|Destinatario(s)||Nuno da Silva Teles|
Accusation letter from Sister Isabel, a nun, to her uncle Nuno da Silva Teles, a priest.
The author describes to her uncle the many horrific spells that have been practiced on the women of her convent.
Maria do Rosário, a nun in the Convento do Santíssimo Sacramento de Alcântara da Ordem de São Domingos, in Lisbon, was accused of witchcraft in 1752. In this process, there are several letters of other nuns in the same convent, reporting they have been attacked, frequently and quite violently, by Maria do Rosário and two others, Teresa Quaresma and a very pretty girl, who was no more than 13 or 14 years old.
«Praised be the Holy Sacrament. My Uncle and lord of my heart. I do feel that I bother you, but there is no other relief for those in anguish but to get it off their chest with whom feels compassion for them. And since we feel such compassion in you, which makes us eternally grateful, and we know that you will not let us down, we turn to you to let you know what we have been through, so that you take all the possible measures for our relief. I've told you about the incredible amount of work we have. The spells are outnumbered. They are found at all times and even after I've sent you that one, we found it again seven times and of different types. But now, my Uncle, thanks to Our Father, I'm aware of a fishwife who is continuously casting spells in our church. I had told you about her in my previous letter, but now I have much more information. Her name is Margarida, and her nickname is "a Rata". She has many children and her husband is now away. She lives here in Pampulha, near António de Araújo. She is not known as a witch, but she is famous for being a sweet-toothed thief, lazy and other things that I don't consider worth saying. For all of this, and for what we've experienced, I find her very similar to Maria Teresa. It was on the Feast of Corpus Christi that we first thought wrong things about this creature, even before meeting her, but soon the Lord showed us: our judgement wasn't wrong because she threatened a sister, by putting a finger in her nose. And this put her life at risk and, after two days without eating, she vomited that yellow ribbon I've sent you. Another sister, who was singing the Greek Tantum, fell unconscious, (...) a pain in her chest, after the fishwife stared at the grille. She left the choir and took off the vest she had dressed that morning and found out it was all full of spells and in her chest she had a heart made of cork, full of pieces of crystal glass and many pins and a big nail in the centre. Another sister left the choir because she was feeling sick, with vomits and pains, she went back to the choir and she sat down near the door, which is far away from the grille where we stood, paying attention to this woman. When she raised from her prayer, she went back to the grille. The sister felt like someone was pulling her hair with such strength that her head was being torn apart and she felt a pain in her arm. She rushed to see what it was and she found out that the hair that had been pulled was nailed in her arm with two pins. All of this happened during the mass on Wednesday. On the following Sunday she got sick. All the sisters who were at the grille (...), she knocked them out on the floor. Others, as I've told you (...) on Friday, Santo António's day, we went to the church in the morning and, as we came back, two fishwives. A sister fell uncounscious and with a pain in her head. Afterwards our sacristan told us these two were Joana, with the nickname "a Valente", and another one who often went there at night. This one, Margarida, I've told you about her before, came to the morning mass, and even since the seventh and the ninth, which are told before the mass, we started feeling the effects, which, I suppose, were caused by her entrance in the church. The mass started and so did the agony, the anguish and the pain in all of them. And I went to the tribune to see if I knew her and I saw her and recognized her very well and (...) the sisters were doing many actions and gestures with Maria Teresa. And what she does there, it happens here. During the Epistle, by staring at the grille, she threw a sister from the choir to the floor with such an impetus that she said and she felt she was dying. When we said sanctus, she did something before I could look to the grille and, at this point, another sister fell uncounscious with a pain in the chest and a pin nailed into it. She looked dead and, every now and then, she felt an agony and vomits, in such a way that, if we raised her body, it seemed she would break into pieces. And every now and then, the fishwife would stare at the grille, first taking her hand to her head and turning her hand around underneath her cloak, on the back of her neck. When she did that, the sister's head and body would look like a reel. All this was witnessed by half of the community, as we were watching the events in the church and the sister's suffering. This way, in order for us to be sure, we called my sister Helena, who was not in the choir, for fearing an assault, given the previous experiences. She came without knowing the purpose, and, as soon as she arrived at the choir's door, she felt sick with vomits and her head was so dizzy that she fell, but she soon recovered and we insisted that she went into the choir just for us to be sure. She came in and, without seeing her, she sat down. And in that moment the fishwife did that usual sign with her hand in her head and looked at the grille. In that same instant, Helena fell back and wriggled her head, hands and feet in such a way that she resembled a mad dog, rolling down the floor with her face redder and more swollen that someone suffering from erysipelas. Six sisters held her and took her out of the choir, and while she was there, the woman kept her eyes on the grille. And as she broke into pieces here, the woman remained there with her twists and wriggles. When the sisters were finally out of the choir, they were taken to Our Father, and having recovered their senses, they said they had never experienced before what they had just felt. The sisters in the choir weren't the only ones who suffered, because there was another sister who, despite not being in the choir that day, was also tormented by the witches, and almost every sister attending the mass suffered from sickness and pains and were not able to stand on their feet. The holy days are memorable, my Uncle. Since this woman is at the church with her occupation, none of the sisters saw here this day nor were they in a place where they could have seen her. She's never with her hands still, it's remarkable. We have spent this whole Friday very badly and, at night, as we were walking past some houses where Maria Teresa had been seen doing evil things, when she was still here, someone pulled a sister with such impetus and strength ‒ although we couldn't see who it was ‒ that it dragged the four sisters that held her; however, shouting for Our Father, we took her out, uncounscious, and by the saint's hand she recovered her senses. Seeing this, at night I took the cloak from the saint's image, as well as the scapular and one of the cardinal's hats, and with these weapons I covered the three beds of the sisters who had suffered the most. And, as the witches arrived, they couldn't get into the cells and, very angry, they mocked, saying: We won't get in because we don't want to, it's not because the friar is preventing us from it. And after threatening us, they left. However, at two o'clock of the following day, they came into a sister's cell saying: ‒ We come here to do what we didn't last night and, since you're not shrouded with the friar's gowns as you were yesterday, we can come in any time and do whatever we want to. And they wounded her in the chest with a piece of glass. And, from the blood that squirted, they dyed a white ribbon and they cast a spell with it using a piece of cork and sticking it with splinters of glass. And for each one they put in, a blessing was cast and she felt it being nailed into her head with unbearable pain. They tied the bloody ribbon to the cork, making a cross, and, by nailing many pins, forming a cross, they nailed this spell into her body. She recognized this witch as being the fishwife from the church. And the other one, this young lady that always goes with her. And they laughed a lot and said: ‒ Pay attention, so that you can tell everything to that old bald clergyman ‒ I mean, Your Lordship, ‒ to whom we pay no attention! And the youngest made a heart with a yellow ribbon and cast the spell saying: ‒ Tell the old bald clergyman to know me by this badge and, if it weren't for that friar's ghost ‒ that is, Our Father -, you would have all fell down! They made another bald head nailed with more than 50 pins and, while they were manufacturing it, the fishwife said: ‒ Hold it and nail it well! And, after a lot of mocking, they left. Three days ago this sister showed up with a wound in her chest and suffering with pain due to the pin that was nailed into her, in such a way that she inspires compassion. She only gets better when Our Father touches her with his hand. But then she gets worse again because, although Our Father wants to help us, he can't do it, since God hasn't taken away the permission he gave the Devil to pursue us. Despite us accepting this as a deserved punishment for our sins, it seems fair that all measures should be taken to arrest these creatures, whose evilness as been proved. I've told you about one, who is called Freitas and has got a niece, or daughter, who we believe to be the girl of the yellow ribbon, because we were told so, not knowing she would come here with that badge: she has got great reputation in the witches' neighborhood. Last Wednesday night, one of them suddenly died, and it was the one who threw a sister to the ground. I don't know whether it was or not, I just tell you what I was told and what we've experienced. All the others remain here, and they all seem to be quite some characters. In this same day I've told you about, when they cast that spell at two o'clock, they also cut part of another sister's hair, made a woollen plait with it and, with 4 pins, they tied it to the previous spell. There's no explanation for these torments and their consequences, my Uncle. A few days ago, a heart showed up and it was covered with sealing wax, many pins, needles and pieces of glass and the words "Hell, Hell" written with blood five times. They say this many times: ‒ We want to break these bodies into pieces and take your souls with us to Hell. For the love of God, forgive me for such reading, Your Lordship, but our despair makes us turn to you as our only remedy bellow God. Helena suffers remarkable things, but she is very quiet and never tells us anything apart from what she can't conceal. And, being her sisters, we are aware of much more because we have come to her many times. And it was quite serious when they nailed into her stomach and chest a spell with much sealing wax, along with 3 hosts, in a mockery that lasted 3 days in a row and caused her confessor to order her to take communion. After this spell, she has dealt with great spells when she takes communion. This spell was cast by Úrsula. There is also a Christ cut off from a host with blood that Úrsula has trodden on many times. Helena told me this because she gives it to me so that I can hand it in to the Father, dear Frei Tomás, because, after these spells, they pass out and do other things whenever they touch it and therefore they can't do it and they need someone to help them with that. This is the reason why I know some of the things about her, which she asks me to keep as a secret. However, since I shouldn't keep this as a secret from you, I'm telling you only some of the things, but infinite others remain, for there isn't a day that goes by without novelties and mischief.
Your Lordship, for the love of God help us as you can, for God seems to be clarifying and showing us things to lead me to a solution. We resign to His Holy will, and if this punishment is to be served, we will forever find it fair and accept it. However, it seems to me Your Lordship won't disapprove of my informations about this whole community. Your Lordship, please accept thousands of greetings from me and specially from my nieces, for we all want your blessings and many occasions to serve you. God save Your Lordship many years blessed by His sacraments. Your beloved niece and servant, Sister Isabel. PS: Don't Your Lordship forget us in your sacrifices, specially the nieces, since they are the ones who suffer the most and I sometimes conceal their names so that I won't hurt you so much, for I know your love well.
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