(Archival) Record of the Week: A Tale of Two Padres

Anthonio, Borghero, SMA, Lagos, 1875, Ekopolitan

Someone, whose name escapes us all, said a picture is worth a thousand words. The archival record of the week is a very famous photo of the nascent Catholic community in Lagos c. 1875. It has been reproduced several times but comes originally from the archival collection of the SMA Fathers, a Catholic missionary society that operated in 19th century Lagos and is still active in various parts of Africa.

From this picture, scholars have identified the two men in wide brimmed hats in the middle of the photo. One is Padre Anthonio, the seated black man in a hat, and the other is Padre Franceso Borghero, the bearded white man in a hat sitting next to him. Anthonio was an emancipado who had previously served as a spiritual leader to the other emancipados in Lagos. When Borghero arrived Lagos, Anthonio stopped playing that role and Borghero took over as the authority in the Catholic community. What was that negotiation like? The world may never know… Still, we do know who Padre Anthonio and Padre Borghero were and we have some impression of what the nature of their relationship might have been. Yet there are many other people in the photograph.

Who are the other people in the scene? Three of the others are certainly missionaries. Were the other people dependents of the mission, family members of the seated men, random people who joined the photograph, or were they newly baptized? Where did these unnamed people come from? Where did they end up? How did they live? Could one of them be your ancestor? The world may never know…