Teaching Other Voices: Women and Religion in Early Modern Europe

By Margaret L. King; Albert Rabil Jr. | Go to book overview

FRANCISCA DE LOS APÓSTOLES:
A VISIONARY SPEAKS

Gillian T. W. Ahlgren

Francisca de los Apóstoles (b. 1539) has a great deal to teach us about sixteenth-century life. A beata1 who dedicated herself to the cause of ecclesiastical reform primarily by attempting to found, with her sister, a new religious house for women, Francisca came to the attention of the Inquisitional tribunal of Toledo when she was thirty-six years old. Her trial gives us an instant window into both inquisitorial procedure and the vicissitudes of Spanish urban life, particularly as they were experienced by a woman who possessed a keen social and religious conscience. In this essay, I shall suggest some of the ways that her story and voice can be incorporated into a number of classes, both graduate and undergraduate, in ways that challenge our current understanding of sixteenth-century religious life and make the past come to life in vivid and unique ways.

Little is known about Francisca other than what can be gleaned from the Inquisitional archives, which contain the record of her trial (1574–78); six letters, which she introduced into evidence; a set of vows she took after a series of religious experiences; and statements from twenty-six witnesses. She was born in the town of Novés and came to Toledo at the age of sixteen, when she lived as a beata at the convent of Santa María la Blanca. Francisca

1. The term beata encompasses many forms of religious life in Spain. In general, beatas were
independent religious women who did not take formal vows but devoted themselves, nonethe-
less, to religious life, at times through a specific religious order and at times independently,
under the supervision of a confessor. Beatas often wore some form of religious habit and engaged
in religious responsibilities, even in religious instruction to young women. Because they did
not take formal vows, however, they were allowed to change their status if, for example, they
chose to marry. For more information about Spanish beatas, see, for example, Gillian T. W.
Ahlgren, “Negotiating Sanctity: Holy Women in Sixteenth-Century Spain,” in Church History
64 (1995): 373–88; and Mary Elizabeth Perry, Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), 97–117.

-157-

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