17th of March 1614, on the day of the Ascension. He was buried at the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Ribeira Grande. The memoirists recorded the date and circumstances of his death. Manuel Severim de Faria, in his account of the founding of seminaries in Guinea, says that D. Fr. Sebastião said both sermon and Pontifical Mass on the eve of the Ascension, dying the following day. The author attributes his death to the fervor with which he was dedicated to his ministry. The town-council indicated that all the people deeply felt the loss of this virtuous prelate, while the remembrance conveyed by an anonymous author in 1784 indicates that his death was celebrated profusely by the ?young? students, who affirmed that the bishop ascended to heaven surrounded by an aura of light and that many people flowed to the Episcopal palace in a funeral gesture of homage.
Anónimo (1784), Notícia Corográfica e Cronológica do Bispado de Cabo Verde, edição e notas de António Carreira, Lisboa, Instituto Caboverdeano do Livro, 1985.
ALMEIDA, Fortunato de, História da Igreja em Portugal, nova ed.preparada e dirigida por Damião Peres, vol. II, Porto-Lisboa, Livraria Civilização, 1968, pp. 685.
PAIVA, José Pedro, Os Bispos de Portugal e do Império, 1495-1777, Coimbra, Imprensa da Universidade, 2006.
REMA, Henrique Pinto, ?Diocese de Cabo Verde?, História Religiosa de Portugal, dir. de Carlos Azevedo, Lisboa, Círculo de Leitores, 2001, vol. II, A-C, pp. 280-284.
SANTOS, Maria Emília Madeira; SOARES, Maria João, ?Igreja, Missionação e Sociedade?, História Geral de Cabo Verde, vol. II, coord. de Maria Emília Madeira Santos, Lisboa-Praia, IICT-INCCV, 1995, pp. 401-404.
SOUSA, António Caetano de, Catálogo dos bispos das igrejas de Cabo Verde, S. Tomé e Angola in Colleçam dos documentos, estatutos e memórias da Academia real da História Portugueza que neste anno de 1722 se compuzerão e se imprimirão por ordem dos seus censores, Lisboa, Pascoal da Sylva, 1722.
Author: Maria João Soares
Translated by: John Starkey