The Americas 60.4 (2004) 647-648
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Asunción Lavrin and Rosalva Loreto's anthology Monjas y beatas explores the gendered nature of post-Tridentine religiosity through the religious writings or dictations of five women in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonial Mexico. Key aspects of the Tridentine reforms (1543-63) significantly reshaped Catholicism and Catholic religiosity, including the administrative reorganization of the clergy, an increased focus on the conversion based on the lives of the saints, and the increased role of the secular clergy in the diffusion of theology. These changes helped to develop a new spirituality, one that refocused on the individual religious experiences of men and women and created a role for mysticism and visionary experiences. The authors argue that "all [the women], through their visions, lived a particular form of spirituality in New Spain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries" (p. 5), a spirituality that was gendered and recreated within the local conditions and lived experiences in the New World. Together, the writings that comprise this volume illustrate the new forms of religious observance and spirituality of the post-Tridentine order, one that linked Catholic practices to mysticism and visionary experiences, and broadened female religious expression to include writing. The contributors present three genres of women's religious writing—autobiographies, spiritual diaries, and letters—while the collection is organized into five chapters, each containing brief analyses of a particular individual and her writings, followed by an unedited excerpt.
As Kathleen Myers points out in her chapter on Madre María de San José (1656-1719), it is astonishing that we have the documents at all. Women's writing in this context was part of the works required of some nuns for one's spiritual development. Nevertheless, it was exceptional for a confessor to tell a female religious charge to write. An Agustinian nun who lived in convents in Puebla and later Oaxaca, Madre María de San José left twelve volumes of close to two thousand pages of writing. Her autobiography highlights the importance of the relationship between confessor-spiritual charge as crucial for the construction of mystical writing. Rosalva Loreto López presents a selection from the autobiography of Francisca de la Natividad, a criolla and Carmelite nun of the convent of Santa Teresa de Puebla who wrote in the 1630s. She wrote at the behest of her confessor Miguel [End Page 647] Godínez, a Jesuit who encouraged nuns in other convents to write as well. Asunción Lavrin presents an excerpt from the spiritual diary of Sor María de Jesús Felipa, a nun in the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia in eighteenth-century Mexico City. This chapter contains Sor María de Jesús Felipa's spiritual diary for the year 1758, written in the form of monthly reports to her confessor. Her writing highlights key themes of her monastic life: monthly updates on her spiritual status and religious devotions that resulted in her experience of a direct dialogue with God. One can also identify lighter aspects of conventual life when someone in the convent, aware of her fear of animals, placed a turtle in her bath.
Antonio Rubial's chapter of the spiritual diary of Josefa de San Luis Beltrán, a secular woman from Puebla, presents another aspect of female mystical religious experience outside of formal monastic communities—that of a lay visionary. As a child, Josefa de San Luis Beltrán and her younger sister were encouraged in their visionary activities by their uncle, a Dominican. The two sisters received faithful visitors in their home, including a cleric named Joseph Bruñón de Vértiz. Josefa de San Luis Beltrán dictated her mystical experiences to him, structured in the form of the forty-five stations of Calvary. Rubial argues that Josefa de San...