You may have seen the Iconic image of this masked woman, but you probably couldn’t place the story behind it.
Her name is Escrava Anastacia, an enslaved African who lived in Brazil in the 19th century.
Known for her great beauty accompanied by her piercing blue eyes, Anastasia is revered in Brazil as a saint and a heroine, according to the folklore and culture of Rio de Janeiro.
She has since gained a cult following, especially among descendants of slaves and the poor in Brazil.
But how did this masked woman become such an influential figure in black history within the culture of Rio de Janeiro?
Her life story varies, but the most popular is related to Delminda, a black woman from the Bantu tribe (originally circa 2000 BC in southern Nigeria and Cameroon), daughter of the Galanga royal family brought in Brazil in 1740 with a cargo of 112 slaves.
Delminda was raped by her white owner and sold to Joaquina Pompeu while pregnant with Anastacia.
Delminda gave birth to Anastacia on March 5, around the first half of the 19th century. She was one of the first black slaves to be born with blue eyes.
Anastacia grew to be extremely beautiful, and many always admired her on the plantation. Even her owner’s son, Joaquín Antonio, became obsessed with her.
The whites women eventually got jealous of her and convinced Joaquín to make her wear a slave mask.
As Anastacia was refusing Joaquin’s advancement, he raped her and forced her to wear an iron mask for the rest of her life as punishment.
She was forced to live with a mask, only taking it off once a day to eat.
She lived for several years and was subjected to various other inhumane treatments before the metal in the mask became poisonous and she died of tetanus.
Legend has it that before her death she forgave her owners for the torture she suffered from them. It is said she had magical healing powers, and it even cured her owner’s son of a serious illness.
Her owner renounced her slave status after her death. She was buried in the Rio Slave Cemetery and her remains are kept in the church of Rosario. However, her remains were lost in a fire outbreak.
She has become a saint for many who recognize her as a symbol of love and forgiveness. There is a statue and place of worship in Vas Lobo, Rio, where people gather to worship her.
Since then, others have pleaded with Rome to proclaim her canonized as St. Anastacia of Rome.