Between 1637 and 1660, the Conceptionist nun, María de Agreda, composed a 1500 page biography of the Virgin Mary, posthumously published in 1670 as Mística ciudad de Dios. Correspondent with and advisor to King Philip IV, as well as other high political figures, Sor María never actually left her convent. Yet she effectively challenged the entire cultural and economic construct of womanhood dominant in the European tradition, by rejecting the objectifying, sexualized ideology that appraised woman as sin or honor, and fashioned, instead, an alternative model of feminine comportment in which her archetypal woman is subject and active in the roles of teacher, apostle, warrior and leader, as well as wife and mother in an egalitarian household. My paper focuses on Sor María’s reinterpretation of Renaissance prescriptive formulas for maidens, wives, and widows. Through innovation and invention, Sor María constructs a Virgin Mary whose achievements, within both the domestic and public sphere, interrogate dominant hermeneutics of power and influence. As mother to Christ, wife to Joseph, and finally widow, the Virgin subverts the traditional prescriptions of silence and seclusion by leaving the home to teach, preach, govern, and engage in battle, while simultaneously realizing a healthy and optimistic motherhood that compels her readers to contemplate the context from which power and change emerge.


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pp. 230-251
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