It is the 26th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1890.
It was a big year for literature, for both books being published, and for the experiences that would lead to some later monumental works. 1890 saw the publication of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” It was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. It followed the story of a young man who exchanged his soul for eternal youth. In 1890, Sir James Frazer, the Scottish anthropologist, published “The Golden Bough.” This work of comparative religion shared the modernists’ fascination with progress, especially in his portrayal of the march from superstition to science.
1890 also saw the publication of American William James’ groundbreaking work, “The Principles of Psychology.” Also, in 1890, Joseph Conrad took a Congo river steamboat deep into Africa. It became the inspiration for his “Heart of Darkness.” Also, in 1890, Bram Stoker visited the English town of Whitby on holiday. There he read books about regions in Central Europe. For the next seven years, he would write a story based in Transylvania, 1897’s “Dracula.”
In 1890, New York’s Ellis Island opened for the first time as an immigration center. In New York in that same year, famed Cuban patriot and poet Jose Marti formed his “La Liga” of Cuban exiles.
In honor of the expanding and developing world of the Americas, the first Conference of American States took place in 1890. This would set the stage for the Pan American Union and eventually, its modern incarnation, the OAS or Organization of American States.
The organization attempted to foster solidarity amongst states in the western hemisphere and to keep foreign influence at bay. This was the context for President Theodore Roosevelt to famously proclaim that he would “speak softly and carry a big stick.” One of the tensions between North American and Latin American states was the question of religion. While mostly and nominally Christian, the influence of the Catholic church in South America could put some states in the southern hemisphere in conflict with their northern, more Protestant neighbors.
Today, we look at South America and a story from the church in Peru in 1890. The main actor in this episode was Francisco Penzotti. An Italian born immigrant to Uruguay, he married a local woman and became a carpenter. At the age of 24, during a night out on the town, he was handed a copy of the Gospel of John by a Bible peddler. This led to him and his wife visiting a meeting of the local Methodist church, where they both converted to Christianity.
Soon, Penzotti was working with the Waldensian church in Uruguay. That’s correct, the 12th-century reform movement found a home in Montevideo, as it became a center for Italian immigrants for whom the Waldensian church was still an option. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the Waldensians looked like their Anabaptist distant cousins and found a common cause with the Methodist church in South America.
In 1885, on a trip throughout South America to distribute Bibles, Francisco was quarantined in Peru due to an outbreak of cholera. It is there that he built his church, which would soon be bursting at the seams. It also attracted the attention of the Catholic officials in the government. Peru, like many other Catholic states in South America, had blended a kind of folk religion with the Catholicism of the conquistadores. While theologically they weren’t too Catholic, the Catholic church represented both patriotism and order. Thus, Francisco Penzotti’s popularity as a Protestant drew the ire of Catholic government officials.
It was on this day, the 26th of July, in 1890 that, while eating his breakfast, officials stormed Penzotti’s home and arrested him. While in prison, he became a symbol of religious oppression by some South American states. The United States and others pressured the Peruvian government to let Penzotti go and to avoid embarrassment or worse. It became a cause celebre, and soon Penzotti became an international figure in the fight for religious freedom. Penzotti was able to see Peru sign its first law of religious liberty in 1915. The Italian born immigrant and Bible peddler died in 1925. It was on this, the 26th of July in 1890, that Francisco Penzotti was arrested for his faith.
The reading for today comes from a Hispanic American poet, Angelico Chavez. He was also a friar and missionary. This is his “Jesus at the Well.”
Give me to drink this desert wine,
This water welled by men;
Amen, I say, but drink of mine,
You shall not thirst again.
Give me to drink, for I am I,
Begging from earthly jars,
Who plunged the Dipper in the sky
And splashed the night with stars.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who exchanged his youth for his soul, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.