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

By Kathleen Ann Myers | Go to book overview

2
La China Poblana
Catarina de San Juan (ca. 1607–1688)—
Hagiography and the Inquisition

Everything your ministers and your Christians tell me I fail to perceive, nor to understand, because I am a simpleton, a little creature with no memory, nor understanding; speak to me in my tongue, Lord, so that I will know Your will; let Your voice sound sweetly in my ears, for I am ready to hear You and obey You.

—Alonso Ramos, quoting Catarina de San Juan, De los prodigios, vol. 3, 68

[De los prodigios] contains revelations, visions, and apparitions that are useless and improbable and full of contradictions and improper, indecent, and dangerous comparisons … [and] dangerous doctrines that contradict the understandings of the Doctors and practices of the Universal Catholic Church on no more grounds than the author's vain beliefs.

—1692 Edict of the Spanish Inquisition

Some fifteen years after bells had called Limeños to the streets to celebrate the canonization of their first saint, people living in the other Spanish viceroyality, New Spain, and its second largest city, Puebla de los Angeles, heard the death bells toll for a visionary woman from Delhi, India, who had lived in their midst for nearly seventy years. Hoping to catch a glimpse of her and to participate to some degree in her holiness, crowds descended on the house where Catarina de San Juan's body was displayed on January 5, 1688. 1 Over the next two days, the line of people waiting to enter the house grew to be four blocks long. Although she was brought to America as a slave by Portuguese pirates and sold to a couple in Puebla, Catarina had been a free woman for nearly half a century and had become a popular if reclusive visionary. The widespread recognition of her holiness earned Catarina the sort of farewell that was usually reserved for the highest elite: most of the city's ranking ecclesiastical and civic officials attended an elaborate funeral mass, and she was buried in the Jesuit Church of the Colegio del Espíritu Santo. The laudatory biographical sermon delivered at Catarina's funeral and two hagiographic biographies about her were published within four years of her death. In addition, several portraits of her went

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