Neither Saints nor Sinners: Writing the Lives of Women in Spanish America

Neither Saints nor Sinners: Writing the Lives of Women in Spanish America

Neither Saints nor Sinners: Writing the Lives of Women in Spanish America

Neither Saints nor Sinners: Writing the Lives of Women in Spanish America

Synopsis

This book brings together the portraits and autobiographical texts of six 17th-century Latin American women, drawing on primary sources that include Inquisition and canonization records, confessional and mystic journals, and legal defenses and petitions.

Excerpt

How I longed to be a saint!

—María de San José, Vida, vol. 3

Your path is very similar to Saint Teresa's.

—God speaking to María de San José, Vida, vol. 1

I have seen these papers…. God is apparent in this creature. Hurry her up and ask her to write the rest of what happened to her.

—Letter from Bishop Fernández de Santa Cruz to María's confessor, in Santander y Torres, Vida

As Rosa's canonization process was being renewed in Rome and Catarina de San Juan was leading a life as a visionary in Puebla, half a day's journey away in New Spain, a girl experienced a vision that changed her life. Juana Palacios Berruecos recalls in her autobiographical vida that a vision of the devil, followed by one of the Virgin Mary, led to her decision to follow a religious vocation. Living on a rural hacienda on the outskirts of Tepeaca, she began an extreme ascetic practice and later was associated with the Franciscans as a lay beata. But unlike Rosa, who refused to enter the convent, Juana sought the safety of the cloister and the vow of perpetual enclosure. in fact, she struggled for more than two decades to achieve her wish, often encountering family conflict over her decision. At the age of thirty-one, Juana finally entered the Augustinian Convent of Santa Mónica in Puebla, Mexico, and rejoiced at becoming “dead to the world. ” After professing final vows and changing her name to María de San José, she could no longer leave the walls of the convent or see family and friends without an iron grate between them and a chaperone present. Beginning with these early years on the hacienda and continuing throughout more than three decades of convent life, María strove to be saintlike with all her heart: she exclaims in her confessional journals, “How I longed to be a saint!” (vol. 3).

Significantly, when María de San José wrote years later from the point of view of a high-ranking nun about her twenty years of living on the hacienda as a lay reli-

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