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Lia Nunes obtains PhD for anti-biography of Gregorio Lopez

‘Searching for him and his story in the most varied of contexts’
22 June 2020
Lia Nunes

On 29 June, Lia Nunes will receive her PhD from the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies for her dissertation The anti-biography of Gregorio Lopez. Deconstructing a sixteenth-century vita. The main objective of Lia’s PhD research and thesis is to challenge the traditional discourse – i.e. the legend as written in his Vita – on the sixteenth-century hermit Gregorio Lopez (1542-1596) by searching for him and his story in a great variety of contexts.

Monograph dedicated to Gregorio Lopez

‘I discovered Gregorio Lopez when conducting research for my History degree back in 2007. The fact that it was possible that this sixteenth-century hermit was from own my hometown in Portugal served as a trigger for me to gather and study the inconclusive information collected by researchers in the previous century. As I gained an overview of the works about this man and his story, I realized a monograph had never been attempted. From the fiats divers about his origins and beliefs, my research grew into a PhD project aimed at analysing roughly 400 years of fragmented data about a single extraordinary man,’ Lia explains enthusiastically. She collected as much data about Gregorio Lopez as possible from three life stages and connected them: his “after-life” (i.e. the reception of his Vita); his life (i.e. the production of the hagiography of a living saint); and his “pre-life” (the historical facts in-against-and-beyond the “alter-native (hi)stories” on which a religious discourse was created).

Scientific pilgrimage

Lia Nunes: ‘In what I call a scientific pilgrimage in search of Gregorio Lopez, I discussed his history and my analysis of his life story with various scholars but also with local politicians, activists, erudites, public officers and religious experts, and I was amazed by the questions I was asked, as they were so enriching for my own research process. It is still very difficult to find comparable historical figures because people like him are usually lost in time and in social memory. His Vita was extended through written and printed sources and material, giving him an afterlife. In Mexico, only a very small number of people and believers remember him, and even fewer do so in Spain. The anthropologist Julio Glockner told me in Puebla (Mexico) that the Popocatépetl volcano was also named Don Goyo, possibly after Gregorio Lopez. The Church attempted to erase as many native cults of their New World, replacing them with Catholic figures; and Glockner believes that, since Iztaccíhuatl was renamed Rosa because of Rosa de Lima, another volcano was rebranded Don Goyo (diminutive of Gregorio). This was because the hermit was expected to be canonized as fast as Rosa was. Despite Gregorio Lopez never surpassing the category of Venerable, his name remained. I must admit that I learned more about the American process of colonization from Glockner’s hypothesis than from most texts discussing Gregorio’s Vita.’

Science communication to a larger public

Lia Nunes was born in Portugal in 1985 and her childhood was filled with stories told by her great-grandmother, who transformed the legend of Saint Anthony into the tale of a superhero. Lia never forgot the stories she was told in childhood and they stuck in her mind, even while studying History at the University of Coimbra (2007) and during her Master’s degree in Digital Humanities (EuroMACHS – University of Turku and University of Coimbra, 2010). Her work in the historical archives of diverse institutions required an empirical search for theoretical tools and practical methodologies with which she could interpret sources with as much historical criticism as possible. Her PhD project on Gregorio Lopez complemented this search, with the clear goal of making this scientific contribution available to a wide audience including but not limited to academic scholars. In what she considers an ongoing academic process, Lia has come to identify more and more with being a scientifically-driven (hi)story-teller: ´I am completely driven by the viewpoint that the communication of science is as important as its production. Academia and society need to communicate more and I hope to find ways of creating positive input that will help to bridge the divide.’

PhD ceremony

On the 29 June, Lia Nunes will defend her thesis entitled The anti-biography of Gregorio Lopez. Deconstructing a sixteenth-century vita to earn her doctoral degree in Religious Studies. This thesis defence is part of a PhD ceremony in the presence of her primary supervisors Mirjam de Baar, Professor of the Cultural History of Early Modern Christianity, with a special emphasis on the Religious History of the Netherlands in its International Context, at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, and Prof. J.P. Oliveira e Costa, as well as co-supervisors Dr Mathilde van Dijk, Lecturer in History of Christianity and Gender Studies at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies and Dr T. Hillerkuss.

  • When: Monday 29 June 2020
  • Starts: 4.15 p.m.
  • Where: Academy Building
Last modified:02 September 2022 4.44 p.m.
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