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

By Kathleen Ann Myers | Go to book overview

1
Redeemer of America
Rosa de Lima (1586–1617)—The Dynamics
of Identity and Canonization

Here is a Rose, new flower of a new world, that from the Pacific Ocean of the Indies exudes peace, springtime, and joy. Could it be that it exudes sanctity as well?

—Leonard Hansen, “Dedicatoria, ” Vida admirable de Santa Rosa

On April 29, 1671, bells rang throughout Lima, Peru, to announce the arrival of the papal bull from Clement X that proclaimed America's first saint, Rosa de Santa María. A criolla woman who was born less than a century after Columbus's voyages to America, Rosa was elevated to the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic Church. A contemporary Dominican chronicler, Juan de Meléndez, describes the celebration that followed in Lima. 1 Religious brotherhoods dedicated to Rosa displayed their floats, churches brimmed over with flowers and candles for the event, and Limeños of all classes and races poured into the streets to follow the procession. Even the highest ranking state officials, the viceroy and vicereine, attended the Mass in Rosa's honor and received the official Roman hagiography and portrait of the saint. Meléndez goes on to report that when a miraculous voice spoke to the assembled crowd, witnesses interpreted the event as yet another sign that Lima had indeed received God's favor.

Rosa de Santa María (1586–1617) had been a popular figure for Limeños for over half a century, with mass veneration beginning almost at the moment of the mystic's death at the age of thirty-one. Throngs of people fought to catch a glimpse of Rosa in her open casket at the Church of Santo Domingo, where this lay holy woman associated with the Dominican order had so often been seen in the past, praying for Lima's inhabitants. Chronicles of the period record that the viceroy summoned the civil guard to control crowds that were clipping pieces of her clothing to keep as holy relics. 2 Soon Limeños were adorning their houses with portraits of Rosa in order to honor her and to invoke her protection. They also began to form religious brotherhoods and to found the Dominican Convent of Santa Catalina, whose establishment Rosa had prophesied. 3

Ecclesiastical officials in Lima responded immediately to this popular devotion by taking testimony from witnesses as to Rosa's life and miracles. This first local

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