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Between Exaltation and InfamyFemale Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain$

Stephen Haliczer

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195148633

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195148630.001.0001

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The Perception of Sanctity

The Perception of Sanctity

Reputation, Cult Formation, and Canonization

(p.265) 12 The Perception of Sanctity
Between Exaltation and Infamy

Stephen Haliczer (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In order to ensure that canonization would be a possibility, woman mystics intentionally created a cult of veneration, which acknowledged that they were indeed recipients of God's favor. This was achieved by demonstrating, for instance, that they had experienced the pain of suffering of Christ's passion and could effect miraculous deeds, including healings. Further, it was necessary to build support networks within their communities and among politicians and ecclesiastical authorities. Upon their deaths, their communities would continue the quest through elaborate funerals and public veneration. Still, it was those who did not threaten the male‐hierarchy who were most likely to achieve canonization.

Keywords:   canonization, Christ's Passion, cult, deaths, healings, reputation, sanctity, supernatural, veneration

The relationship between the life of a woman mystic and the development of a cultic veneration for her that might lead eventually to beatification or even canonization is highly complex, with many elements. In the first place, there were the efforts made by the woman herself to create or enhance her reputation for sanctity, especially by demonstrating that she enjoyed a special closeness to God. But advancing up the ladder of sanctity from popular saint to official canonization required more than the extraordinary penitential practices and parapsychological manifestations that most women mystics of any reputation could deploy. The elaborate and expensive procedures for canonization that were gradually introduced after 1588 meant that key long‐term support would have to be forthcoming from religious orders, municipalities, regional authorities, and the monarchy itself.

Because the production of spectacular outward signs of grace was the traditional way in which such support could be elicited, these women acted out trances, spoke with the voice of God, preached elaborate sermons, and pantomimed the sufferings of Christ. Their audiences, which could include not only the members of their own religious community but also spiritual advisors, other members of the order, secular clergy, judges and officials of the Inquisition, and laypeople, were well prepared for the performances they were about to witness by the elaborate theater of the day, with its emphasis on the lives of the saints and other religious themes.

Francisca Inés de la Concepción, the prioress of the Franciscan Convent of Belén in Cifuentes, was not only a woman of considerable beauty but also a performer of no mean ability. On one occasion, when the chapel of the (p.266) convent was full of people, she knelt in front of the screen in the upper choir where the nuns were observing mass. Having attracted the attention and admiration of the congregants with the extraordinary beauty of her pose and the expression on her face, she addressed the angels in heaven, urging them to sing and dance in honor of God. Seemingly carried away by religious fervor, she then turned her eyes to heaven and asked if she could be admitted to that sacred company. Indicating the success of this supplication, she arose from the kneeling position and commenced a slow and graceful dance around the upper choir in full view of the spectators and the other nuns. With “exquisite dexterity,” she returned to her original position, all the while keeping up a soliloquy devoted to the holy sacrament that was so moving that the entire congregation was overcome with tears.1

An even more direct and convincing sign of divine favor was to be infused with the Holy Spirit so that one actually spoke with the voice of God. One of the most impressive examples of this phenomenon was the cycle of divine sermons that the Holy Spirit is said to have preached through the mouth of the Franciscan Juana de la Cruz. At age twenty‐two, after a long period of remaining mute, she was informed directly by God that henceforth he would speak through her. During the next thirteen years, Juana would enter a trance‐ like state and “preach” before large numbers of people who had been invited into the convent for the occasion.

Many of her sermons were recorded by three nuns who were miraculously granted the ability to write for the occasion. Bound into a book, the sermons were kept in the convent and venerated as a relic. It is no wonder, therefore, that Juana de la Cruz was already the subject of a cult long before she died in 1534 and that her funeral was the scene of a massive outpouring of popular devotion.2

The “feigned” mystic Clara de San Francisco was highly cognizant of her need to build her saintly reputation among the other nuns in her convent by convincing them that she enjoyed divine favor. She accomplished this by staging a series of trances in highly public places, such as the choir, when she would either speak directly with Christ or relate what Christ had been saying to her. In the first type of vision, the object was to impress upon the other nuns the extreme favor that Christ, as her spouse, was showing her. Maintaining a trancelike state, she spoke in the third person of how “dressed in purest white, Clara savored dallying with her spouse who had presented her with a crown of rubies.” After convincing her hearers that she indeed enjoyed extraordinary favor, she addressed them directly, assuring them, “Our Lord loves all of them exceedingly, and that they all enjoyed a state of grace.”3

Aware that modesty and humility were considered to be an indispensable attribute of sanctity, Clara carried on a second “dialogue” with Christ, during which she appeared to reject his favors because she was not worthy to receive them. Making sure that she chose a night when another nun was sharing her cell so that her vision would be widely reported, she called upon Christ to take back his gifts. She exclaimed that she was unworthy to have that beautiful wedding ring or that cross of gold and precious stones that he had presented (p.267) to her. She would content herself instead with a “cross of pain and suffering,” like the one that he had been crowned with during the passion.4

Even though Clara's reputation for sanctity had not spread far beyond the walls of her convent when she was arrested by the Canaries tribunal in August 1644, she was successful in convincing most of the other nuns of her saintly qualities. Several of her most ardent supporters had visions that appeared to validate her pretensions. In one instance, Magdalena del Sacramento, the former abbess, testified that she had seen Clara seated next to the apostles in heaven.5 María de Santa Clara, another supporter, described Clara as a woman of “saintly life” and had a vision of her surrounded by an aura of splendid light.6 Given time and the support of her spiritual advisors and superiors in the order, Clara might have been able to build a formidable “saintly” reputation outside the convent, but the pressure to constantly perform new “miracles” and provide the nuns with encouraging prophecies proved her undoing. Forced to risk her “saintly” reputation by undertaking superhuman feats of abstinence, she ended by quarreling with one of her spiritual advisors, who just happened to be a notary of the Inquisition. Once he had decided that she was a fraud, Clara's arrest on charges of “false sanctity” and fake revelations was a foregone conclusion. Instead of enjoying the adulation of a cult following, therefore, Clara was to undergo a humiliating trial and suffer permanent exile from the convent for which she had tried to do so much.

But perhaps the most important way in which individuals could demonstrate that God's favor had been bestowed upon them was to be permitted to experience the pain and suffering that Christ had undergone during the passion. Described in luxuriant detail in such popular works as Pedro de Ribadeneyra's Flos Sanctorum, the passion became such an accepted sign of divine favor that fully 60 percent of the “true” mystics and 26.6 percent of the “false” mystics attempted to simulate the experience.

Beatriz María de Jesús made a specialty of acting out the passion during her time as a nun. Every year on the anniversary of the impression of the stigmata on Francis of Assisi, she would be informed in vision that it was her time to suffer. One story from her biography relates how on September 16, 1687, having first asked and received permission from the abbess, she commenced her sufferings by extending her arms and placing her legs one on top of the other, just as Christ had been forced to do on the cross. This was accompanied by a vision in which she saw St. Francis and her own guardian angel attaching her to a cross. For the next three hours, for so she had been ordered in the vision, she manifested every outward sign of intense suffering to an admiring audience of nuns, while her body remained as rigid as marble. Arriving at a climax of suffering, she concluded the performance by seeming to expire, although as soon as the prescribed three‐hour interlude was over, she was as healthy as ever before.

But Beatriz did not confine herself to performing the passion on the anniversary of St. Francis's stigmata. Lent, as the traditional season for penitential discipline, served her purpose equally well. During one Lenten season, when she still lived at home, Beatriz assumed the form of the crucified Christ (p.268) on several occasions, and once she could be heard to cry out, “Oh my God! Oh my God” and to breathe heavily and audibly, much to the amazement of her family and the numerous spectators who were invited to see her during such performances. As the three‐hour interval drew to a close, her breathing was heard to diminish in strength, until she remained pale and seemingly near death.7

Equally impressive, in terms of both the performance and the impression it made on spectators, were the passion “sufferings” of the “false” mystic Catalina Ballester. Catalina, who boasted that she was destined to be canonized, frequently acted out the pains of the passion in front of the Morlana sisters, with whom she was living, and other spectators. On one occasion, with seven people watching, including her confessor Dr. Anglada, she began imitating the passion while lying in bed. Assuming the position of Christ on the cross with her body so rigid that no one could move it, she screwed up her face, grimaced, experienced great suffering. After several minutes of this, she seemed to be dead and was able to use her power to control her own body so effectively that one of the spectators who attempted to feel her pulse found nothing. Although everyone in the room wanted to understand what had happened, they were so impressed that they asked no questions and concluded that all of these things were “divine and celestial.”8

Adopting a tactic designed to enhance the prestige of Dr. Anglada, her confessor and one of her principal supporters, Ballester made it a point to “suffer” the pains of the passion almost every time he heard her in confession. Taking to her bed, she would remain rigid, with her arms outstretched and one leg over the other, crying, “Oh my legs! Oh my arms! Oh my ears! Oh my side!” as if she were really experiencing pain in the places where Christ had suffered. Because Anglada was writing her spiritual biography and openly spoke of her as a “saint,” it was very much in Ballester's interest to associate the divine favor of suffering the pain of the passion with his spiritual ministrations.9

Isabel de Briñas, another “pretended” mystic who demonstrated an ability to attract a following, sought to strengthen their devotion by imitating the passion in their presence. Ana del Christo, one of the witnesses at her trial, recalled that once, when Briñas was said to be ill, she went to her home to see if she could help her. Once she entered the room where Briñas was confined, however, she was surprised to find that many people were present, including a Dominican friar and her confessor Domingo Daza. Briñas was lying in bed in a trancelike state; taking various poses connected with the passion, including the position that Christ assumed on the cross; and crossing her hands over her chest like a cadaver. Murmuring their approval of this trance, the spectators were ushered out while Briñas remained alone with her confessor. Briñas's success in increasing her cult following by using this tactic was demonstrated a few days later, when Ana visited her again and found seven or eight people in the room, including one man kneeling in front of her bed devotedly saying the rosary.10

Another tactic designed to create and maintain a wide popular following was to distribute cult objects reputed to have magical or preservative powers. The existence of such objects would not only spread their cult during their (p.269) lifetime but also help create the basis for compiling dossiers of sanctity after death, as followers ascribed miraculous events to them.

One of the easiest and most direct ways to create a large number of cult objects in the shortest possible time was to use rosary beads. Apparently the early‐sixteenth‐century mystic Juana de la Cruz enjoyed considerable success with rosaries that she claimed her guardian angel would elevate to heaven. After her death in 1534, her followers (or certain individuals who hoped to profit from owning the “blessed” rosaries) circulated a false indulgence purportedly issued by Gregory XIII (1572–85), attributing all kinds of powers and virtues to them up to and including those of the Agnus Dei.11

Judging by a crudely printed indulgence that was turned over to the Valladolid tribunal in 1635, Juana may have set a standard for counterfeit indulgences that inspired other would‐be saints. This paper, which was circulated widely all over Castile, listed a series of indulgences enjoyed by those in possession of the rosary beads and crosses distributed by Sor Luisa de la Ascensión, the famous “nun of Carrión.” Perhaps influenced by a tradition in the Franciscan order stemming from the time of Juana de la Cruz, the indulgences listed included the “virtues of the Agnus Dei” and those attributed to the “beads of Santa Juana.”12

But the “nun of Carrión” seemed to have gone considerably further than her predecessor and made a real industry out of creating a saintly reputation by distributing cult objects. An inventory of cult items in the possession of her brother Francisco Colmenares included hundreds of rosaries, metal hearts inscribed with her name, estampas, crosses, and items of personal use. Domingo de Aspe, one of her spiritual advisors, even wrote the Franciscan commissioner general on March 26, 1633, to bemoan the fact that in Valladolid there were entire stalls devoted to selling her rosaries and cult objects, something he believed detracted from her reputation.13

The “sham” mystic Isabel de Briñas, who was active at about the same time as Luisa de la Ascensión, not only claimed a spiritual relationship with the “nun of Carrión” but also shared a supporter with her.14 She also appears to have taken a leaf out of Luisa's book by distributing “blessed” rosary beads to the sick as a way of increasing her own cult.15

To spread her reputation as a miracle worker, especially in her Madrid neighborhood, Isabel also commissioned a local painter to make pictures showing her magical cures, which she then had hung up in the parish church. Unfortunately for Isabel, however, this strategy backfired, resulting in the alienation of a powerful official at the court of Philip IV who later testified against her at her trial. Called to the home of royal aposentador Santiago Vigil after his wife had suffered from a bleeding administered by an inept barber surgeon, Isabel claimed to have cured the woman after she applied a poultice to the wound. In accordance with her usual practice, Isabel then commissioned her painter to make a miracle painting of the cure and hung it in the chapel of the nearby Dominican convent in the name of Santiago Vigil's wife.16 As he later testified before the Toledo tribunal, Vigil was incensed at Briñas's presumption in taking credit for a cure that he considered due entirely to natural (p.270) causes and then publishing his wife's name without permission. Even though he was too afraid of Domingo Daza, the powerful warden of the convent and one of Isabel de Briñas's strongest supporters, to have the painting removed, he approached the painter and tried to force him to cover over his wife's name so that she would not be associated with such a fraud. Much to his chagrin, however, the painter refused on the grounds that covering the name would indicate a lack of devotion to Isabel de Briñas. Confronted by this refusal, Vigil could do little more than beg the tribunal to order that his wife's name be removed from the painting.

But, lest she be seen as immodest or accused of seeking the kind of publicity for herself that would automatically arouse suspicion and possibly attract the unwelcome attention of the authorities, a woman could go just so far in creating her own “saintly” reputation. To spread her reputation to its fullest extent during her lifetime, she needed the help of her supporters, spiritual advisors, and even her servants.

To spread her cult, Martina de los Angeles y Arilla, the Dominican lay nun from Zaragoza, was able to make extensive use of the services of Mosen Juan Paladilla, the parish priest from Villamayor. Paladilla, who was credulous enough to believe Martina when she told him that she had actually appeared to one of the women of the village when she was on her deathbed, was eager to spread her reputation as a miracle worker because he depended on it to supplement his meager benefice. Located in the foothills of the Sierra de Alcubrerre, Villamayor was an ideal location to practice weather magic by conjuring the damaging hailstorms that were so common in the region. Traveling throughout the district, Paladilla used crosses she had blessed and invoked her name in order to control the forces of nature and collect fees from the rural people for his trouble. As a sideline to his weather‐conjuring business, Paladilla made use of Martina's rosary beads to effect magical cures all over the district. His success in fostering her cult is attested to by the fact that in her home village it became customary to invoke her whenever someone was seriously ill.17

Since Paladilla intended to continue invoking Martina and using items associated with her in his business as a weather conjurer after her death, it was very much in his interest to promote the idea that she had died in the odor of sanctity. To accomplish this, he carefully publicized two visions. In the first one, which took place shortly before her death, he claimed to have seen Saints Dominic, Luis Beltrán, and Peter the Martyr at the door of her cell. Then, just after her death, when her coffin had already been put in the ground, he claimed to have had a vision of her surrounded by flowers and wearing a diadem that emitted a splendid, unearthly light.18 Both visions, of course, clearly indicated that she enjoyed extraordinary divine favor and that the probability of her actually being a saint was extremely high. Helped by these visions and her growing reputation, Mosen Juan Paladilla was able to continue invoking her name and using cult objects connected with her in his conjuring business for many more years.

(p.271) After the woman mystic's death, the maintenance of her reputation for sanctity mainly depended on the loyalty of a core group of supporter families. In Martina de los Angeles y Arilla's case, it was Juan Luis Seyra, a prebendary of Zaragoza cathedral and his two sisters, Jacinta and Inés, who kept the flame alive. The three siblings were the children of Antonio Seyra and Josefa Vinós, two of Martina's most dedicated supporters in the village of Benavarre. The children evidently internalized the tradition and were generous in using pieces of Martina's habit and other cult items left to them by their parents to cure local people of a variety of maladies.19

Servants could also be counted on to spread a woman's fame. Not only were they dependent on their masters for their livelihood and therefore likely to do as they were told but also they could hope to benefit personally from any alms or contributions made by the pious. This is exactly what happened after Isabel de Briñas inherited her house from Quadros. Along with the house came two servants, Pedro Rodríguez and Juana de Guevara, and both proved more than willing to advertise Isabel's reputation for sanctity. Rodríguez, who was eventually brought to trial by the Holy Office for assisting Isabel in her deceptive practices, was accused of benefiting personally from at least part of the contributions made to her in return for telling others about such marvels as her stigmata, trances, and the way Christ had presented her with the crown of thorns that he had worn during the passion.20 Both servants told stories about how St. Inés appeared to Isabel looking “exactly” the same as she was shown in a painting that they had in the house, and both spoke reverently, if inaccurately, about how instead of going to bed at night Isabel remained tied to a cross. Of course, at Isabel's trial, her servants strenuously denied that they had said or done anything to inflate her reputation, but their stories failed to convince the inquisitors and calificadores and were directly contradicted by prosecution witnesses.21

Last but not least, a woman's spiritual advisor could play a key role in spreading a woman's reputation for sanctity and encouraging cultic veneration for her. Luis de Mesa, who acted as confessor to the Franciscan tercera Mariana de Jesús and also wrote her biography, made a point of inviting large numbers of people to view her when she was in a trance and made public any predictions or revelations that he felt would enhance her reputation. On one occasion when she told him that she would recover from a serious illness within eight days, he spread the news all over Toledo. Sure enough, on the day that she predicted she would recover, numerous persons were present, including two physicians. In Luis de Mesa's case, one reason he insisted on manifesting publicly the remarkable spiritual powers of his charge was the prestige that would accrue to him from being her confessor. A no less important motive, however, was the belief, which he shared with many other committed Counter‐Reformation Catholics, that the miraculous recovery was just another wonderful example of God's work in the world, a favor he bestowed on those who had remained faithful to him in a time of religious conflict.22

(p.272) No less direct, in terms of seeking to enhance his penitent's following, was Isabel de Briñas's powerful confessor‐protector, Domingo Daza. According to Isabel de Morales, a wealthy woman who was one of the witnesses at her trial, it was Daza who had first told her about Briñas, describing her as a woman of “rare virtue” and the “most perfect creature in the world.” He encouraged Morales to visit Briñas frequently and consult with her about her spiritual life.23

Interestingly enough, on one occasion Daza even gave Briñas information that allowed her to plausibly advance a claim to supernatural power, thereby solidifying her reputation with one of her key followers. One feast day after preaching a sermon, Daza was invited to dine at the home of one of Briñas's friends and supporters, and while he was there her son fell down the stairs. Even though the boy landed unharmed, his mother was extremely upset by the incident. That same evening, Daza hastened to see Briñas and tell her about what had happened, including the exact time that the child fell. The following day, Briñas went to see the woman and, naming the exact time of the incident, indicated that the child was saved from serious harm only by her intervention. She urged the woman to use her name while invoking divine assistance in any such future accident. But, as the tribunal's prosecuting attorney pointed out in his accusation, even though Briñas had pretended that she was magically present at the time of the child's mishap, in fact she knew about the event only from her confessor.24

In many cases, self‐promotion, plus the efforts of supporters and spiritual advisors, resulted in significant cultic veneration being paid to the woman during her lifetime, thereby laying the basis for efforts to initiate canonization proceedings after her death. Interestingly enough, even though the post‐Tridentine papacy was extremely suspicious of unsanctioned saint cults, popular veneration was still very much accepted as a key validating element for any individual's reputation for sanctity. After reviewing Tomás de Montalvo's biography of Beatriz María de Jesús for his brother, the archbishop of Granada, the distinguished theologian Juan de Ascargorta concluded that her immense popularity in the city simply confirmed the good opinion that her spiritual advisors and the nuns of the Ángel Custodio Convent had of her. While the “importunate clamor” of the popular classes could not be accepted as proof that her soul belonged to God, it at least tended to confirm the other proofs and make it more likely. Greatly reassured by his brother's opinion, Archbishop Martín de Ascargorta issued a license to print the book on October 17, 1713.25

Cultic veneration for Beatriz María de Jesús had begun long before she entered the convent. Spurred by her successful public trances and the support of her family and spiritual advisors, public adulation had reached such a frenzy by the time she was in her late twenties that people would crowd into the alley next to her house or simply walk past it, hoping for a glimpse of her or thinking that being physically close to her would benefit them in some way. To avoid being mobbed when she went to church, Beatriz had to leave her house heavily disguised and tried to avoid going to the same church too often. But these precautions, by increasing her scarcity value, made some people even more desperate to see her perform her devotions. One of the most bizarre (p.273) attempts was made by a woman from one of the city's distinguished families. Discovering a hole in the wall of Beatriz's house that offered a view of a gallery where she sometimes said her prayers, the woman knelt there for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the saintly creature. In fact, Beatriz was so successful in building a cult following that she invited imitation. In 1664, another woman began pretending to have trances, feigning paralysis, and manifesting the same kind of suffering that formed part of Beatriz's religious persona. Exposed as a fake, probably because she lacked the kind of political and family support that Beatriz had always counted on, the woman was punished. Needless to say, the fact that someone had imitated Beatriz so exactly that she had attracted a significant popular following and then been exposed as a fraud did nothing to discourage her supporters, who had already decided that she enjoyed God's special favor.26

The more popular the mystic was in life, the more her death would be the occasion of universal lamentation, and the more people would demand to see the body. After Beatriz died in the Ángel Custodio Convent on February 15, 1702, the community was forced to bring the cadaver to the main choir to accommodate the numerous people who wanted to view it and touch it with their rosaries and other devotional objects. The numbers became so large that the crowd threatened to burst through the iron screen that protected the choir, and a sturdy wooden barrier had to be built to provide additional protection.27

Something very similar happened when Martina de los Angeles y Arilla and six other nuns from the Dominican Convent of Santa Fe in Zaragoza travelled to the village of Benavarre to found the convent of San Pedro Martyr. On Martina's last day in Zaragoza, when she and the other nuns left the convent to worship at the statue of the Virgin of Pilar, she was literally mobbed by hundreds of people who wanted to catch a glimpse of someone about whom they had heard “so many wonders and prodigies.” Similar scenes were repeated throughout the journey, especially in Martina's home village of Villamayor, where she had built a strong following by effecting numerous miracle cures. On their arrival at Benavarre, the nuns were met by the entire city council and other local notables and then brought in procession to the collegiate church, accompanied by the friars from the local Dominican and Augustinian convents.28

During her three years in Benavarre, Martina de las Angeles y Arilla was so successful in creating an intense cultic veneration around her person that, after her death, the nuns of San Pedro Martyr were forced to leave her body on view in the choir for three whole days to satisfy the hundreds of people who came to touch their rosaries to it. She had come to be regarded as the protector of the village with a unique power to intercede for its denizens and propitiate the supernatural forces that threatened to overwhelm it with hailstorms, flood, drought, or disease. This belief, so firmly ingrained in the popular mind by Martina herself and her spiritual advisor Jacinto Blasco, the warden of the nearby Convent of Our Lady of Linares, nearly led to an ugly incident when it came time to remove her body for burial. Fearing that during the procession to the cemetery some people in the mob would throw themselves (p.274) on the body and cut pieces off it for relics, Blasco decided to have it brought there in a closed coffin. But this plan immediately stirred the suspicion of local officials, who were afraid that it was really a scheme to remove the body to Zaragoza, where Martina had spent most of her life as a nun. As the rumor of this supposed conspiracy spread through the village, hundreds of people arrived at the gates of the convent to prevent the removal of the body, which they believed to have thaumaturgical powers. Violence was averted only when Blasco agreed to open the top of the coffin before allowing it to be lowered into the ground, thereby showing the people that Martina was really being buried in the village cemetery.29

Hoping that intense cultic veneration would turn one of their own into another Teresa of Jesus or Rose of Lima, the nuns of the religious community and the superiors of the order vied to engrave the events of the days immediately after the death of a renowned mystic deeply into the popular memory. When Gabriela de San Joseph died in 1701, the nuns of the Carmelite convent in Ubeda rang the bells of the chapel to summon the largest possible number of people to the convent. Soon the streets were filled with people, and even little children shouted, “Let's go to see the saint who has just died in the discalced convent.” Hundreds of people soon appeared at the door, and the two nuns on duty could barely keep up with all the requests to touch rosaries and religious medals to the corpse.

To further intensify public adulation, the nuns brought the corpse down to the choir and allowed people to enter the chapel to venerate it. Since the corpse had remained tractable, they sat it up, placed a palm frond in its hand, and later, acceding to requests by the people crowded against the choir's ornate iron screen, raised her arm as if to bless the multitude.30 The nuns also let a number of artists approach near enough to make portraits of the corpse. These sketches formed the basis for estampas and were distributed all over southern Spain. To satisfy the demand for relics and spread the cult still further, the nuns cut up all her habits, shirts, blankets, and other items and gave them out to the people waiting at the screen. Her longtime confessor, Andrés de Santa Teresa, also sent her veil as a relic to enrich the new Carmelite convent that was founded in Velez‐Málaga. After Gabriela was buried, the nuns sent numerous letters to religious institutions and influential members of the hierarchy, like the bishop of Merida, detailing the “life and virtues of the saintly Gabriela de San Joseph.”31 The funeral itself was celebrated with the greatest pomp that the order could muster. The friars from all of the city's convents came to venerate the body and hear mass in the chapel. So many people crowded into the courtyard of the church and the streets immediately surrounding it that the pulpit had to be erected at the door so that the sermon could be heard.32

Funeral processions could also be effectively exploited by the religious community to dramatize the importance and holiness of a deceased nun or tercera. After the Franciscan tercera Mariana de Jesús died on July 9, 1620, the order went to court to overturn her expressed desire to be buried in a pauper's grave and insisted on interring her in the cloister of the aristocratic (p.275) Convent of San Juan de los Reyes. Completely ignoring Mariana's extreme modesty in life, the Franciscans paraded her body, with its head uncovered, through the widest streets of Toledo so that it could be exposed to a great many people, who were allowed to touch the body with their crosses and rosaries. When the procession finally arrived at San Juan de los Reyes, it was buried with the greatest ceremony in the presence of such an enormous crowd that even nobles were afraid of being trampled.33

Shortly after the burial of a noted female mystic, her order would arrange for a mass to be said in her honor and a sermon to be preached, extolling her virtues. Even though she was only a tercera, Mariana de Jesús' reputation for sanctity was so great by the time of her death in 1620 that the Franciscans decided to go all out in paying her honor. Eight days after her death, the local Franciscan convent where she had worshiped arranged to have a mass for her said by the warden and a sermon preached by Fr. Juan de Guzman, who later became bishop of the Canaries. The order also made sure that copies of the sermon were printed and distributed as widely as possible, even going so far as to send a copy to the pious Archduke Albert of Austria, governor of the Netherlands.34

Largely disregarding the papacy's deep suspicion of anything that smacked of popular veneration for someone who had not been properly investigated by the Congregation of Rites, high officials of certain religious orders went out of their way to demonstrate support for a popular mystic in order to legitimize and deepen popular devotion. After the Dominican tercera María de la Santissima Trinidad died in 1660, amid scenes of popular devotion so intense that her funeral cortege was mobbed and her body stripped of its habit by relic seekers, Alonso de Santo Tomás, who was acting as visitor to the province, made a highly public pilgrimage to her home village of Arazena. While in the village, he went to the parish church and prayed before an image of Our Lady of the Rosary in the same chapel and in the same place that María herself had occupied so often during her lifetime. He also developed a scheme to establish a Dominican convent in the village. Ever since María was age twenty‐four, when she saw a vision indicating that she was to found a Dominican house with fifteen nuns, such a convent had been her greatest wish, but it was only at her death that the order threw its support behind the project. Alonso de Santo Tomás traced out a convent that would incorporate the house in which she had lived and the land immediately around it. After completing his inspection of the site, Santo Tomás wrote to the owner of the village, the duke of Medina de las Torres, to inform him that the Cortes, Castile's chief legislative body, had approved the foundation and to ask for his support.

Yet another story of dramatic intervention by a high official of the mendicant orders to legitimize popular devotion comes from the events surrounding the death of the Franciscan nun Francisca Inés de la Concepción in 1620. Shortly after her death, none other than the order's general commissioner for Spain arrived in Oropesa, where Francisca had lived during the past two years. Commissioner Juan Venido remained in the town for the three days that the body remained exposed to the adulation of the public and then attended the (p.276) funeral and her burial in an elaborate tomb paid for by Count Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, one of her strongest supporters.

Given the political and economic power of the religious orders in early modern Spain and the unwillingness of the authorities to do anything that might diminish piety, even the most flagrant promotion of cultic veneration toward an especially ascetic friar or nun was deemed acceptable. When a woman mystic was suspected of being a fraud, thereby undermining respect and reverence for the church, however, overt manifestations of support by the religious order were precisely what the authorities wished to avoid. When the famous “nun of Carrión” died on October 28, 1636, she was a prisoner of the Holy Office and being tried for fraud, false sanctity, and a host of other charges. In this instance, any public ceremony or procession including members of the Franciscan order would have undermined the Inquisition's attempts to curb the growth of her cult. Appraised of the dangers by the Valladolid judges, the Suprema hastily prohibited the officials of the Franciscan order from “making any show of support for the said Luisa in sermons or honors paid to her without explicit permission from this council.”35

Since burial took place within the precincts of a convent, usually somewhere in the chapel, the order had control over the body itself and could enhance its location or upgrade the tomb as part of a general strategy for maintaining or increasing cultic veneration. Three years after the death of Caterina Tomás, funds were donated to improve her tomb by Juana Paz, one of her most dedicated supporters, while the order completed the construction of an underground chapel just below the one dedicated to Catherine of Siena, Caterina's favorite saint. On the day when Caterina's body was scheduled to be moved, her coffin was opened and the body was dressed in new and more splendid garments and covered with a white silk veil trimmed in gold. After hearing an inspiring sermon by Caterina's longtime spiritual advisor, Canon Juan Abrines, the entire community marched in solemn procession from the church to the convent, where they circled the choir very slowly as if reluctant to part with their Caterina for a second time. Finally, singing hymns of praise, their eyes filled with tears, the nuns marched back to the church, which was crowded with hundreds of worshipers, and down to the subterranean chapel where Caterina was laid to rest.36

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the order kept supporting Caterina's canonization process in Rome, while in Mallorca itself a number of estampas printed by the famed Guasp publishing house kept her memory alive among the popular masses.37 The order's persistence was fi‐nally rewarded when Caterina was beatified in 1792 and canonized in 1930, amid scenes of popular rejoicing by pilgrims from Mallorca who had traveled to Rome on pilgrimages organized by the religious orders.

When Canon Juan Abrines opened Caterina Tomás's coffin just before she was to be moved, he and the nuns who were present wept openly when they saw that her body had remained uncorrupted in spite of the dampness that had stained the sides of the coffin. Even the elements seemed to respect Caterina's body, doubtless because God himself had intervened.38 Incorruptibility (p.277) itself had always been accepted as a positive indication of sanctity, and this belief accounts for the frequency with which the authorities of religious orders authorized opening the coffins of those who had died in the odor of sanctity. The state of the body would indicate the strength of God's protection against the universal forces of decay and destruction; an uncorrupted body would encourage supporters to persevere and confound the doubters. It was to demonstrate and prove incorruptibility that Franciscan authorities allowed the coffin of the Poor Clare María Ángela Astorch to be opened no less than eight times, beginning one year after her death in 1666 and ending in 1867. The results were always favorable enough for the order to tenaciously pursue canonization, although, ironically enough, beatification was achieved only in 1982, after her tomb had been vandalized and her bones scattered during the Spanish Civil War.39

Of course, opening a coffin could prove quite disappointing or even dangerous to the integrity of the body within. When María Ángela Astorch's coffin was opened in 1725, even the devout nuns of her convent had to admit that the body was somewhat deteriorated. In 1643, twenty‐three years after her death, the Franciscan order had the tomb of Francisca Inés de la Concepción opened for the first time. Much to the disappointment of the observers, the face was significantly deteriorated. While this evident decay did not prevent the nuns from taking the body out of the coffin, washing it, and dressing it in a silken garment, or stop the author of her biography from kissing her hands and feet, the coffin was never opened again, and Francisca never rose even as far as the rank of venerable.40

Sadly, pious relic hunters frequently did more damage than the elements to the bodies of holy women. In marked contrast to the magnificent Bernini sculpture in Rome's S. Maria della Vittoria, which shows her whole and enthralled by the love of God, Teresa of Jesus' cadaver was seriously mutilated as early as nine months after she was first buried, when her left hand was cut off by the Carmelite provincial.41 By 1606, when Diego de Yepes published his biography, a truly amazing number of bits and pieces of Teresa's body had found their way into private hands and were being used to cure everything from malaria to blindness.42

The same fate was in store for the corpse of the tercera María de la Santissima Trinidad, who died in 1660 and was buried under the altar in the Dominican convent in Arazena. In early November 1662, the countess of Villaumbrosa and Castronuevo and her sister, Antonia Niño Enríquez de Guzman, were preparing for a difficult and perhaps dangerous trip to Madrid. Because both aristocratic ladies had been greatly devoted to María during her lifetime, they decided to say good‐bye to her cadaver before embarking. Using their influence with the prior of the convent, they had the coffin opened and were gratified to discover that the body was in an extremely good state of preservation. Giving way to a sudden and powerful impulse, the countess insisted that the prior allow her to cut off one of María's fingers to take as a relic. He agreed, but the countess's example proved contagious, as both her sister and a friend who had accompanied them demanded and obtained fingers, (p.278) which were cut off by their personal chaplain. In addition to the fingers, which the women wrapped carefully because they were described as very “sappy,” they cut pieces off her habit and distributed them to friends and devotees of María's growing cult.43

Because the ultimate goal of the religious order in staging elaborate funeral processions, exposing the cadaver to the curious eyes of the public, and encouraging cultic veneration of a particular woman mystic was to achieve canonization, it was vitally important to maintain good records of the woman's spiritual life in order to form a dossier that could be submitted to Rome. Some orders did this on a routine basis. At the conclusion of each chapter meeting of the Dominicans of the Province of Andalusia, for example, it was customary to record the spiritual lives of any particularly outstanding friar or nun who had died since the last such meeting.44

But if the order was really committed to seeking canonization, especially after procedures were formalized after 1588, it had to create an elaborate dossier that its representatives could use to win over key members of the college of cardinals and the Congregation of Rites. Above all, evidence needed to be gathered within living memory of the nun's death to prevent the oral tradition about her life from being forgotten or hopelessly garbled.

Immediately after the death of Jacinta de Atondo, for example, the provincial of the Franciscan province of Aragon, having decided that sufficient signs from heaven had been received to warrant an all‐out effort at canonization, conducted an extensive inquest among the nuns of her convent concerning her spiritual life. At the same time, he appointed two commissioners, one to conduct investigations among those who had known her in the village of Mallen, where she spent the first thirty‐four years of her unhappy life, and another to interview Catalina la Fita, the woman with whom she had lived just before she became a nun.45

Finally, if the order was really serious about pursuing canonization, it would have to appoint a special representative to undertake a lobbying effort in Rome. In the eternal city, the canonization process, however, could stretch over the lifetimes of several such candidates. In the case of María Ángela Astorch, the dossier gathered by the ecclesiastical tribunal at the diocese was completed in 1670, only four years after her death, but was not actually submitted to Rome until 1760, when the first of the postulators was appointed to act in the name of the abbess and nuns of the Capuchin Convent of Murcia. In spite of the fact that postulator Tomás de Azpuru doubled as Charles III's ambassador to the Holy See, all he was able to accomplish was to get the future Clemente XIV, Cardinal Ganganelli, to plead María's case before the Congregation of Rites.

After Azpuru's death in 1772, Archbishop Francisco Javier Zelada succeeded him. Zelada was one of those prelates who was considerably fonder of life in Rome than he was of life in his archdiocese. But, in spite of the fact that he was made a cardinal in 1773 and was appointed secretary of state to Pius VI, he was able to do little for María's cause. Zelada was succeeded by five more postulants, including two papal private secretaries, who had similar (p.279) ill luck down to the year 1845, when the case was taken over by the general representative of the Capuchins. Five years later, María reached the first rung on the ladder that might lead to sainthood when she was granted the title of venerable on September 29, 1850. Finally, on May 23, 1982, 316 years after her death, María received beatification, even though only one of her miracle cures was approved by the Vatican's medical commission. In this instance, the Congregation of Rites agreed to waive the normal requirement for two miracles because of the spiritual benefit that those who invoked her intercession were continuing to receive.46

From the standpoint of the church, the position of a woman's spiritual advisor regarding her saintly virtues was perhaps even more important than that of her religious order. Even though slightly more than 70 percent of the confessors of “genuine” mystics were members of the same religious order, what was really important about them was their in‐depth knowledge of the spiritual life of the individual gained through years of hearing her confessions.

Apart from writing spiritual biographies, there were several other important ways that a spiritual advisor could assist in the canonization process. For one thing, he could cooperate in the collection of material for the dossier by making notarized statements regarding the woman's spiritual life, the divine favor shown to her, or any miracles that she might have performed. Even more important perhaps, especially to enhancing her reputation for sanctity on a local and regional level, was to express a willingness to preach a sermon either at the time of her funeral or later, during honors paid to her by her religious order. Two years after the demise of the Carmelite tercera Isabel de Jesús, honors were paid to her at the elite Carmelite house in Toledo. On this occasion, a sermon filled with references from both the Old and New Testaments was preached by Francisco Clarisse, one of her longtime confessors, and published by Manuel de Paredes, who had taken over her spiritual direction after Clarisse assumed other duties.47

The episcopal authorities, the bishop or archbishop or his officials, could also provide key support for the canonization process either indirectly, by encouraging cultic veneration through example, or directly, by assisting in the accumulation of evidence and providing financial assistance. Given the fact that Hipolita de Jesús y Rocaberti was related to many of Catalonia's leading families, it is hardly surprising that Alonso de Sotomayor, the archbishop of Barcelona, took a very active role in seeking her canonization. The eagerness with which this scion of an aristocratic Castilian family embraced the cause of a Catalan mystic of similar social standing must also be related to the difficult relationship between Catalonia and Madrid in the 1670s and 1680s. Castile had fully recovered the principality only in October 1652, and it remained restive and dissatisfied, even though Philip IV had conceded a general pardon and promised to maintain its laws and customs as they had been when he came to the throne.48 Obviously, official support from the archbishop for the canonization of someone from an old‐line, well‐established family of Catalan aristocrats might go a long way in reconciling local elites to renewed Castilian control.

(p.280) The archbishop's campaign began around 1670, with a major effort to identify and review all of Hipolita's copious writings in order to determine their orthodoxy. This was a critical first step because the slightest doctrinal slip would have doomed the possibility of canonization and might have entailed problems with the Holy Office. After careful review by a committee of local theologians selected by the archbishop, Hipolita's works were declared entirely orthodox, thereby earning the approval of episcopal officials. Emboldened by this declaration, the archbishop ordered his officials to put together a formal dossier and submitted it to the Congregation of Rites in 1671. But with his sense of urgency greatly increased by the rumblings of renewed unrest in various parts of the principality, the archbishop was too impatient to let events take their course and bombarded the pope with letters asking for Hipolita's canonization in April and May of 1674. The archbishop's efforts on behalf of Hipolita were seconded by the viceroy, who also wrote a series of letters to the holy father in April 1674.49 In the end, all the trouble taken by the leading political and ecclesiastical authorities of Catalonia proved fruitless. Hipolita's writings were placed on the index in 1687, and she never achieved even the rank of venerable.50 An initiative that might have proven effective in rebuilding the popularity of the Castilian administration among the Catalan elite had failed, and unrest in the province increased until another series of popular uprisings broke out in 1688–89.

Barring the political considerations that drove the campaign in favor of the canonization process for Hipolita de Jesús y Rocaberti, the involvement of bishops appears to have been limited to supporting local figures with a strong popular following and employing episcopal officials to supplement the order's efforts. The enormous outpouring of popular adulation that greeted the death of Gabriela de San Joseph in 1701 convinced the bishop of Jaen, Antonio de Brizuela y Salamanca, to send episcopal officials out to take oral depositions from witnesses who could attest to her miracles. The material that they were able to gather not only contributed to the official biography written by Manuel de San Gerónimo, the historian of the Carmelite province of Andalusia, but also was included in the canonization dossier that was sent to Rome.51

Local and regional authorities were a third major force that could provide both political and financial support for cultic veneration and canonization. Pride in the heroic religious history of a city frequently manifested itself in a spate of works dedicated to providing information about little‐known martyrs, frequently women, who had given their lives in the struggle to preserve Christianity against both Roman and Islamic persecution. In a typical example, the Jesuit Martín de Roa's Flos Sanctorum, fiestas y santos naturales de la ciudad de Cordova, ancient martyrs such as Santa Pomposa and Saints Adolfo and Juan are held up as evidence for the city's long commitment to the Catholic faith. The example of these martyrs is then carried forward to modern times—that is, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—with the stories of aristocratic women from the city, such as Sancha Carillo and Ana Ponce de Leon, who had sacrificed their material well‐being for Christ by devoting themselves to a life of prayer and abstinence.52 Such works by Roa, (p.281) Antonio de Quintanadueñas, and others were one way of competing with other cities and regions for royal attention, deflecting charges that local elites were infected with converso blood, or simply compensating for economic decline by recalling a glorious past.

But recalling past glories or even finding instances of fervent devotion among contemporaries or near contemporaries was not the same as actually attaining the beatification or canonization of a native son. Canonization would provide impressive evidence of the continued loyalty of a city or region to the faith and would renew and reinforce regional pride at a time when the power and authority of the central institutions of the monarchy were breaking down. An excellent example of municipal sponsorship is provided by the leading role that the Granada city council took in promoting the collection of materials for Beatriz María de Jesús. Impressed by the enormous outpouring of public adulation at her funeral on February 16, 1702, and the impressive series of events, sermons, masses, and obsequies that lasted until May 4, the city council held several meetings and decided to appoint commissioners to assist with the canonization dossier.53

In dedicating his 1627 biography of Caterina Tomás to the bishop and city council of Palma de Mallorca, Bartolomé Valperga urged them to support her canonization because of the debt that the city and region already owed to her and the fact that so many other cities had succeeded in making saints out of local religious figures. Comparing her to another Jeremiah in her unceasing prayer for the good of her people and constant intercession on their behalf, he assured the jurats that she could be expected to continue her support from heaven as long as she was not forgotten. He also reminded them of the fact that many other cities had met with considerable success in supporting the canonization of local religious figures. By supporting Catherine of Siena, that city had not only won honor and glory by petitioning the pope to make her a saint but also gained an important intercessor who could act along with its guardian angel to protect it from divine retribution. Closer to home, Valperga gave the example of Valencia with its recent (1618) success in achieving the beatification of its Archbishop Thomas of Villanova. Moreover, the city was not content to rest on its laurels and had recently embraced the cause of Padre Francisco Simón, a local parish priest and mystic. In addition to Valencia, Valperga also mentioned Madrid's successful campaign on behalf of its patron Isidro Labrador, canonized in 1622, and Zaragoza's efforts on behalf of its first inquisitor, Pedro Arbués, who was assigned a feast day in Spain but not actually canonized until 1867.54

Evidence confirming the increasingly important role that cities were playing in the struggle to canonize more Spaniards comes from the Mercedarian Francisco Guzman Ponce de Leon, who was appointed censor of Luis de Mesa's biography of Mariana de Jesús in 1673. In discussing the support that Mariana had received, Ponce de Leon gave pride of place to the city of Toledo, which both “acclaimed and implored” her canonization. While Toledo's efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, at least a formal investigation was authorized by the Congregation of Rites, which appointed apostolic judges to carry it out.55

(p.282) The final major player in the canonization struggle was the monarchy itself. While the crown could not commit its prestige to every canonization effort, it was obvious that, at least to some extent, the number of saints that a great Catholic monarchy could boast was a strong indication of its political importance. The fact that a region that had lagged well behind the Holy Roman Empire and France throughout the Middle Ages surpassed both in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with a total of thirty‐eight canonizations, is a strong indication of Spain's leading role during the Counter‐Reformation.56 Even though the monarchy's role was not always decisive, the evidence suggests a great deal of activity on the part of Spanish ambassadors, as well as direct intervention by Habsburg rulers and their families.

Certainly the hand of the Spanish government was evident in three of the four Spanish saints canonized at St. Peter's on March 12, 1622, just after Spain entered the Thirty Years War. Philip II himself initiated canonization proceedings for Teresa of Jesus by writing directly to Nuncio Camillo Gaetano in 1595. The nuncio in turn sent commissioners to interview all those who could attest to her saintly virtues, and those interviews were dispatched to the pope, along with supporting letters from Philip himself in 1597.57 The monarchy also intervened to support Isidro Labrador, who became patron saint of the new Spanish capital. When the general congregation of the Society of Jesus requested the opening of canonization proceedings for Ignatius Loyola in 1594, their request was supported by letters from Philip II, and Maria of Austria and a personal appearance by the Spanish ambassador to argue the case in front of the Congregation of Rites.58

Apart from such “national” saints as Isidro Labrador or Ignatius Loyola, the monarchy was also prepared to intervene in favor of the canonization of saints with a more regional focus in order to demonstrate its support for the region's aspirations. Such support extended to two pious medieval women, María de Cervellon (1230–90) and Isabel of Portugal (1271–1336). Apart from their impeccable spiritual credentials, both women represented the cream of Iberian society. María de Cervellon was the daughter of D. Guillen de Cervellon, one of Catalonia's leading nobles, and Isabel had been queen of Portugal. Both Portugal and the Principality of Catalonia had proven difficult to reconcile to Spanish rule, and direct royal intervention in the canonization process was clearly a way of favoring regional aspirations while not undermining the authority of Madrid. In the end, however, the failure to achieve the canonization of María de Cervellon was to matter as little as the success scored by the monarchy in the case of Isabel of Portugal, who was canonized by Urban VIII in 1626, because both provinces rejected Spanish control in 1640.

Changes in the theological virtues and clerical roles that the saints of the Counter‐Reformation were expected to model notwithstanding, sanctity remained first and foremost the ability to work wonders and perform miracles for both the papacy and the popular masses.59 When Clement VIII denied the Jesuits' first request to open canonization proceedings for Ignatius of Loyola in spite of the fact that he was the hero who had founded the Counter‐Reformation's most important religious order, it was because he was not (p.283) known as a miracle worker. It was only after 1601, when Pedro de Ribadeneyra, the author of one of Spain's most popular Flos Sanctorum, published a new biography of Ignatius, illustrated with woodcuts showing him performing miracles, that support for his canonization really solidified. In 1605, Paul V opened the canonization process. In the same year, the Bavarian Jesuits published Life of Ignatius, which presented their founder as both hero and miracle worker and compared him with Francis of Assisi. Jesuit efforts to paint Ignatius as a wonder‐worker intensified after he was declared blessed in 1609. These efforts culminated in a painting by Rubens showing Ignatius standing at the head of a row of Jesuits, casting demons out of tormented Christianity and illuminated by a divine light. The painting was completed in time for Ignatius to join four others in the glorious canonization ceremony of March 12, 1622.60

The transformation of Teresa of Jesus from ecstatic contemplative and founder of a new religious order to miracle worker began just after the coffin containing her body was opened in 1586, in the presence of the bishop of Avila and several physicians. Finding the body intact, the order began to advertise the “miracle” all over the city. After the body was returned to its resting place in the Carmelite convent at Alba de Tormes, the order continued focusing public attention on its miraculous character by distributing the pieces of cloth that had been used to wrap it as relics. Each of these pieces of cloth had an aroma of rotting flesh, described as smelling like jasmine by her first biographer, Francisco de Ribera. Finally, Ribera himself completed the process of transformation by including thirty‐two pages of posthumous miracles, from apparitions to miracle cures, in his 1590 biography.61

In an age when various epidemic diseases were widespread and medicine was almost entirely ineffective, healing was the most frequently cited miracle in favor of canonization. In the vitae of the “true” mystics, the mythography of wonder‐working is perfectly consistent with this bias toward healing, which was attributed to 66.6 percent of the women, much greater than any other form of miracle.

Miraculous healing could take on several forms. Perhaps the most impressive kind involved willingly assuming an illness being suffered by someone else. Based on the magical principle of contagion, by which powers or influences contained in one body can be made to flow into another through “the magical power of imagination,” such effects demonstrated a woman's heroic willingness to sacrifice herself for others, itself a fundamental attribute of sanctity.62

One especially compelling story of taking on the suffering of another involved Mariana de Jesús, whose sympathy for a local notable as a friend and supporter was increased by the fact that his charitable benefactions supported many poor people. After being informed that he was so seriously ill that the doctors had warned him to make his final confession, Mariana had a vision in which Saint Diego de Alcalá appeared and told her that to save him she would have to assume his illness. Having agreed to this bargain, Mariana began suffering the very next day, while the sick man commenced a rapid and complete recovery. Convinced that Mariana had really sacrificed herself for him, (p.284) Mariana's faithful supporter made sure that the miracle became widely known all over Toledo, further enhancing a reputation that already included freeing numerous souls from purgatory, aiding pregnant women, and other forms of miracle cures.63

The role of St. Diego de Alcalá in this miracle cure points to yet another way in which such cures could be effected: through a woman's intercession with a favorite saint. Testimony at the trial of Isabel de Briñas indicates that she also sought to heal by invoking the intercession of St. Domingo Soriano. On July 15, 1639, Beatriz Ponce de Leon testified that a woman who frequented Isabel's home told her that once, when her arm had become infected to the point that the physicians told her that it would have to be amputated, Isabel arrived and offered prayers to St. Domingo for her relief. Just after Beatriz returned from the prayer room, the woman's arm was seen to have recovered totally.

Isabel de Briñas's fame as a healer evidently spread well beyond her Madrid neighborhood. At this same hearing before the Toledo tribunal, Beatriz Ponce de Leon testified that she had been present when someone from Madrid's poorer barrios arrived, carrying a seriously ill child. This time, instead of imploring St. Domingo Soriano's intercession, Isabel resorted to using a remedy whose power was derived from association with the saint. Mixing with water a little of the dirt in the bottom of the baptismal font that the saint had used, she administered it to the child, who was said to have recovered almost immediately.64

Stories of cures being effected by touch are among the most common of all the miracles, in part because they had become so widely accepted by the general public. Thaumaturgic powers were commonly attributed to royal persons whose touch was believed to be especially effective in curing scrofula.65 Ana de Jesús, whose prophecies of the death of prominent political figures such as the French King Henry IV were widely known well before her death, frequently used touch to effect magical healing of wounds. One incident while she was prioress of a Carmelite convent involved a nun whose hand was crushed by a marble pillar. Alerted by several of the other nuns, Ana rushed to the scene and took the wounded hand in hers. No sooner had she done so than the wound healed and the nun's hand was restored to its former condition. Something very similar occurred in that same convent when another nun got a splinter in her finger. Receiving information about what had happened in a divine revelation while she was praying in the choir, Ana removed the splinter, and this wound, too, healed up immediately, leaving almost no trace. Suitably impressed by a long series of cures that he found in the dossier that was made available to him by the order, Ana's biographer, Angel Manrique, concluded that “the ability to effect miracles implies great powers.”66

An interesting variation on the use of touch to carry out wonder cures is provided in the biography of María de la Santissima Trinidad. In one instance involving an aristocratic nun, Ana Josefa de Cordova y Figueroa, who was suffering from a partially paralyzed hand, María told her to have faith and say a prayer to the Virgin Mary. As the woman spoke the words, María placed her own hand upon her, and just as Ana finished the Salve she began moving (p.285) her hand as if nothing had ever happened. Of course, this miracle cure, which was effected through a combination of touch and prayer, was duly recorded and notarized in the canonization file that was being put together with the support of Ambrosio Spinoza, archbishop of Seville.67

The use of material objects associated directly with a woman mystic was also very common in magical healing. When Ana de Jesús was superior of the Carmelite convent in Madrid, she was able to heal the sacristan of a broken bone by merely placing her handkerchief over the wound. She was also successful in curing the wife of an influential judge by using her scapular.68

The employment of personal items to effect cures by a respected woman mystic sent a powerful message about the value of such items. Consequently, anything physically associated with a woman mystic was deemed to have thaumaturgic power and could be used to cure oneself and others. But in making cult objects of such items and treating them as holy relics, the followers and supporters of women mystics were merely following the lead of the woman herself.

Tantalizingly close to the remedial practices of women who were convicted of performing “superstitious medications” by the Holy Office were those officially approved women mystics who “signed illnesses” with the sign of the cross. Of course, those charged with superstition by the tribunal were guilty of mixing magical and clerical remedies, while the approved mystics were consistent in employing only orthodox remedies that were fully within the accepted limits of “ecclesiastical medicines.”69

Beatriz María de Jesús employed the sign of the cross quite frequently, along with an arsenal of magical remedies that included touching and invocation. Believing, as she once remarked to her sister Francisca, that “God grants us many favors through the Holy Cross,” she used signing especially with her own family. Making use of the sign of the cross, she was able to cure Francisca of a severe pain in her leg. In that same year of 1664, she employed the signing method to cure her brother of a serious fracture that he had received in a scuffle.70

The miracle cure effected by María de la Santissima Trinidad on the paralyzed arm of the head of one of Arazena's most important families was somewhat more ambiguous insofar as the fine line between curative magic and “ecclesiastical medicines” was concerned. In this case, the cure was to be the result of what could easily have been an incantation, since María touched the paralyzed arm while mumbling something that the family could not overhear.71

Neither María de la Santissima Trinidad nor Beatriz María de Jesús ever had any problems with the Holy Office over superstitious practices. But, consistent with its relative moderation in dealing with evidence of magical healing, the Toledo tribunal also resisted the temptation to accuse Isabel de Briñas of superstition, preferring to concentrate instead on what appeared to be the far more dangerous issues of false sanctity and Illuminism. Making use of curative magic, even if such orthodox religious practices as the sign of the cross were used inappropriately, indicated piety, but faking sanctity and Illuminism threatened to undermine respect for the church.

(p.286) The intimate relationship between cultic devotion to a woman mystic and her ability to bring about miracle cures is demonstrated by the way people began invoking her in time of need even during her lifetime. After María de la Santissima Trinidad cured Ana Josefa de Cordova y Figuero's paralyzed hand, it was natural for Ana to invoke her during all of her subsequent illnesses. Her belief in the supernatural powers of María and of anything even remotely connected with her was so great that she applied a letter that she had received from her to the bodies of the sick and injured nuns in the convent.

Perhaps the most curious example of invocation involved Pascual Lopez, a devotee of Martina de los Angeles y Arilla. One evening, instead of going home, Pascual got involved in a game of dice with some strangers and, before he knew it, lost his house and property. Desperate at the thought that he could lose everything his family had struggled to accumulate over several generations in a few hands of cards, he invoked Martina's intercession in the name of his wife and children, who were about to become homeless. Instantly, the dice began to turn in his favor, and he ended the game with a small gain. Several days later, Pascual went to Martina's convent to visit her, telling her nothing about what had happened. She received him coldly and warned him not to ask for her help again during dice games because “God is becoming tired of your foolishness.” Astonished at her knowledge of what had happened, Pascual thanked her for her assistance and promised that he would give up gambling forever.

Miracle cures were the most important but not the only way that a woman could demonstrate her supernatural power. Prophecy, the ability to foresee events in the future, had long been accepted by hagiographers as a sign of God's special favor and a strong indication of sanctity.72 Accurate prediction of their own demise or the death of others was the most common form of prophecy attributed to “true” mystics in the “official” biographies. Such prophecies not only permitted the biographer to demonstrate the woman's acceptance of her own mortality in the spirit of the theological virtues of faith and hope but also allowed the subject to be seen in the role of urging others to do the same. But the ability to predict death itself was also an awesome demonstration of a woman's understanding of the course of disease. Demonstration of such insight powerfully reinforced her claim to work miracle cures since it gave evidence of a degree of knowledge that could have come only from God.

Seeming foreknowledge of the exact day of their own death was attributed to 46.7 percent of the approved mystics. The story of Martina de los Angeles y Arrilla demonstrates how some women mystics deliberately used such awareness to increase their reputation for supernatural powers. As early as three years before her death, Martina was already taking every opportunity to inform her closest supporters that she would die on November 11, the feast day of her patron saint, Martin of Tours. It is interesting to speculate, given her familiarity with devotional works and conscious imitation of the lives of the saints, that she may have known that Martin himself had a premonition of his coming death, which was shared by certain of his followers.73 (p.287) Finally, a few weeks before she died on November 11, 1635, she began intimating that her death was near to the prioress of her convent and the other nuns. Even though she never responded directly when asked if she knew the exact day that she would die, by inquiring over and over again how many days it was until the feast of St. Martin, she indicated that it would be her next saint's day.74

María de Jesús, the Carmelite nun and three times abbess of the Convent of St. Joseph and Santa Teresa in Toledo, signaled that she had a presentiment of her own demise six months before it actually happened. She petitioned the order for the right to bury “a nun” within the cloister of her convent. Later, María gave an even more pronounced indication of miraculous prescience by declaring that this space was not to be used to bury the first nun to die but, rather, the second—that is, María herself. Then, just twenty‐ two hours before her death, she had a last interview with a Carmelite friar, whom she had treated almost like a son for a number of years. To the friar's extreme distress, she announced her imminent demise and asked for his benediction in terms so moving that Francisco de Acosta, the author of an adulatory biography published in 1648, felt that he could not adequately render them in print.75

Curiously enough, 60 percent of the approved mystics could predict the death of others, which is significantly higher than those who forecast their own. The popularity of such a formidable claim is probably due to the enormous amount of power that could accrue to someone who could convince others of the validity of such a prophecy. Certainly, María de Jesús' unsettling habit of calling certain nuns into her cell, lecturing them about the contemptible nature of life in this world, and then telling them that their time on earth was approaching its end proved to be one of the keys to her authority as abbess of her convent.76

One may presume that the predictions made by María de Jesús were based on the intimate knowledge that an abbess must have had concerning the state of health of her charges. But it is less easy to account for the many prophecies made by Ana de Jesús regarding the demise of such prominent figures as the French King Henry IV, the Marquis del Valle, or Lucas Gracián, the celebrated author of the Galateo Español.77 The element of the miraculous in such prophecies begins to fade, however, when we take into account the fact that Ana had always played a prominent role in the affairs of the order and was very well informed; so there was a high probability of prior knowledge of the physical condition of the individuals concerned. Even her biographer Angel Manrique admitted that the Marquis del Valle was seriously ill when Ana prophesied his demise. Ana could also have received information about the death of the French king from her contacts among the Carmelites of Paris, where she had founded a convent.

Even more important in evaluating the miraculous element in such prophecies are the discoveries of modern psychology regarding perception. The impact of temporal contiguity on the way we organize knowledge and the irrational thinking that it can produce probably accounts for most of the credibility (p.288) so easily granted to prophecies of death. Temporal contiguity means that a prediction occurred around the time of an individual's death, not that the prophecy itself was in any way accurate.78 Such a conclusion could be drawn as a consequence of the respect and admiration that people ascribed to the person making the prophecy, which would lead to an automatic tendency to “confirm” her predictions. Such a tendency was certainly operating in the case of Ana's prediction of the death of the Marquis del Valle. The prophecy took place in the Carmelite convent that Ana founded in Brussels, where she stopped a prayer and then informed the other nuns that the marquis had died in that moment and that his soul needed their prayers to escape from purgatory. It was only later that the mail from Madrid confirmed that he had, in fact, died at that moment. Such a confirmation, however, should be greeted with considerable skepticism. The two events took place far apart, and those reporting the connection had a strong interest in building Ana's reputation for possessing supernatural powers.

Clairvoyance, the ability to read people's innermost thoughts, was another form of supernatural power that could be seen as a sign of sanctity. Shared by 30 percent of the approved mystics, the uncanny ability to intuit the sins, foibles, or deepest desires of others was just another addition to an impressive arsenal of powers that further enhanced cultic veneration toward a particular individual.

According to her biographer, Martina de los Angeles y Arilla was clairvoyant to a “heroic degree.” No matter how hard they tried, people could hide nothing from her; she could understand both the intentions of those she spoke with and whether they were inspired by God or the devil. A member of Zaragoza's urban noble class had occasion to encounter Martina's insight, as well as her sharp tongue, one day when he came to her convent to ask her to intercede for him with a judge she happened to know. Before he even began his plea, Martina interrupted him to demand “how anyone who has fallen out with God could come here demanding favors.” Astonished by Martina's seeming insight into the deepest recesses of his soul, the man confessed the sin that he had been concealing and withdrew, admitting later that he “did not dare to remain in her presence.”79

But not everyone's uncanny ability to read the thoughts of others was a product of clairvoyance. Testifying in response to an inquisitor's question about whether Caterina Ballester had the power to penetrate the meaning of things kept secret, Isabel Miro responded that Caterina was an “extremely inquisitive woman.” She would deliberately stir up trouble between her hosts, the Morlana sisters, and their niece in order to discover family secrets and then used what she had found to “reveal” their innermost thoughts to the Morlanas. The credulous Morlana sisters were always profoundly impressed by Caterina's seemingly uncanny ability to read their minds. Even Miro admitted that she was unwilling to confront Caterina because of her reputation as a “saint” and out of fear that whatever she said would be repeated to the Morlanas, who would invariably “attribute it to a miracle.”80

The stronger a woman mystic's reputation for supernatural powers during her lifetime, the more certain it was that she would continue to be invoked (p.289) after her death. Such invocation was directly encouraged by the religious order, her former spiritual advisors, supporters, and even biographers, who used articles of her clothing or other personal effects as if they were relics to “cure” a variety of illnesses.

The home convents of Beatriz María de Jesús and Caterina Tomás both retained articles of their clothing that they used to assist people who came to seek help. The Ángel Custodio Convent in Granada actually conserved Beatriz María's entire habit, which they allowed people in distress to use. One story of a miraculous cure involved using the sleeves of the habit to cure a woman of a serious throat infection. After the sleeves were applied, the infection cleared up so quickly that when her physician arrived to minister to her he could find nothing wrong. Another story involved a judge of Granada's powerful Audiencia who was suffering from pain in his kidneys. Even though the doctors despaired of treating him, the mere touch of a piece of the shirt that Beatriz wore during her final illness was enough to relieve his pain. For years after Beatriz's death, the convent exploited the marvelous powers of her habit to cure a variety of illnesses and, no doubt, benefit from the alms of a grateful public.81

Probably the most unusual “curative” relic that was retained by any woman mystic's home convent was held by the Augustinian house where Caterina Tomás had been resident for the last twenty‐three years of her life. Because Caterina was immensely popular in her lifetime for public trances and credited with numerous miracle cures, the convent hoped to perpetuate her reputation by using her hat to aid those suffering from serious illnesses. Two of the instances recorded by her biographer, involved application of the sombrero to the bodies of young girls suffering from high fever. Both girls were cured almost immediately, and the girls' families, as well as their physicians, gave thanks to God for the “miracle cure.” All of these cures, both before and after Caterina's death, were carefully recorded by the Mallorcan inquisitor Juan Abrines, her longtime spiritual advisor, and two Carthusian monks, Vicente Mas and Pedro Caldes. Both monks were inveterate and uncritical admirers of Caterina Tomás, and both received brief biographies from Abrines, who also wrote an unpublished spiritual biography of Caterina herself.82

Some spiritual advisors unabashedly made use of items closely associated with a deceased woman mystic to effect miracle cures. After Inés de Jesús y Franco's death, her confessor Guadioso Alexandre took possession of an umbilical cord that she had used to relieve her own headaches and cure a variety of illnesses. Since she had informed him that the umbilical cord had been given to her by the Virgin Mary herself, there seemed no reason to believe that it would not continue to perform miracles. Happily for numerous persons in and around the town of Miedes, this assumption proved correct, and Alexandre used the umbilical cord to carry out a series of miraculous cures.83

Alexandre also gave a small cross mounted on a pedestal to the new abbess of the convent. Reputedly bestowed upon Inés by the Virgin Mary, this “holy relic,” as her relative and biographer, Diego Franco y Villalva, described it, not only cured the abbess of a serious illness but also became quite popular in the entire region. The nuns repeatedly acceded to requests for it by individuals (p.290) and even local physicians but noticed that when it was returned it had pieces cut out of it. Eventually, the people who used the cross chipped off so much of it that it lost its shape and could hardly stand on its pedestal. One woman, whose doctor used the cross to treat her when she was possessed, became so attached to it that she had to be taken to court to force her to return it.84

Wide disbursal of items with an intimate connection to the body or person of a woman mystic virtually guaranteed that those who had been among her main supporters while she lived would be able to obtain something after her death. Since anything that had been in contact with such a woman was reputed to be a relic with thaumaturgic powers, supporters in possession of such objects found it almost impossible to resist the demands of those who believed that contact with the object would cure their maladies. By using items from the wardrobe of a deceased woman mystic to cure or lending such items to others, the supporter became an important disseminator of her cult.

Unable to resist the importunities of friends, neighbors, and even perfect strangers, Teresa Montes, one of Jacinta de Atondo's strongest supporters, lent the rope belt from her habit to numerous women who were having difficult pregnancies. Application of the belt to the swollen belly of the woman would guarantee the success of the pregnancy. Evidently Jacinta's personal effects were widely disbursed in and around Zaragoza because of the twelve miracle cures recorded after her death, eleven were produced by using personal items, and the twelfth involved a difficult pregnancy that was resolved when the woman prayed before an estampa representing Jacinta in a devotional pose.85

An instance of how the spirit of a “woman of power” could take revenge on those who scorned her relics comes to us from the biography of Gabriela de San Joseph. Andrés de Lara, one of Gabriela's supporters, was visiting the home of María and Teresa de Viedma one day when María was quite ill. Lara, who happened to have a piece of Gabriela's tunic in his possession, offered it to both women, but María insisted on taking it first. Her sister, offended at having to wait before touching the cloth, became angry and told Lara that she really did not want it because “I don't have much respect for uncanonized saints.” At that moment, her sister applied the cloth to her forehead and instantly felt better, while the doubting sister felt the pain of the illness.86 But the story of the two sisters provides us with more than a dramatic demonstration of the power of relics. It also stands as an ironic commentary on the effectiveness of Pope Urban VIII's 1634 edict against the veneration of uncanonized saints. Nearly sixty‐nine years after that edict, the author Manuel de San Gerónimo, official historian of the Carmelites of Andalusia, could tell a story directly supporting unofficial “popular” canonization, which was still considered by many to be more important than the cumbersome and expensive process carried on before the Congregation of Rites.

An accurate description of the manner by which a woman mystic attained one of the three stages in the process of canonization—“venerable servant of God,” beatification or “blessed,” and saint—must begin by admitting that many were called but few chosen. Of the thirty officially approved mystics in this study, only eight had attained any of the stages by the time this book was (p.291) written. Of course, as any student of the byzantine workings of the Vatican knows, the wheels of policy grind very slowly and, when enough influence is brought to bear, even cases seemingly closed forever can be reopened. The effects of persistence are demonstrated in the case of Juana de la Cruz, the controversial abbess and reformer of the Franciscan Convent of Santa María de la Cruz near Cubas in New Castile. In spite of strong royal support and a fervent local cult, her cause stagnated for centuries at the Congregation of Rites because of doubts about the value of her revelations, only to be revived in 1981 with the appointment of a new postulator.87

For a woman mystic to be pronounced worthy of any of the degrees of sanctity, it would appear that apart from demonstrating the required number of miracles, four significant elements would have to be present: strong and persistent cultic veneration, support from the religious order, endorsement by regional and national elites, and a lack of concern about the orthodoxy of her statements, writings, or actions. Of these four elements, the last was by far the most important.

The failure of Ana de Jesús to gain a foothold on any of the rungs of the ladder that led to sainthood, in spite of her brilliant collaboration with Teresa of Jesus during the formative years of the Discalced Carmelites, may be attributed to her support for Teresa's constitution during the conflict that convulsed the order in 1590–94. Ana would seem to have all of the requisite qualifications. She had been instrumental in the development of one of the most important new Counter‐Reformation religious orders, her writings were of impeccable orthodoxy, and her miracles were numerous and well attested. Even more important perhaps, she had the support of the powerful Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, who ruled the Spanish Netherlands after the death of her husband, Archduke Albert, until her own death in 1633. The infanta had not only gone out of her way to make a formal declaration before the officials charged with assembling the official canonization dossier but also visited Ana's tomb with members of her court. Nevertheless, in spite of Ana's support among the Spanish monarchy's governing elite, beatification proceedings were not even introduced until May 1878 and then failed to prosper, even though her writings were approved as orthodox in 1885.

Ana's failure to achieve beatification stands in marked contrast to the success of Ana de San Bartolomé, who was beatified on May 6, 1917, by order of Pope Benedict XV. Arguably, the difference may be attributed to the fact that Ana de San Bartolomé was closer to Teresa herself. Ana served as Teresa's personal secretary from 1577, and the saint died in her arms in 1585. But there can be little doubt that Ana de Jesús was more important to the expansion of the order, founding nine convents to Ana de San Bartolomé's three. The real difference between the two women lies elsewhere, in their attitudes toward the conflict over preserving that part of Teresa's constitution that permitted the prioresses of Carmelite convents to select extraordinary confessors from other orders.88 Confronted by demands from the Carmelite friars to eliminate that right, Ana de Jesús led a group of five prioresses in successfully petitioning Pope Sixtus V for confirmation of Teresa's original constitution, thereby alienating the male (p.292) superiors of the order. Ana de San Bartolomé chose the opposite side, believing that obedience to superiors constituted the first duty of a nun.89 Since the issue of female subordination and obedience to male superiors in a male‐dominated church was, and remains, highly controversial, it is easy to see how Ana de Jesús's courageous stand might have cost her beatification.


Spiritual advisor, social worker, prophet, royal confidant, and privileged recipient of divine communication—the multiple roles played by the woman mystic during Spain's golden age defy the conventional wisdom about female weakness and subordination. But it would be a serious error to conclude that this new perspective does anything more than add nuance to a generally depressing picture. Whatever their achievements in the real world, their dreams were far grander and provide us with a measure of the frustration that must have been felt by many women refused entry into trades, professions, and offices solely because of their sex. Missionary, preacher, teacher of the word of God, warrior, and martyr for the faith were the fantasies that social reality made impossible.

Then again, if this general observation is true, it is likewise true that the Counter‐Reformation provided women with new opportunities to demonstrate their loyalty to the church and prove their utility in areas where men could not or would not serve. In France, where Catholicism faced the powerful Huguenot movement, women organized in such orders as the Sisters of Charity tended to the sick and educated the poor. All over Catholic Europe, the Ursuline Order, founded by Angela Merici in 1535, spread rapidly during the post‐Tridentine period to become the most important teaching order of women.

In Spain, where there was no serious competition from an organized Protestant movement, the Spanish church was less constrained to use women to supplement the services of male clerics. Saint Teresa's Discalced Carmelitesses, the most important new order for women founded in early modern Spain, were from the first an enclosed order dedicated to prayer and contemplation. At the same time, Teresa herself and her brilliant associates, Ana de Jesús and Ana de San Bartolomé, were writing a new chapter in the history of women by showing uncommon ability as founders and leaders of conventual institutions.

Mysticism provided Spanish women with a way to transcend but not disrupt the control of the male‐dominated church. Encouraged by certain influential male theologians who praised women for their piety and spiritual attainments, many sought to imitate the great female contemplatives of the past. The late‐thirteenth‐century mystic Gertrude the Great, whose writings were known through a Spanish translation of the works of Louis de Blois, inspired Teresa herself, while her own spiritual biography and mystical writings served as an inspiration for such figures as Rose of Lima.

The remarkable influence gained by such figures as Gabriela de San Joseph and María de Jesús de Agreda, however, should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the reception of female mystical experiences depended (p.293) absolutely on the approval of the male‐dominated church and monarchy. Sor María de la Visitación, who offended the government of King Philip II by openly calling for Spain to relinquish control over Portugal, immediately lost the support of the Holy Office in spite of her high rank, position as prioress, mystical fervor, levitations, and stigmata. As for the so‐called feigned mystics, whose story has been chronicled in this book, their lower social status, uneven educational attainments, and weak understanding of theology left them open to persecution by a tribunal already deeply concerned by the persistence of Illuminism. The powerful influence that “spiritual mothers” such as Isabel de la Cruz had exercised over their male followers during the early sixteenth century was a warning that the Inquisition could not ignore.

Paradoxically, alongside this cautious, even hostile approach to female mysticism, the Holy Office and the male‐dominated hierarchy were eager to believe and accept the validity of such supernatural phenomena as visions, revelations, and stigmata. In an age of religious competition, mystical transports were a sign that God still favored the devout Catholic with divine communication. If these favors were bestowed upon women in spite of their generally accepted emotional weakness, intellectual inferiority, and vulnerability to demonic manipulation, so much the better as a manifestation of God's wonderful generosity to his faithful. Pious credulity, as shown by the eagerness with which certain of the censors charged with reviewing the biographies of women mystics overlooked or explained away the faults of their subjects, has always been and still is a part of the institutional culture of the Roman Catholic Church. But to enjoy this degree of indulgence, the women had to have the correct pedigree, belong to a powerful religious order, and enjoy the support of prominent religious advisors and wealthy laypeople. Above all, the content of her visions and revelations had to confirm orthodox catholic belief and practice as defined by male theologians. Even with all of these advantages, as both Teresa of Jesus and María de Jesús de Agreda were to discover, the woman mystic was not immune to the scrutiny of the Holy Office.

During the post‐Tridentine period, the spiritual transports and worldly achievements of Spain's women mystics succeeded only in reinforcing the power and control of the male‐dominated church. But in the long run, the remarkable record left behind by some of these women, especially Teresa of Jesus, inspired other women all over the Catholic world and gained the grudging admiration of men. The long and arduous road to the emancipation of women, probably the most important social phenomenon of our times, once passed through the narrow, tortured path blazed by Spanish women mystics whose lives were held up for imitation by a growing chorus of admiring male hagiographers.


As the editors of the new theological journal Iglesia Viva indicated in their first issue in 1966, the Spanish church was woefully unprepared to appreciate, understand, and implement either the new ecclesiology or the new liberalism (p.294) of the Second Vatican Council.90 Several years later, Archbishop Vicente Enrique y Tarancón described the singularly uncomfortable position in which the church found itself when he commented, “The Council surprised everyone. But for historical reasons and because of the social context in Spain, the surprise was much greater for us Spaniards.”91

The historical and social context that Archbishop Tarancón was referring to, of course, was the continuing strength of the values, theology, liturgy, and ecclesiology of the Counter‐Reformation, which had endured in Spain so much longer than in other Catholic countries. It was that same Counter‐Reformation ethos, with its emphasis on the ways in which the deity demonstrated continued support for his church through miracles and revelations, that created and sustained the great age of Spanish women mystics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.92 During that period, the miraculous achievements of spiritual women (and men), published in officially approved biographies, could be used to confound Protestants, Jews, and heretics and perhaps win converts for the true faith. At the same time, those who advanced false claims to sanctity could be punished by the Inquisition, thereby making it clear to the faithful that only the most ascetic, penitent, and spiritual of women would be honored by divine communication.

After King Ferdinand VII's failure to reestablish the Inquisition when he reassumed full power in 1823, the church found that it had lost the one institution that could make valid and acceptable normative decisions in matters relating to the receipt of supernatural favors. At the same time, the church needed the miraculous and the supernatural more than ever. This time, however, the enemy was not heresy or Protestantism but irreligion, skepticism, and anticlericalism. In spite of the lack of a normative institution, therefore, the church continued to sponsor and support women mystics who claimed divine revelation, curative powers, and the stigmata. Sor María Florencia Trinidad, the Mercedarian nun who had remarkable visions of the passion and carried the stigmata on her body, and the Dominican Bárbara de Santo Domingo, who died in 1872 after a brief but glorious career of penance and mystical transports, were just two in a long line of women mystics during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.93 In the relationship between Queen Isabel II and the stigmatic María Micaela del Sacramento, the nineteenth century even saw a repeat of the emotional and spiritual dependence of a guilt‐ridden monarch on a woman mystic that was reminiscent of the relationship between King Philip IV and María de Agreda.94

But the church could no longer command the unswerving and almost uncritical loyalty of Spain's cultural, political, and intellectual elite. The sharp divisions between the liberal Catholics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who were willing to accept constitutional monarchy, toleration, and republicanism, and conservatives who rejected the institutions of modern society created tremendous conflict.95 However much the faithful demonstrated their support for traditional values and beliefs, there were many others who expressed open skepticism.

(p.295) The Madrid journalist José Nakens, whose satirical pieces entertained a whole generation of anticlericals at the turn of the century, mocked the credulity and ignorance of Spain's conservative Catholics. Among his favorite targets were women who pretended sanctity through visions, miraculous cures, and visits from the souls of purgatory. One story, included in a collection of Nakens's work published in 1913, involved Bernarda, a celebrated miracle worker from Fontiveros, a rural hamlet about midway between Salamanca and Segovia. To increase her reputation, Bernarda concocted a scheme with a local innkeeper to have one of his friends pretend to be crippled so that she could “cure” him in a particularly spectacular way. On the appointed day, in front of a multitude of Bernarda's followers, the false lame man appeared on crutches, ready to be cured. But unbeknownst to Bernarda, who had never met the innkeeper's friend, man who was really disabled had slipped in among the throng, and it was he that Bernarda interviewed.

After going through a series of routine questions, the miracle worker announced in a loud voice that with God's inspiration and the “assistance of my relative Saint John of the Cross, I declare you cured as of this moment.” She then ordered the man to cast away his crutches. Without hesitating more than a few seconds, he abandoned his crutches and promptly fell to the ground, almost breaking his one good leg. Astonished by the failure of the miracle cure, the crowd began laughing, and the entire scene threatened to turn ugly. But Bernarda proved able to cope with the situation and reconciled her followers by blaming the crippled man. The failure of her efforts to cure him, she said, was a direct result of his own lack of faith.96

José Nakans filled this book—and another one he published in 1912—with these anecdotes of clerical cupidity and superstition, but a more serious indictment of the penitential life in general and mysticism in particular is contained in a novel by S. Pey Ordeix published in Barcelona in 1931. In Sor Sicalipsis, Pey Ordeix tells the story of a young girl from a comfortable middle‐ class family who fell under the influence of her confessor and decided to join his religious order.97 So far, the story could have been taken out of the pages of one of the adulatory biographies that have provided the raw material for so much of this book, but in the ensuing chapters, we realize that instead of finding God through her decision she loses her true self.

Depressed by the loss of her pretty clothes and reflecting bitterly on the fact that she was now a “mother without children,” Ipsis made an extremely difficult adjustment to convent life, further complicated by her fear that she was pregnant by her confessor.98 After the pregnancy proved a false alarm, Ipsis resolved to dedicate herself to a life of mystical contemplation in order to “rise to that level of perfection that is attained only by those who reach union with God.”

At first, the life of prayer, abstinence, physical penance, and austerity that Ipsis had chosen for herself gave her great satisfaction. The painful cilicio became her friend, and even scourging, which she had at first detested, became agreeable. Like the women mystics of the Counter‐Reformation, (p.296) she rejected the corruption and materialism of the world and “seemed more like the burning flame of divine love than a creature of mere flesh and blood.”99

But Ipsis was soon disabused of the notion that these mystical transports would make her happy. Already warned by her second confessor, a hard‐bitten old monk who had seen many spiritually ambitious postulants fall by the wayside, Ipsis became disillusioned by the meaningless rounds of monastic routine and the rules that began to seem more and more senseless. She rapidly abandoned the mysticism that had once seemed so satisfying and began to spend sleepless nights and lose weight. She realized that the needs of the body could not so easily be denied, and that flesh and spirit were part of the same organism and could not be separated. Bitterly reproaching Father Sical, her lover and first confessor, for deceiving her into taking up a life that she now detested, she asked him whether he had brought her into the order “in the name of God or the devil.”100 Stricken by remorse for having destroyed the woman he loved, Sical could no longer function as a preacher and spiritual advisor. Since both were now an embarrassment to the order, the father superior decided to send Sor Ipsis and Father Sical as missionaries to an area from which few had emerged alive. When asked by the captain of the ship what they expected to find in such a savage land, they answered, “Death, the only true nuptials of the godly, whose embrace is the first signal of eternal love.”101

In an increasingly secular world, where the mysteries of disease were slowly but surely falling victim to science's growing knowledge and the insecurities of life were yielding to improved social organization, the age of the mystic was passing. Today, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints considers few mystics for canonization and approves none on the basis of their mystical experiences alone.102 Moreover, reform of the Roman calendar in 1969 and the changes introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1983 had the effect of significantly reducing the mythical and supernatural as fundamental components of sanctity. The Roman calendar no longer includes many saints whose cult had no solid foundation in historical scholarship. In 1983 the number of miracles required for the beatification of nonmartyrs and for canonization itself was reduced by half. These reforms led to a substantial increase in the pace of canonization in recent years, but dethroning the miracle as the basis for sanctity does not necessarily resonate well with the Catholics who still define themselves as practicing. For many of these people, the supernatural and the miraculous remain the touchstone of their faith. The continued relevance of the cultural ideals of the Counter‐Reformation in today's world is evidenced by the amazing popularity of the Medjugorje site in Bosnia. Braving primitive roads and the threat of violence, ten to twenty million pilgrims have visited the site since 1981, when local children reported that Mary appeared to them, calling herself the Queen of Peace.103

Confronted with the need to modernize and “rationalize” its canonization procedures on the one hand and the evidence of popular devotion to the miraculous on the other, the church's response has been divided and hesitant. (p.297) Taking into account the fact that medical advances have left little room for the miraculous cures that comprised the overwhelming majority of miracles, the congregation has begun taking up the causes of holy individuals with nonmedical physical miracles.104 The church hierarchy has also investigated but so far failed to endorse popular devotion to the Dutch visionary Ida Peerdeman and the Worcester, Massachusetts, cult surrounding Audrey Santos.105 But whatever the criteria for canonization, the church still needs saints whose superabundance of faith and outstanding spiritual gifts will continue to provide inspiration for the faithful. (p.298)


(1.) Fr. Lope Paez, Espejo de virtudes, 68v.

(2.) Fr. Antonio Daza, Historia, vida y milagros, ffs. 58v–60.

(3.) AHN, Inquisition, October 29, 1661, leg. 1823, exp. 1.

(4.) AHN, Inquisition, November 6, 1641, leg. 1823, exp. 1.

(5.) AHN, Inquisition, October 11, 1640, leg. 1823, exp. 1.

(6.) AHN, Inquisition, October 25, 1640, leg. 1823, exp. 1.

(7.) Tomás de Montalvo, Vida prodigiosa, de la extatica virgen y V.M. sor Beatriz María de Jesús (Granada: Francisco Dominguez, 1719), 33, 347.

(8.) AHN, Inquisition, May 28, 1670, leg. 1707, exp. 10.

(9.) AHN, Inquisition, August 27, 1666, leg. 1707, exp. 10.

(10.) AHN, Inquisition, July 6, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(11.) Fr. Antonio Daza, Historia, vida y milagros, ffs. 35v–36v, 38.

(12.) García Barriúso, La Monja, 271.

(13.) Ibid., 273.

(14.) AHN, Inquisition, July 3, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5. The supporter, Beatriz Ponce de Leon, had actually gone to visit Sor Luisa in Carrión.

(15.) AHN, Inquisition, August 13, 1640, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(16.) AHN, Inquisition, June 13 and September 6, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(17.) Fr. Andres de Maya Salaberria, Vida prodigiosa y exercicio admirable de virtudes de la V. M. sor Martina de los Ángeles y Arilla (Zaragoza: Herederos de Pedro Lanaja y Lamarca, 1678), 140, 149.

(18.) Ibid., 247–248, 255.

(19.) Ibid., 284.

(20.) AHN, Inquisition, nd, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(21.) AHN, Inquisition, May 25 and June 5, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(22.) Mesa, Vida, favores y mercedes, 1089.

(23.) AHN, Inquisition, May 22, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.


(24.) AHN, Inquisition, September 6, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(25.) Montalvo, Vida prodigiosa, censorship review by Juan de Ascargorta, October 13, 1713, np.

(26.) Ibid., 125.

(27.) Ibid., 418.

(28.) Salaberria, Vida prodigiosa, 181, 189–190.

(29.) Ibid., 249.

(30.) Ibid., 125.

(31.) Ibid., ffs. 187v, 193v.

(32.) Ibid., f. 183.

(33.) Mesa, Vida, favores y mercedes, 619–620.

(34.) Ibid., 621–622.

(35.) AHN, Inquisition, November 4, 1636, leg. 3704, exp. 4.

(36.) Fr. Bartolomé Valperga, Vida, muerte y milagros, ffs. 114–116.

(37.) Imprenta Guasp, Colección de xilografías mallorquinas de la Imprenta de Guasp fundada en 1579 (Palma de Mallorca: Imprenta de Guasp, 1950), 209–210.

(38.) Fr. Bartolomé Valperga, Vida, muerte y milagros, ffs. 113–113v.

(39.) Iriarte, Beata María Ángela Astorch, 232–233.

(40.) Fr. Lope Paez, Espejo de virtudes, 89.

(41.) R. Po‐chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal 1540–1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 129. According to Fr. Francisco de Ribera, La vida de la Madre Teresa de Jesús, 517, she lost her left arm in 1585 when her body was removed to Avila.

(42.) Yepes, Vida, virtudes y milagros, 4:13–34.

(43.) Fr. Antonio de Lorea, La venerable madre sor María de la Santissima Trinidad, 282–283.

(44.) Ibid., 280.

(45.) Fr. Antonio de Arbiol, Ejemplar de religiosas, en la penitente, virtuosa y maravillosa vida de sor Jacinta de Atondo (Zaragoza: Manuel Roman, 1716), 234–235.

(46.) Iriarte, Beata María Ángela Astorch, 234–235.

(47.) Jesús, Tesoro del carmelo, 741–742.

(48.) Elliott, Imperial Spain, 349.

(49.) Fr. Antonio de Lorea, La venerable madre Hipolita, 210.

(50.) Poutrin, La voile et la plume, 431.

(51.) Fr. Manuel de San Gerónimo, Edades y virtudes, ffs. 181v–185.

(52.) Fr. Martín de Roa, Flos sanctorum, ffs. 153, 158, 5–15v.

(53.) Montalvo, Vida prodigiosa, 419.

(54.) Fr. Bartolmé Valperga, Vida, muerte y milagros, np.

(55.) Mesa, Vida, favores y mercedes, “Aprobación del reverendissimo padre fray Francisco Guzman Ponce de Leon,” np.

(56.) Weinstein and Bell, Saints and Society, 167.

(57.) Yepes, Vida, virtudes y milagros, 2:325.

(58.) Po‐chai Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal, 127–128.

(59.) Ibid., 134–137.

(60.) Ibid., 127–128.

(61.) Fr. Francisco de Ribera, La vida de la Madre Teresa de Jesús, 528–560; see also Eire, From Madrid to Purgatory, 450–454, for an account of the unearthly fragrance coming from the oil exuded from her corpse.


(62.) D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella (London: Warburg Institute, 1958), 200.

(63.) Mesa, Vida, favores y mercedes, 368.

(64.) AHN, Inquisition, July 15, 1639, leg. 102, exp. 5.

(65.) Thomas Dormandy, The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 4.

(66.) Manrique, La venerable madre, 186–187.

(67.) Fr. Antonio de Lorea, La venerable madre sor Maria de la Santissima Trinidad, 289.

(68.) Fr. Angel Manrique, La venerable madre, 273, 294.

(69.) Mary O'Neil, “Magical Healing, Love Magic and the Inquisition in Late Sixteenth‐Century Modena,” in Inquisition and Society in Early Modern Europe, ed. Stephen Haliczer (London: Croom Helm, 1987), 91.

(70.) Montalvo, Vida prodigiosa, 126.

(71.) Fr. Antonio de Lorea, La venerable madre sor María de la Santissima Trinidad, 111.

(72.) Weinstein and Bell, Saints and Society, 147.

(73.) Farmer, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 334.

(74.) Salaberria, Vida prodigiosa, 244.

(75.) Fr. Franciso de Acosta, Vida prodigiosa, 306.

(76.) Ibid.

(77.) Fr. Angel Manrique, La venerable madre, 299–300.

(78.) Vyse, Believing in Magic, 102–109.

(79.) Salaberria, Vida prodigiosa, 173.

(80.) AHN, Inquisition, December 19, 1666, leg. 1707, exp. 10.

(81.) Montalvo, Vida prodigiosa, 420.

(82.) Fr. Bartolomé Valperga, Vida, muerte y milagros, 129.

(83.) Franco de Villalba, La heroica religiosa, 165, 173–176.

(84.) Ibid., 185–186.

(85.) Fr. Antonio Arbiol, Ejemplar de religiosas, 564–565.

(86.) Fr. Manuel de San Gerónimo, Edades y virtudes, 190.

(87.) Poutrin, Le voile et la plume, 318.

(88.) See the discussion of this clause in Yepes, Vida, virtudes y milagros, 273–275, 334, 339.

(89.) Poutrin, Le voile et la plume, 287.

(90.) Francis Lannon, Privilege, Persecution and Prophecy: The Catholic Church in Spain 1875–1975 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 249.

(91.) Ibid., 246–247.

(92.) For Jesuit support for the miracle cures of Padre Hoyos S.J. in 1936, see Mary Vincent, Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic: Religion and Politics in Salamanca (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 76–77. For their success in establishing new sodalities in the 1930s, see ibid., 102–197.

(93.) José María Javierre, foreword to Escritos Intimos, by Sor Angela de la Cruz (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1974), 24–25, 36.

(94.) Baldomero Jiménez Duque, La espiritualidad en el siglo XIX español (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1974), 173–177.

(95.) For an expression of the hostility and fear felt by conservative Catholics toward mass democracy and socialism, see especially M. Arboleya Martínez, Sermón Perdido (Madrid: Mundo Latino, 1930), 18–19.


(96.) José Nakans, Milagros comentados (Madrid: Establecimiento Tipográfico, 1913), 272–273.

(97.) Segismundo Pey Ordeix, Sor Sicalipsis (Barcelona: Maucci, 1931), 115.

(98.) Ibid., 167–175.

(99.) Ibid., 186–188.

(100.) Ibid., 199–200.

(101.) Ibid., 231–232.

(102.) Kenneth L. Woodward, Making Saints (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 171, 162.

(103.) Kenneth L. Woodward, “Hail Mary,” Newsweek, 25 August 1997, 50.

(104.) Woodward, Making Saints, 209.

(105.) Woodward, “Hail Mary,” 55; Gustav Niebuhr, “Semi‐Comatose Massachusetts Girl Draws Pilgrims Seeking Sign of God,” New York Times, 30 August 1998, 1, 24.