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

By Kathleen Ann Myers | Go to book overview

Conclusions

Two key periods in time and two geographical centers frame the lives of the women discussed in this book. The first place and time was Lima, Peru, in the early 1620s. It was there that America's most lauded saint, Rosa de Lima, and one of America's most officially approved sinners, Catalina de Erauso, came to significant turning points in their respective paths to sanctity or notoriety. The two women had lived within the same viceroyalty, but Rosa lived under the vigilant eyes of confessors in the capital, Lima, while Catalina roamed on the periphery of the empire, in the Andes and on the frontiers of Chile. By the early 1620s, however, Rosa had died and her canonization process had been halted because her followers were being interrogated by the Inquisition. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant Nun was ordered to enter a convent in Lima. Within years, the tables turned again—returning Rosa to the good graces of the Catholic Church and Catalina to life on the road dressed as a man. In both cases, bishops, the Crown, and finally the pope himself played important roles in determining the often fine line between saints and sinners. Through these examples of the two extremes of official saint and pardoned sinner, we gain a perspective on the other four women's lives.

The setting for the lives of Catarina de San Juan, María de San José, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was Spanish America's other viceroyality, New Spain, in the last years of 1680 and early 1690, under the energetic pastorship of the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz. Their lives illustrate the overlapping, often contradictory relationships between institutions and individuals. While Madre María eagerly sought to live like a saint, she was at first blocked from entering the convent. Sor Juana, in contrast, was encouraged to enter the convent, even though she admits her own motives were to pursue a life of letters in the cloister. And Catarina de San Juan, barred from becoming a nun because of her Asian origins, was promoted by local clergy as a symbol of holiness in Puebla. Like Rosa and Catalina in the viceroyality of Peru, Maria's, Juana's and Catarina's stories became heavily institutionalized, coopted by Church authorities who either refashioned official images for posterity or limited access to the women's original self-portraits by controlling publications, portraits, and cults. Even so, the stories of their lives still made the transatlantic crossing to the Consejo de Indias in Seville and the Court or Inquisition in Madrid. Extraordinary cases were even taken to Rome for the pope and his advisors to cast the definitive vote.

Perhaps the only exception to this pattern of individual lives used by authorities to establish a colonial identity is the story of Ursula Suárez. She wrote from the

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