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Gabriel Malagrida (18 September or 6 December 1689, Menaggio — September 1761, São Nicolau, Lisbon) was an Italian Jesuit missionary in the Portuguese colony of Brazil and influential figure in the political life of the Lisbon Royal Court who described the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake as retribution prompted by God's wrath.
Malagrida was famously caught up in the Távora affair and executed as a blasphemer and heretic after a Portuguese Inquisition case to which the Portuguese Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal had his brother appointed as the head Inquisitor following the failure of the original attempt to have him executed on charges of conspiratorial high treason, which had earlier been rejected by another Inquisitor and for which he could not be executed by secular authorities due to his position as Jesuit priest.
Early life in the Jesuit Order and missionary work
Gabriel Malagrida was the son of Giacomo Malagrida, a doctor, and wife Angela Rusca.
He entered the Jesuit order at Genoa in 1711. He set out from Lisbon in 1721 and arrived on the Island of Maranhão towards the end of the same year. Thence he proceeded to Brazil. For 28 years he worked for the Christianization of the country.
In 1749 he was sent to Lisbon, where he was received with honour by João V of Portugal. In 1751 he returned to Brazil, but was recalled to Lisbon in 1753 upon the request of Marianna of Austria, the queen dowager and mother of José I of Portugal, who had succeeded to the throne upon the death of José's father, João V.
Malagrida's influence at the Court of Lisbon met with deep hostility from the prime minister, Carvalho, the future Marquês de Pombal: Carvalho was attempting a proposition to rebuild Lisbon following the 1755 earthquake, but Malagrida was severely hindering progress by terrifying the congregation into believing that the earthquake was divine retribution. Carvalho persuaded King José to banish Malagrida to Setúbal in November 1756 and had all Jesuits removed from the Court.
The Távora affair
When King José I and his valet Pedro Teixeira were returning to Belém from the Palace of the Marquês and Marquesa of Távora in September 1758, three masked horsemen stopped the carriage in the dead of night, and fired a musket-shot that wounded the king in the arm and shoulder. Carvalho's spies quickly identified two of the horsemen, and they were arrested and tortured. Their confessions implicated the Marquês and Marquesa of Távora. Carvalho kept the episode quiet but had the Távora family followed and had their messages intercepted. By December he had uncovered what he believed to be a plot to assassinate the King and replace him with the Duke of Aveiro. Malagrida, who had returned from exile, was arrested and tried for his alleged involvement in the plot.
Gabriel Malagrida was declared guilty of high treason, but could not be executed on account of the Papacy's opposition to the execution of a Jesuit by secular authorities. He was imprisoned in the dungeon beneath the Tower of Belém with other Jesuits who were also implicated. Carvalho could not have him executed through civil court so left him to either die or go mad in the dungeons.
When Malagrida was not lying in his cell, he was allegedly transcribing the 'angelic voices from inside his head'. From these heavenly transcriptions, Malagrida was said to have published two transcripts—the first of which was on the Anti-Christ, the second was entitled The Heroic And Wonderful Life Of The Glorious Saint Anne, Mother Of The Virgin Mary, Dictated By This Saint, Assisted By And With The Approbation And Help Of This Most August Sovereign, And Her Most Holy Son. The book contained the uttering of a mad man, in which the author had a delirious and unhealthy fixation with Saint Anne's uterus.
Carvalho had the then-seventy-two-year-old Malagrida brought in front of the Inquisition (to which Carvalho had appointed his brother, Paulo de Carvalho e Mendonça, as the Inquisitor General). Finding the works Malagrida had written blasphemous and disgusting, they boiled down Malagrida's activities to heresy, and sentenced him to death. On 21 September 1761, Malagrida was strangled at the garrotte in Rossio square. His corpse was then burned on a bonfire and the ashes were thrown into the Tagus river.
A monument in his honour was erected in 1887 in the parochial church of Menaggio.
- Stendhal (1783-1842) mistakenly ascribed to Malagrida the maxim "Words have been given to men in order to hide their thoughts" (The Red and the Black, Part 1, XXII, epigraph), which actually belongs to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838).
- Shrady, Nicholas. The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. p. 178.
- Mury, Histoire de Gabriel Malagrida (Paris, 1884; 2nd ed., Strasburg, 1899; Ger. trans., Salzburg, 1890);
- Un monumento al P. Malagrida in La Civilità Cattolica, IX, series XIII (Rome, 1888), 30-43, 414-30, 658-79;
- Sommervogel, Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, V (Brussels, 1894), 394-95;
- Butina, Vida de Malagrida (Barcelona, 1886).