2022 Assembly


From slaves to nuns: stories of Afro-European women in the nineteenth century Webinar – 13th March 2024.


On behalf of RENATE member Dr. Mary McHugh, please find the following invitation to join next month’s ISHWRA (International Scholars of the History of Women Religious Association) seminar taking place on Wednesday 13 March at 12:00 noon (GMT/London time). 

Dr Giacomo Ghedini (Sciences Po Paris, France) will deliver a paper entitled ‘From slaves to nuns: stories of Afro-European women in the nineteenth century’. If you would like to attend this virtual session, registration is via the following link: Meeting Registration – Zoom.

From slaves to nuns: stories of Afro-European women in the nineteenth century

During the nineteenth century, Sub-Saharan children victims of the Trans-Saharan slave trades were frequently ransomed by Catholic missionaries and sometimes brought to Europe to receive a Catholic education and become ‘indigenous missionaries’. These African children were termed ‘moretti’ by the European missionaries, which literally means ‘little Moors’ or ‘young Blacks’. Though the scale of this phenomenon remains unknown to this day, it is conceivable that over 2,000 ‘moretti’ were brought out of Africa by Italian and French missionaries, with more than half of them being girls. How were they selected by missionaries: was it based on their skin colour, ethnic origin, sex, age, and so on? What was their education to become religious? This paper will endeavour to answer these and other questions by analysing two case studies of former slaves who became nuns: Giuseppina Bakhita (ca. 1869-1947) and Bakhita Quascé (ca. 1845-1899). The first one became a nun in Venice and lived her life in Italy, and today she is well-known, having been canonized as a saint in 2000, the first African woman in the modern age. The second one, after being educated in Verona, returned to Sudan, where she became a religious and a teacher in the missions, but is now long forgotten. Through a comparison of the two, this paper will also show what the European missionaries’ expectations of them were and how these expectations played a role in the preservation or oblivion of their memory.

Giacomo Ghedini is affiliated to the Centre d’Histoire de Sciences Po Paris and is currently Teaching assistant at Sorbonne Université.