UAB professor to conduct first comprehensive study of centuries-old legal case that reveals how far one man was willing to go to escape racial discrimination

John K. Moore Jr. explores the lived experiences of people and pilgrims of color in early modern Europe and the Atlantic world.

Written by: Tiffany Westry

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john mooreJohn MooreUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham professor John K. Moore Jr., Ph.D., has been awarded a research fellowship from the Institute for Pilgrimage Studies at the College of William & Mary. Moore is an associate professor of Spanish in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

The fellowship will help fund Moore’s current work, a bilingual edition and study of “His Majesty’s Prosecutor v. José Soller, Mulatto Pilgrim, for Impersonating a Priest and Other Crimes,” a previously unedited and unpublished legal case from late 17th-century Spain. This body of work will be the first study, edition and translation of the case against José Soller.

José Soller was traveling as a pilgrim from Lisbon, Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and had intended to continue from there to Rome, Italy, when he was apprehended in Ourense, Spain, in 1693 for impersonating a priest. Moore’s review of the case reveals Soller pretended to be a priest after having been imprisoned numerous times during his travels because authorities assumed he was a runaway slave due to his skin color. In addition to his crime of impersonating a priest, the prosecutor was expressly offended that he committed an act in offense against the holy priesthood as a “mulatto” man.

Moore says the case gives the world a rare window into the real-life challenges a person of black African descent faced in Europe and the broader Atlantic world after the Renaissance and shows the lengths to which one man was willing to go to try to escape discrimination.

“I suspect Soller was using the pilgrimage road and the disguises it affords as a sort of Underground Railroad, but the plan backfired as soon as he tried to improve his social status as a person of color,” Moore said. “People who pay attention to issues of race and social class will find informative parallels between Soller’s experience and those of black African heritage living in the Americas and Europe today, including in the United States.”

john moore classProfessor Moore and students at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.Moore’s research focuses on the intersection of ethnicity and pilgrimage. His latest essay, “Two Religions on One Road to Santiago: Polyethnicity and Syncretism on the Camino in ‘Saint Jacques ... la Mecque,’” has been included in a newly published book, “The Camino de Santiago in the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Global Views.”

“I am particularly honored for my research to garner this recognition alongside my students’ successes in their own endeavors on the national stage,” Moore said.

The award announcement was made at the 2015 Annual Symposium for Pilgrimage Studies in October. UAB is a charter member of the international Consortium on Pilgrimage Studies formed in 2011. The consortium is composed of member universities and colleges from across the United States and Canada. The consortium brings together scholars from diverse fields including sociology, classical studies, religious studies, anthropology, literature and languages, art history, kinesiology, theater and dance, medieval history, law, and education.

Undergraduate and graduate students from member institutions are eligible to apply to the consortium’s annual summer study-away pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Moore’s own trip, UAB on the Camino in Spain, has been a source of research for his students. Junior Erica McDonald’s research, “The Culture of Cuisine on the Camino” was well-received at this year’s symposium. Senior Angela Hollowell’s research, “Pilgrimage as a Metaphor for Life,” also drew attention at the 2015 National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in November, as well as “The Nature of Space and Its Effects on Pilgrims along the Road to Santiago,” at the 2015 Southern Regional Honors Council Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. The students’ research is the culmination of investigative reports conducted during the 2014 UAB on the Camino pilgrimage.