How a teenage nun began shaping American culture some 400 years ago from the cell of her cloistered convent in Spain is the amazing story of Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda - a …
How a teenage nun began shaping American culture some 400 years ago from the cell of her cloistered convent in Spain is the amazing story of Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda - a story every North American, especially every resident of the Southwest, should hear.
To get started, a free, public talk is planned Saturday (Sept. 28) at 1 p.m. at Taos Public Library, featuring Dr. Anna M. Nogar of the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque, speaking about her book, "Quill and Cross in the Borderlands: Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda and the Lady in Blue, 1628 to the Present" (Notre Dame University Press, 2018).
This 19-year-old nun and abbess began her so-called Lady in Blue career in 1620 as a person who is said to have "bilocated" at least 500 times until 1631, all from her cloistered cell in Spain. She apparently appeared to indigenous tribes predominantly in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, less so in California and Oregon, teaching Catholicism and urging Native tribes to become baptized by Franciscan friars at missions in the Southwest. (Bilocation is the supposed phenomenon of being in two places at once. Skeptics say there is no scientific evidence that bilocation is real and that cases are often from anecdotal reports.)
Similar to bilocation and other psychic phenomena noted in the USSR (see "Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain," Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1970) and studies of "remote viewing" conducted in the late 1980s by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, bilocation of psychics and other saints has a notable history, including saints such as Saint Catherine of Sienna and many others.
More to the point, however, are reports that Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda interacted with the Southwestern tribes who called her the Blue Lady.
According to "Ven. Mary of Ágreda in America," by Margaret C. Galitzin (Tradition in Action, Inc., 2011), Sor María's confessor in Ágreda sent a report about Sor María's work among the American Indians to the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco de Manso, "that the young abbess ... said that she was visiting Indian villages in New Mexico in some supernatural manner and was teaching the natives the Catholic faith. Even though she spoke Spanish, the Indians understood her, and she understood them when they replied in their native dialect. The confessor had a favorable impression of the Conceptionist nun and was inclined to believe her words," according to Galitzin, who then reports the archbishop ordered Fr. Benavides, who was being transferred to New Mexico, to make a careful inquiry to be carried out "with the exactness, faithfulness and devotion that such a grave matter requires."
It is noteworthy that Fr. Benavides had been invested with two offices in New Mexico - that of Superior and that of Inquisitor - and had all the resources available to make a serious inquiry.
"To verify the truth of her account, he asked her specific questions about the area, if she could identify certain landmarks and describe the other missionaries, as well as specific Indians. 'She told me many particularities of that land that even I had forgotten and she brought them to my memory,' he noted. 'She also described the features and individual traits of the missionaries and various Indians, with details that only a person who had been in New Spain could know."
Person of folklore?
Archbishop Manso told Fr. Benavides to find out if new tribes - the "Tejas [Texans], Chillescas, Jumanos and Caburcos - already had 'some knowledge of the Faith' and 'in what manner and by what means.'" Benavides' document described "over 60,000 Christianized natives residing in 90 pueblos, divided into 25 districts." (mariadeagreda.info/#m23)
"What's really interesting is that most people know her mostly as a person of folklore," Nogar said in a Friday (Sept. 20) telephone interview with Tempo, pointing to former Gov. Bill Richardson officially making Santa Fe and Ágreda sister cities during his term. Moreover, San Angelo, Texas, holds yearly celebrations of the Blue Lady and there are the periodic celebrations in New Mexico at Gran Quivira National Monument in Salinas.
"There are many, many other legends of her besides converting tribes," Nogar said, such as helping sick people, finding lost folks in the desert and guiding them home. There are legends of the blue flowers and "blue bonnets" of Texas, even the tradition of painting doors and window frames blue - all folkloric attribution to the Lady in Blue.
"But, I took study of her from a historical perspective," Nogar emphasized, finding Sor María's masterwork, "Mystical City of God," to be formative of the approach of the Franciscan order of friars who carried the books with them into every territory and mission they established. "She was a protomissionary influence on the friars," Nogar explained, an influence that shaped the Franciscan order's 17th-century conversion practices of indigenous populations in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, being distinctly different, she says, than British, French and non-Franciscan interactions with indigenous North Americans.
Nogar will also speak on "Sisters in Blue/Hermanas de Azul," the bilingual children's book she and Dr. Enrique La Madrid of UNM-Albuquerque created in 2017, and which Taos painter Amy Córdova illustrated.
Press materials for the talk were provided in part by Taos painter Lloyd D. Rivera, who has devoted time to the Lady in Blue legacy since 2010 and before. He says his interpretive images can be found in Taos, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Texas, Mexico and Spain. He notes that next year, "1620 to 2020 will benchmark 400 years of Lady in Blue teleportations."
One day about 12 years ago, Rivera told Tempo editor Rick Romancito, he was having a conversation over coffee with a couple of local priests about Catholic devotional art. They talked about a number of saints and religious figures that have become well-known subjects of Hispanic santo artists. Then, the conversation turned to María de Agreda and everything changed for Rivera.
The priests, Fr. Bill McNichols and Fr. Tim Martínez, happened to mention the Lady in Blue, and Rivera asked, "Well, is that the same one from Spain who was bilocating to the Southwest?"
Rivera said the priests told him that few if any santeros are painting the Lady in Blue anymore. "Yes, they're doing Our Lady of Guadalupe and San Rafael, San Miguel, St. Francis, St. John, the Lady of the Rosary, Lady of Solitude and others," he said. "Today, the only people who seem to know anything about María are historians."
After that initial conversation with the priests, Rivera said he later paid a visit to the St. Francis Gift Shop in Ranchos de Taos where some of his artwork is sold. There, he saw a book on María de Agreda. Soon afterward, he went to Albuquerque and bought several pieces of wood, some of which he would refine into plaques, others left raw and unvarnished as tablets. Then, taking the image of the Lady in Blue, he set to work painting images of her. Lots of them.
"I painted 100, which I distributed as gifts to my friends, businesspeople and many others," Rivera said. "Then I continued painting … and some of them are large and some of them are medium-sized. On the back it says '1620-1630,' which was the time these apparitions or 'bilocations' were occurring."
Why is he doing this? "Because it's a revival of the images of the Lady in Blue. She's part of the iconography of the Roman Catholic Church in the Southwest and Spain and throughout the world," he replied. "I became fascinated with her because from 1970 forward, I was born and raised in the Mora Valley, I was interested in regional history of the area ... In my readings, once in a while, I would run across a sentence or two about the 'Lady in Blue.' "
The Lady in Blue was venerated shortly after her death by Pope Clement X, but her status has never changed since due possibly to a variety of misinterpretations of her writings. However, international efforts to move her beatification process forward apparently are underway.
The lecture is in cooperation with Friends of Taos Public Library and TPL Director Kate Alderete. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Tempo editor Rick Romancito contributed to this report. See also Larry Torres' ongoing fictionalized version of Sor María's story in Spanish in Taos News' El Crepúsculo, C section.
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