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The Americas 59.3 (2003) 416-417

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Between the Sacred and the Worldly: The Institutional and Cultural Practice of Recogimiento in Colonial Lima. By Nancy van Deusen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. Pp. xvii, 319. Map. Notes. Tables. Bibliography. Glossary. Appendixes. Index. $60.00 cloth.

The practice of recogimiento, a word of multiple meanings in sixteenth-century Spain and its colonies, created institutions also known as recogimientos and beaterios in the peninsula and in the New World. Nancy van Deusen's study of the significance of this concept as well as the institutional venues for its expression in colonial Lima goes a long way to disentangle the conceptual framework from the practical aspects relating both. Recogimiento could mean virtue as well as the venue for spirituality and it implied enclosure when it was cultivated by women. Such enclosure could mean "correction" of wayward women as well as the willful abandonment of worldly concerns to dedicate oneself to religious observance. Such contradictory understandings provide the formula to explore an engaging topic in the history of women in Peru, in which birth, race, and class mingle with civil status and concepts of honor to reveal what van Deusen calls the meeting of the sacred and the worldly.

When the first recogimiento was founded in Lima it was meant for mestiza maidens to assimilate Spanish ways of life. All important Peruvian cities had similar institutions which expressed the social preoccupation with these women. Fifty years later, the concerns of the first generation of settlers had changed and the practice of protecting mestizas was forgotten as society became more demographically complex. Recogimientos then began to include sexually and morally deviant women, as well as serving as refuges from which women could contest the problems of ill-suited marriages.

The foundation of monasteries where women could profess as nuns and practice religious recogimiento accelerated during the seventeenth century. This development encouraged the establishment of beaterios and recogimientos where spirituality and education challenged and eventually replaced the notion of punishment and marital contestation associated with late sixteenth century recogimientos. All beaterios founded in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries carried a religious mission and some of them evolved into nunneries.

The plight of women in institutional recogimientos seeking separation from their husbands (the only recognized form of "divorce") gives van Deusen the opportunity to examine conjugal terms and politics in the seventeenth century when recogimiento (virtue and seclusion) had a great deal to do with the honor of husbands and wives. The author argues that women subverted the idea that recogimientos equated immoral behavior and established grounds for a redefinition of "divorciadas." While this may be true, the elite strengthened the concept of recogimientos and beaterios as foci of purity and spirituality. Throughout the seventeenth century this process was consolidated with the foundation of at least eleven such institutions in addition to ten convents. The reformulation of the term meant that in the eighteenth century recogimientos, beaterios, and female convents offered choices for punishment of transgression as well as for spiritual training and development. [End Page 416]

The study of recogimiento as a concept encapsulated in practice as well as institutional foundation extends the meaning of the word to encompass private and public behavior, spiritual as well as moral venues. Establishing a bridge between the cultural analysis of the term and its praxis in colonial society Van Deusen concludes that the concept of recogimiento was "integral to women's identity throughout the seventeenth century" (p. 160). She also makes a case for the study of transculturation, the process of cultural transfer and readaptation of concepts, that makes the study of many features of "colonial" society readable, and thus universally understood, in other Catholic European societies, especially those politically tied to the Iberian monarchy. While I found that the study of canonical and religious texts of the period might have enhanced the understanding of the connections among such terms as alumbradismo, mysticism, sanctity, visionary, and recogimiento, the enrichment of our understanding of the concept of recogimiento is praiseworthy. It definitely...


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