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Elizabeth Heath

Dona Beatrice was born Kimpa Vita in the Kongo kingdom (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Congo Kinshasa). As a young woman, Vita (later baptized Beatrice and known as Dona Beatrice) led a religious movement to restore the empire to its former glory during a period of instability and fragmentation within the Kongo kingdom. Beatrice began her movement, later called Antonianism, in 1704, when she claimed to have had a near-death vision of Saint Anthony. She said the popular Portuguese saint appeared to her as an African, after which she died and came back to life as the saint. Soon afterward she began preaching a religious message that combined an anti-Catholic Christianity with Kongo culture, through which she hoped to reunite the Kongo kingdom.

Within months Beatrice established a church in the Kongo capital of São Salvador Although based on Christian theology Beatrice preached that the founders ...