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Brides of ChristConventual Life in Colonial Mexico$

Asuncion Lavrin

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804752831

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804752831.001.0001

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The Novice Becomes a Nun

The Novice Becomes a Nun

(p.48) Chapter Two The Novice Becomes a Nun
Brides of Christ
Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the period of novitiate, or apprenticeship of religious life, in female convents in colonial Mexico. It suggests that this period was full of personal tensions, anguish, and trials and that even the most lukewarm belief in the choice of the cloister was grounded on a strong piety developed during childhood and early youth. This chapter also describes the physical and spiritual discipline inflicted on the novice in order to detach her emotionally and intellectually from her previous life and the world and highlights the importance of obedience and humility in the novitiate.

Keywords:   novitiate, religious life, female convents, colonial Mexico, piety, obedience, humility

“As the happy and desired day arrived, all fears disappeared, all tears ceased, and the soul filled with a serious joy. Thus infused, interiorized, and humble I went into the coro, and then I felt as if all the sun came inside me; the understanding was cleared; the will inflamed, and I saw with the eyes of the soul the divinity of our Lord sitting by my right side.”

On the day of her profession a novice could feel as though the gates of heaven had opened to her. That was the experience of Sor María Marcela Soria when she professed as a Capuchin nun in Querétaro in November 1748. Her expectations soared as she prepared for the day. What she and others may not have clearly surmised at that time was that becoming a nun demanded more than a vocation. It was a process of learning religious rituals, discipline, obedience, and the demands and obligations of daily life unlike those she had known before. The diverse population of professed nuns and their servants made convents resemble small citadels fraught with personal antagonisms and frictions. Power struggles and jealousy undermined the triennial election of prioresses. Financial worries preoccupied the elected officers as well as the individual nuns.1 When they took their first vow in religion, novices were innocent of such internal struggles and possibly conceived a world like a heavenly city in which the love of Christ would fulfill their life's desires. They learned otherwise during a year of trial, at the end of which their names would be submitted to the community for approval for the final and irrevocable profession.

The novitiate was a period full of personal tensions for the young women whose calling for the religious life they hardly doubted before entering the cloister. Even the most lukewarm belief in the choice of the cloister was grounded on a strong piety developed during childhood and early (p.49) youth. For others the call was irresistible. However it was felt, vocation was an assumption put under heavy scrutiny by her conventual sisters and by the novice herself. The novitiate meant, above all, learning the Rules of the Order and the internal discipline of the convent, verifying her own vocation by having it tested by teachers and superiors. She also had to develop self-discipline to attain the expected “virtues” of a nun: humility, self-effacement and self-restraint, and obedience. She had to renounce her blood family and adjust her life to living with other women who would be her “sisters” in religion, and her only family for the rest of her life. She had to learn that the conventual walls marked the boundaries of her world forever, and that personal self-containment began with the shrinking of her own living space to that of the cell and the conventual premises. In the novitiate she had to learn the prayers of the services and the routine of the convent throughout the day and the year. There were many religious feasts to be observed, but many acts of discipline and mortification as well. In fact, the hardest part of becoming a nun was the mental and emotional training required to devote herself entirely to achieving the goals of spiritual growth and fulfillment that were laid out by the religious vows that she repeated twice: first during the initial profession as a novice, and again in the final profession. In theory, then, the novitiate was a period of preparation to be part of the religious community, in both body and spirit. This process could be painful in a physical and in a spiritual manner for the novice and the community. The entire convent became aware of the novice's behavior and followed closely her response to her teacher's indoctrination, her adjustment to the routine of the community, and her personal challenges and trials.

The duty of the religious community was to observe the novice and try to discern if she was adjusting to living in the inner sanctum of God's chosen brides, since her ability to learn how to become a nun would last far beyond the trials of the first year. At the end of that year the teacher of novices would have made up her mind about the novice and would submit a report recommending her acceptance or her dismissal. This was the time for the community as a whole to express its opinion on the novice and for individual nuns to cast their votes of approval or disapproval as judges of character and vocation. Their decision of accepting a new sister in religion would affect them all and it was a serious moment for the community as a whole. On her part, the novice's awareness of being on trial could kindle serious self-doubts. While many had members of the family in the convent to confide in, just as many were on their own. Only her confessor could give her some consolation, and even this help may not have been available. By all accounts, this was a period filled with anguish and trials that demands to be examined in detail.

(p.50) The novitiate has not been explored in depth in any account of conventual life. This testing period, although short in comparison with the long road ahead, opens the gate to understanding how a religious life was shaped at its inception. Material concerns were as important as spiritual ones, as it was with all aspects of religious life. Dowries had to be posted, ethnic affiliation had to be verified, the financial liabilities or advantages of the entrance of another member of the community had to be assessed. At the same time, the foundation of relationships with confessors and other nuns were established and, above all, the construction of a world of spiritual values began. Personal memories, prescriptive literature, hagiobiographical literature, and administrative letters provide a rich picture of this key period in the initiation of a nun's life. These beginnings mark the transition of one world into another; they allow us to see how the character of the novice was shaped, and what the young woman seeking religion found in a place that was not often a “garden” of virgins but a conflictive and challenging place.

Becoming a Novice: Meeting the Requirements

Entrance into the convent was a complex process that involved administrative and ceremonial mechanisms. To fulfill the administrative procedure, all aspirants had to undergo an enquiry into their racial background, birth, willingness to profess, and proof of a virtuous life. Nuns were intensely aware of their racial purity and were intolerant toward any professants with the slightest trace of Indian or African descent. In 1744, some of the nuns of Santa Clara in Atlixco (Puebla) were most reluctant to admit a candidate whose father was a castizo, that is, someone with one Indian grandfather. Despite the fact that he was regarded as “noble” or socially acceptable by most of the community, a secret vote showed eleven negative votes and thirty-one for approval. On a second vote the number of those opposed increased to seventeen with twenty-five in favor. The distressed abbess wrote to her Provincial seeking advice. While we do not know the outcome of this case, it shows how race could become a political issue in a community.2

The second important qualification, that of legitimacy, was routinely followed, except when, occasionally, “natural” or born-out-of-wedlock girls were admitted. As we have seen in Chapter 1, such aspirants had to request dispensation from their “defect of birth” from the Vicar of Nuns or either the bishop or archbishop. Good patronage or the solicitude of a powerful father looking into the future of his “natural” child helped to filter the few admitted under that category. A tolerant church did not (p.51) mind altering its own rules in this respect. Sheltering women was a charitable and worthy cause, and prelates exercised the social savoir faire and reinforced the social network that bonded the elite together. The Hieronymites of San Lorenzo in Puebla admitted at least three nuns of “unknown parents” or “hija natural,” certified to be of Spanish descent.3 Also part of the entrance ritual was the novice's declaration of free will to enter the convent. Theoretically, the Roman Catholic Church did not wish to admit to its ranks women who had been compelled to profess. A legal statement of free will was mandatory for all novices.4 The novice had to submit a petition signed by herself in which she stated that “she had decided to enter as a religious of black veil in the convent” and requested the archbishop to proceed with the formal enquiries, after committing herself to pay her dowry. After having verified her race using a copy of her baptismal records, the Vicar of Nuns took her sworn statement that she was over sixteen years of age and asked if she was aware of the obligations of the religious life. She also had to state that she had “not been forced, advised, threatened or moved by fear or reverence to her parents or any other person,” and was acting on her own will “to seek the salvation of her soul, removed from the snares of the world.”5

Verifying the good behavior of an aspirant was not very hard, and it often was based on the testimonies of her confessor or friends of the convent. Families protected the reputation of their daughters by maintaining them behind doors or closely supervised by adults in the family. Written statements attesting the recogimiento or sheltered life of a candidate are available for entrance in the convent of Corpus Christi (see Chapter 9), but apparently more informal statements were gathered by the nuns themselves. Sor María Marcela Soria recalled how before her profession some women cast aspersions about her to the Capuchin nuns and how the latter were hesitant about her character and vocation.6 Her insistence and time helped the community change its mind about her admission.

To apply for a place, the aspirant was expected to write a short formal request to be admitted into the convent and expressing her desire to fulfill her vocation. The applicants used ritual phrases which the nuns dutifully recorded, such as “since her most tender age she had shown a great desire to become a Discalced Carmelite,” or “she has pretended the habit for many years,” or “she has a strong vocation.” One of them was accepted in April 1693, “on account of being a maiden with all the attributes of virtue and competent age.” María Bernardes, an orphan, declared “such a strong” desire to be a Carmelite that even though she was not yet fifteen, the nuns requested a dispensation to accept her. One century later, in 1793, María Francisca Clemencia asked to be received into the Franciscan convent of Santa Clara, Atlixco, “to fulfill her vocation.” Little had (p.52) changed over time.7 The entry records of all convents stipulated that the novice should stay in the novitiate for one or two years to allow her time to mature and learn the conventual rules and practices.8 The application for admission tested the applicants' reading and writing abilities because literacy was essential to being a nun. Some novices escaped through the cracks, having only a rudimentary literacy that they improved after profession. The women who applied to be “white veiled” or lay sisters were not expected to be educated. They helped with the hardest manual work and lacked voting rights in the convent, and they did not need to learn Latin to follow the services and say their prayers. This lesser category of cloistered women brought a smaller dowry.

Powerful individuals did not hesitate to use their leverage to press the acceptance of a relative or protégée. The Carmelite nuns of San José in Mexico City were not exempt from the pressure of agents who would intercede on behalf of a candidate. Archbishop Francisco Aguiar y Seijas (1682–98) supported the candidacy of Juana de Zúñiga y Toledo to become capellana and enter without a dowry. The nuns accepted the will of their superior, but satisfied their own requirements by adding that the aspirant had qualities such as poverty and honesty that merited recognition. This statement saved their faces as a decision-making body and not merely an agent of the archbishop. Despite the rigor of their Rule, the Carmelites attracted several daughters of families of the highest social standing. The spiritual appeal of the Order, founded by Saint Teresa of Avila, enticed girls who could have professed in more affluent and less austere convents. Such were Sebastiana Dávalos y Orozco, and María Ana de Luyando y Bermeo, whose respective fathers were knights of Calatrava. The latter was a twenty-five-year-old widow when she was accepted into the convent in February 1728. Also professed during that period were the daughters of a city councilman and an alférez (ensign).9

The rate of professions varied from institution to institution and from decade to decade. Typically, convents admitted four or five a year and larger numbers usually occurred during a convent's formative years or in those convents that had a strong social attraction, such as La Conceptión in Mexico City and Puebla, and Santa Clara in Querétaro. Convents registered admissions in books that provide a feeling for the flow of requests. A thirty-five-year record of all professions between 1693 and 1728 in the discalced Carmelites of San José in Mexico City registers the admission of twenty-five novices.10 Francisco Pardo recorded the entrance of 256 nuns in La Conceptión, Puebla, between its foundation in 1593 and 1676.11 Complete series of entrances are unusual and it would be difficult to re-create given the loss or scattering of conventual documentation. One available example is that of San José de Gracia, a midsize convent of the Conceptionist (p.53) Order. Founded in Mexico City in 1610 under the name of Santa María de Gracia, it admitted thirty-three professants between 1612 and 1623, a rate of admissions it never attained again. Between its foundation and the end of the seventeenth century, San José de Gracia took in 108 professants. Another 132 joined between 1701 and 1821, a rate of just one a year. Twelve were admitted between 1806 and 1821, though there were none during the tumultuous year 1810; however, four entered in 1821, the last year of Spanish rule.12 Rosalva Loreto López has followed the sequence of admissions for the eleven nunneries in Puebla noting several highs and troughs throughout the seventeenth century, with a definite slow decline toward the end of the eighteenth century among the calced nunneries, with a distinct decline in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the discalced convents had a more even distribution of entrances throughout the century.13 A survey of eighteenth-century admissions in five convents by Margaret Chowning shows that some convents, such as Santa Catalina de Sena in Valladolid, Santa Clara in Querétaro, and La Conceptión in Puebla, could have as many as thirty novices in a decade in the early eighteenth century.14 But such peaks could be followed by periods of lesser activity in the admissions. As Chowning points out, variations were due to the mortality of nuns, and the fact that some of the convents were bound to have a fixed number of nuns. In the latter case, only when a nun died could another be admitted. The availability of space in the convent would also play a role. It was not always possible to enlarge the convent to build more cells, a process that some convents obviated by buying property next to the cloister and expanding its area. During the years of the enforcement of a change in observance (1770–1780), the number of aspirants declined in all convents because novices were hesitant about the changes introduced by the innovation.15 Altogether, the flow of novices into convents was a variable that still presents problems of historical reconstruction. Doubtless, the number of nuns living in a convent changed the character of life within. Overpopulated nunneries were a constant source of worry for prelates, who saw in such large numbers a challenge to the spiritual side of religious life. Overpopulation in the cloisters was not due to the admission of nuns, but to the large number of servants and protégées living within, and it was a fact beyond the personal process of admittance of the novice, whose steps we are following.

The Ceremonial

Having fulfilled all the necessary requirements, the ceremony of first profession became the first main event in the life of the future nun. It varied (p.54) according to the convent and the wealth of the professants. Like a wedding, it called for the display of the family status through details such as purchasing a rich dress for the novice, inviting a large number of guests, and serving refreshments in the convent's parlor. The display of emotions by the family, although spontaneous, could add to the theatrical nature of the event. Each religious order had its own ritual for the first and final professions: two different ceremonies, insofar as the first did not guarantee the latter. Doubtless, dozens of novices entered the convents with a minimum of public display, but others' entrances were sumptuous, especially in the eighteenth century, when they could be quite flamboyant. The chronicler of the city, José Manuel de Castro Santa Anna, described the first profession of twenty-year-old Josefa Malo y Castro in the discalced Carmelites on February 2, 1757. She was the daughter of the late Pedro Malo de Villavicencio, ex-president of the Audiencia of Guadalajara and a Knight of the Order of Calatrava, whose widow made sure that the ceremony met the high family standards. Josefa was “richly dressed with pearls and precious stones, and wore a new formal dress with gold tissue and velvet, granate-red in color, and Milan lace trimmings worth over 1,000 pesos. It was later dedicated to church ornaments. The attendance included the cream of society.”16

Ceremonies of this nature showed an overlapping of the mundane and the spiritual. In the Dominicans of Santa María de Gracia, in Guadalajara, the novice, richly dressed and accompanied by her godmother, visited the bishop to request his blessing. The godmother in this and all cases could be the professant's own mother or any other member of the family. The chaplains of the convent waited for the novice in the church with crosses and candles, blessed her with holy water, and led her to the altar, where she asked for the blessing of the Holiest. From the church she went into the convent, walking amidst a throng of onlookers and listening to the music played for the occasion. Having reached the convent, she knelt before the half-open door where the abbess asked her three times: “What is the bride looking for?” to which she answered: “The mercy of God.” The door was then fully opened and the abbess and sub-abbess gave her flowers and a candle to welcome her. The rest of the nuns accompanied her in a procession to the choir of the convent, where she removed her clothes and put on the habit. She returned to the door where the priest placed a scapular on her. When the public ceremony ended, the aspirant receded into the convent. Eight days later her hair was cut and she began her life and learning as a novice.17

Two autobiographical accounts that survive reveal the aspirant's emotions on the day of her profession. One is by Sor María de San José, a discalced Augustinian in Puebla, the other by Sor María Marcela Soria, (p.55) a Capuchin in Querétaro. Sor María de San José traveled from her home, a rural hacienda near Puebla, to that city, accompanied by her siblings and friends. Her destination was the convent of Santa Mónica where she had wished to profess for many years. She did so the day of the feast of Saint Nicholas Tolentino, September 10, 1687, in a ceremony marked by stark simplicity since she was the second nun in her family, and had encountered many obstacles to her profession. As she later wrote:18

As I stood at last before the entrance, the door suddenly opened, and because of the great joy and happiness I felt in my soul, it seemed to me the very doors of heaven had opened to me. As soon as I went in the door shut, and I went about embracing every one of the nuns as is always done when a nun enters. When this ceremony was completed, the Mother Director … brought me to the grille so that I could say good-bye to my sisters and to the other people who accompanied me … I began to sob without being able to help it because at the moment this occurred I felt such a great force and violence that it was as if each part and member of my body was creating its own grief and resistance to remove this love for my family from my heart.

One of the purposes of the novitiate was to cut the candidate's ties with her natural family and help her to accept the community as her only family. The abbess consoled María and reminded her that her tears may suggest to others that she was unhappy about entering the house of God. She suppressed them and proceeded to “bid them good-bye very quickly.” She was then taken to the upper choir where she was dressed in her habit and taken through the convent to become familiarized with it. That afternoon there was a modest celebration. Sor María de San José was offered the nuns' traditional beverage, hot chocolate, which she had shunned throughout her life. Her first act of obedience was to drink it and savor some sweets cooked for the occasion.

Capuchin Sor María Marcela remembered vividly her first profession. She professed in the Capuchins of Querétaro on July 25, 1748, on the feast of the Apostle Santiago. The town was celebrating the saint's day and it was teeming with people, some of whom came to witness the ceremony. She had waited for over a year and a half for the admission. Her unhappy father and siblings had not reconciled themselves with her decision. Accompanied by her sister, who acted as godmother for the ritual, she took her last ride in the city. Her coach followed a certain route, along which people would gather to see the display of the young novice-to-be. While some families saw the profession as a source of pride and piety, in María Marcela's case it was a sad occasion punctuated by the tears of her siblings and the absence of her older brother, who disapproved of her decision.

(p.56) As she entered, she heard the antiphony Veni Sponsa Mea being sung inside, and in her awe, she was moved to beg the abbess to let her walk on her knees toward the choir. Her desire was not granted. The ritual had a precise routine which should not be broken, even as a display of humility. Sor María Marcela was honest enough to describe the fears she began to experience the minute the nuns started to undress her and she realized that soon she would be one of them. She pretended she was happy when she appeared in the habit in the grille to bid farewell to her father and siblings.

But, oh misery, oh infected nature! My strength lasted only until they began to strip me of my jewels and worldly ornaments … One nun took off her veil to help undress me. As soon as I saw her habit I began to consider that I would look like her, and my pleasure turned into sadness; my consolation into affliction, and the vocation into regret. These sentiments were so strong that I almost asked them that instead of undressing me they should open the door and let me return to my home. If I did not do this, it was because I controlled myself. I went to the grille feeling like a dark night, but dissimulating so well that nobody learned anything. Sadness was covered with modesty, and regret with silence, two virtues that everybody began to admire in me. They [the nuns] took me to the novitiate where I was alone because there was no other novice. My teacher was saintly and affable. She asked me several questions inquiring if I was happy. I told her yes because although I was tempted, I dissimulated and remained silent, and to this day nobody knew that the habit was burning me, I could not stand the bed, I loathed the food, and ate nothing. The hours in the choir were like centuries.19

Her relatives stayed for five days and visited her in the grille, after which time, believing that she was happy, they left. From then on, Sor María Marcela had to face her novitiate and her feelings on her own.

Learning the Ropes and Testing the Wills

With the departure of families and friends, the trying period of novitiate began. If the family lived in the same city, they could visit the novice as frequently as the convent allowed, which was only every few months. Blood ties had to be supplanted by community ties. What could replace family and the world? What were they taught toward that end? What contingencies did novices face during their learning period? There was no universal agreement on how to teach a novice to become a nun. Each convent had its own method of teaching, about which we have much less information than would be desirable. The intellectual content of a novice's learning was limited: the Rule of the convent; the rituals of the (p.57) church, as experienced in conventual life; and above all, the essence of her vows, which obliged her to obedience, humility, poverty, and chastity. Breviaries of prayers helped her to learn that important aspect of the communal ritual. This training was about observance and discipline, not about learning theology. The selection of teacher of novices did not seem to have followed special guidelines or required specific training. While the Rules of some convents stated that older and wise nuns should be assigned to this task, this was not always the case. An experienced nun was favored over younger ones but she did not have to be “older.” Sor María Lino de la Santísima Trinidad, founder of the convent of La Purísima Conception in San Miguel el Grande, was made teacher of novices when she was hardly twenty-two years old, only eight months after her own profession in 1752. She remained in that position for nine and a half years. Obviously, her appointment was due to her being the founder, and we can only assume that she must have learned her métier during the period of service.20

Under more common circumstances the teacher of novices was appointed by the conventual hierarchy composed of the abbess and her advisors. Like others in the nunnery, the position rotated every few years among the senior nuns. Although they seemed to have been infrequent, irregularities in the appointment took place, as illustrated by the case of Sor María Lino. There was also the case of the Indian convent of Nuestra Señora de Cosamaloapán in Michoacán. In the 1730s and 1740s it experienced serious internal problems, and the appointment of teacher of novices was challenged by the indigenous nuns and novices, who complained to the religious authorities that the teacher of novices, an espaòola (unmixed Spanish descent) by origin, was inadequate, being very young and hardly an expert in the rules of observance.21 She had been appointed only because of her race.

The relation between teachers and novices was one of complete authority for the former and complete obedience for the latter. As such, there were many opportunities to exercise undue control over the novices in the process of teaching them. Accounts of the tensions caused by the obedience the novices owed their teachers and their sometimes rigorous methods of indoctrination indicate that not all was peace and harmony. Unquestionably, teaching novices was a difficult assignment, although the biographical and conventual literature strove to present a rosy and pious portrait of the teacher of novices. Of Sor Ana de la Presentatión, of the convent of San Lorenzo in Mexico City, the preacher who extolled her virtues stated that, as a teacher of novices, she never applied any “mortification” that she had not experienced first herself.22 Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora quoted Sor Tomasa de Ildefonso, one of the chroniclers of the (p.58) convent of Jesús María, who praised Sor María Antonia de Santo Domingo:

She taught her disciples and novices with such great care, charity and love, as if they were born of her entrails. She did not spare any trouble to make good nuns of them and make them fulfill their duties with exactitude. There was no day in which she did not teach them in prolix detail all sorts of things and the ceremonies of religion, making them aware of all to which they had committed themselves, and what a high dignity [it] was being the Brides of Jesus-Christ … She also persuaded them to be humble, and to love each other … Her most common advise was that they should try to live a life away from intercourse with the world. This would lead them to love each other in God, which is the most powerful tool to combat the factionalism that introduces laxity in the monasteries.23

In a nutshell, that was the teacher's agenda: teach ceremonial and religion, inculcate knowledge on the uniqueness of their chosen state, and preach tolerance for each other. Discipline, however, could not be forgotten. Sor María Antonia was said to have imposed discipline with severe warnings followed by expressions of love, and, according to the chronicler, she earned the love of her novices. This might have been the case, but while some conventual sources gilded reality, others did not hide the unpleasantnesses, although they presented them as part of a process of spiritual purification. Unquestionably, the discipline was severe and it is not difficult to find examples of rigor in the training of novices as well as discontent among them. On the training of Doña Leocadia González Aranzamendi, professed in the Capuchin convent of Mexico City in 1666, the conventual chronicler Sor María Teresa said, in 1733: “She suffered more than enough painful mortifications; she was commonly treated with harsh words and made to go without her veil, a distressing penitence for a religious, as all who direct their souls know.” But she adds, explaining the purpose of mortifying the novice: “God wished to gain a bride truly married to his wounds.”24

A rare glimpse into the process or training in the spiritual life is contained in a small book of pedagogic guidance to the novices of unknown provenance, in the form of a letter possibly written in the eighteenth century. It offers an intimate vision of the pedagogical philosophy of the person who wrote it, who could well have been a confessor, and emphasized the benefits and rewards derived from their chosen life.25 The novice's first duty, according to this source, was to travel into her inner world and meditate on the benefits granted by God. This advice followed the doctrine of recogimiento (gathering into oneself) and meditation that was the pillar of early-sixteenth-century Spanish spirituality and continued to be one of the key features of post-Tridentine indoctrination. To learn how to carry out mental prayer, as opposed to verbal prayer, was not an option, but an (p.59) essential need for a nun. Living in the “security of a safe port,” her duties were to pray in the Lord's garden, to live in virtue, and to exercise herself in the road of perfection. Meditation and prayer would lead to the understanding of her decision to profess. She should pray for the gift “of fervor and devotion for everything celestial and eternal [and] the great gift of the ultimate perseverance.” To remain assured and confident of her choice was essential. “As a bride of Christ,” stated the writer, “you liken yourselves, oh sainted virgins, to the angels, with the invaluable jewels of your purity,” and “you partake of the same relationship the church had to God.” Being chosen, however, she had to be willing to endure many personal sacrifices. The greatest was to deny everything to herself and to embrace the cross of Christ. This renunciation was easier to achieve within the walls of the cloister, where one could see the world as the illusory thing it really was. Assuming that her vocation was firm, the writer was confident that the novice would learn how to despise everything she left behind in the world and thank God for having brought her into the convent. The writer put in the lips of the novice a prayer that would reflect her humility and her gratitude:

From here, my Divine Spouse of my very soul, most kind, sweet and loved Savior of mine; from here, in solitude, I will listen to your voice quietly, and will communicate with you with the frankness and sweetness that you reserve for your beloved solitary souls. Here I am, small and poor, humble, a sinner from the very beginning, and altogether a miserable daughter of Adam, heir to his fragility; but a creature of yours, redeemed with the blood of the immaculate lamb.26

Thus, once in the care of her Lord, the novice was advised to request from God consolation for the family she had left behind, who suffered her absence. This recommendation contradicted the teaching of sterner prelates and teachers who instructed professing nuns to forget their family ties. While the writer had recommended despising all that belonged to the outside world, there was in this duty toward her family a sympathetic understanding of the loss that the claustration of a daughter meant for siblings and parents. She would never return to her home and would be considered dead and entombed in her convent. This letter exudes a terse serenity, expressed without the verbal exaggerations and theatricality of intent and nuance that characterize some of the sermons and conventual chronicles. Conveyed in unaffected language, this pithy manual guided the novice firmly to the understanding of her duties and rewards. It mixed a mentoring tone with the intimacy of a prayer and uplifting words of praise. The author fondly addressed the recipient as “Doña Marianita,” but never lost authority despite the understanding of the stressful period of initiation in the religious life.

(p.60) The gentle hand that addressed “Doña Marianita” is not evident in a manual of instruction for novices written by Sor Manuela de San Antonio, of the convent of San Bernardo in Mexico City, in 1744.27 This was not a spiritual treatise, but a book on discipline and behavior in the convent that revealed a stern teacher conscious of her duty to train the novices in the protocol they had to follow in their daily lives. The first rule was to keep silence in the coro, the dorms, and the refectory. Novices should not speak to the professed nuns unless they were spoken to. They should sleep in separate beds and with their habits on. Anyone staying for too long in the coro, engaged in her own prayers, would be punished by being compelled to eat from a dish placed on the ground (comer en tierra). Doing everything as the rule stated was essential in the process of learning. Novices should not cause any trouble, and should expect corrective measures if they misbehaved. They should kneel before the abbess or her assistant if reprimanded. They should never reveal the secrets of conventual life to any secular person or receive anything from anybody without permission of their teacher. When a professed nun died, they were to pray a rosary for her soul. Novices should never be idle and should remember they were the lowest members of the convent. Sor Manuela stressed this by repeating the message of humility that novices should remember: “They were garbage, and nothing in the convent.” This comment corroborates the notion of the novitiate as a challenge, even for those selected few with a very strong vocation. Denial of their own free will was a foundational principle insofar as it promoted obedience and discipline, and the teacher of novices' main task was to remind her charges that they should be silent, humble, and compliant to any order from their superiors. She aimed at curing personal pride and teaching collegiality by denial of any personal agency. If the novice succeeded in learning such “virtues,” she would become a good member of the community. The manual also instructed the novice on how to confess her transgressions in the days allocated for general confession before the community. Public confession was assumed not to be an easy task, which indeed it was not. It was a humbling experience that, by attracting attention to one's own weaknesses, proposed to educate the character of the transgressor in the need to depend on the forgiveness of others. It followed a ritual formula:

My most Reverend Mother and my Lady: I confess my guilt to Our Lord and to Your Reverence and the many faults and defects which I have incurred, in special, disobedience to all that I understand is the will of God and Your Reverence. I confess the guilt of lack of silence, which I have broken everywhere. I should have kept it and I have not. I confess the guilt of sight, movement and talking, which I have not exercised as befits a true servant of Our Lord. I confess my guilt on the things commended to me, which I have not done as I am obliged. I confess my (p.61) guilt on the lack of peace and charity that I have had towards my mothers and my sisters … I beg forgiveness, and correction from Your Reverence, and discipline for the love of God.28

The education of the novice was a communal process, but the preceding works suggest that personal advice through a teacher or a confessor was just as important. In fact, they balanced each other. This is evident in the treatise written by Fr. Cayetano Antonio Torres, spiritual director of the Capuchin convent of San Felipe de Jesús, in Mexico City.29 A long-winded essay, it covered point by point a diversity of subjects to help the novice learn the daily rituals and ease her into conventual life. He underlined the assumption that a novice had to be good-natured to undertake the religious life. The loving quality of the teacher of novices was also another desirable qualification, because she had to treat her charges as a loving mother. One important point was to understand that the confessor and the teacher of novices should work together, but under the hierarchical concept of religious authority. The teacher of novices, being a woman, should not forget that her indoctrination should be complementary to the instruction of the spiritual father's guidance. Torres recommended charity toward each other, the cultivation of obedience, moderation in the observance, and the exact fulfillment of the Order's Rules. The Rules could be softened by the personal touch of the abbess or the teacher of novices. In contrast, a disciplinary streak in the teacher could reinforce the constrictive nature of the novitiate. In either case, being a teacher of novices was not a task to be lightly taken or even liked by those appointed to it. Being a teacher of novices could mean a heavy responsibility for any nun, for the success of the novices was assumed to be, to a large extent, in her hands. When Sor María Marcela, the Capuchin from Quéretaro, was appointed teacher of novices, she was awed by the responsibility and commended herself to the Virgin. Then, she wrote, she had a vision that gave her great comfort.

The third [vision] was the day I was elected as teacher of novices … As soon as my name was read I commended my office to the Virgin Mary, and while I was doing this in the coro I saw myself in the novitiate, and I saw everything surrounded by high walls; and on one side was the Most Holy Trinity; on the other the Virgin Mary, my Lady, and my Lord Saint Joseph, and on the third, my Lord Saint Michael, and lastly, my Angel Custodian, and it was revealed to me that it pleased God that I would be teacher, and I was very consoled.30

Nevertheless, she still felt that she was not the most appropriate person to teach novices. “Being appointed teacher I did not feel pain or happiness. I felt great embarrassment, but I did not want anybody to know about it; the community would not be misjudged for having appointed me (p.62) when there many others more suitable. I did not write my siblings about it and I was so embarrassed that I blushed before the other religious and hid from them.”

Between 1705 and 1706, Sor María de San José, writing to her confessor, Plácido Olmedo, discussed at length the problems she was experiencing, as a teacher of novices, with one of them.31 At the time she was among the founding nuns of the discalced Augustinian convent of Nuestra Sra. de la Soledad in Oaxaca. Her obsession with the novice's character and behavior reflects how important she considered her role to be. It was essential for a newly founded convent to grow through the attraction of novices. The convent had received six, too few for its own future. She was happy with five of them whom she called “precious” and with “lovely gifts.” The one who preoccupied her was a native of the city, whose ability to follow the Rules was deteriorating. This she attributed to the rather limited understanding of the people of the area, a bias that many others in New Spain held against the oaxaqneños. It seems that the novice and the Mother Superior were both on a collision course. Owing complete obedience to the latter, the novice turned sullen and unresponsive to the spiritual aspects of religious life. She was probably confused and unsure of her vocation. While Sor María de San José typically attributed the novice's poor and erratic performance to the ministries of the devil, she wrote to her confessor that she really tried to find out what was inside her mind in order to help her to find meaning in religious life and prevent her from becoming a source of bad influence in the community. She prayed to see a sign from God to confirm that he was trying her with a stubborn novice. When she finally had a word from God on the matter, he admonished her about her accountability as responsible for the souls and consciences of her pupils. She wrote that the Lord had explained to her that she was the tree and the branches, and the novices the fruit. The novices were like linen and unfinished wood, and she was the skilled crafter who would transform them into finished pieces.32

She also had to deal with another case of a novice who, having been admitted to serve as a white-veil sister to serve the community, seemed to have been “confused by the devil,” and threatened to leave the community unless she would be admitted to the more prestigious state of black-veiled nuns. Not unpredictably, Sor María's anxiety over this issue was resolved by another direct message from God, who gave her to understand that the travails she experienced were part of her role as mother of her novices. As she put it, God told her that: “You shall have to give birth to your novices not once, but many times, with pangs and tears.” Sor María de San José found sustenance, strength, and an explanation for her anguish as a surrogate mother. The maternal bonds that tied novice and (p.63) teacher were part of the process of nurturing that some gifted nuns understood as they thought and wrote about it. The persistence in obtaining the desired fruit was part of her convictions as a nun, and part of her role as a teacher of novices, but in her writing María de San José also clarified the issue of control and authority that her putative motherhood implied. As a teacher of novices, she said she was glad “to see the blind obedience with which she did everything I ordered her to do.” She was also happy to witness the novice's silence, but as their relationship soured, the nun acknowledged that the novice had changed so radically that it did not make a difference whether she was treated well or severely. This was trying for her. María de San José got angry at times and referred to the obstinate novices as “donkeys” and “mules.” For her part, the recalcitrant novice who gave her so much trouble seemed to have been using her own tactics of rebellion such as weeping incessantly or laughing without any reason, while remaining unreceptive to the teacher's attempts to understand her feelings. The outcome of this contest between teacher and novice is uncertain but it illustrates the bitterness and frictions hidden behind the apparent peace of the cloister. There was, however, an ultimate desire to sublimate such outbursts of anger or rebellion as part of a sacrifice to be endured by all parties concerned. What triggered such disaffection and even estrangement in the teaching of religious life remains much of an enigma, but the teacher of novices, as well as the abbesses and elder nuns, believed that strict discipline was a good training experience, not only to test their mettle and perseverance, but also to strengthen their character. Novices also needed to understand that obedience was a nun's most important asset if the community was to maintain its internal order.

Teachers acted in good faith, even though harshly or at times without a trace of compassion. Years after their profession some nun still remembered the incidents and accidents of their novitiate. Most extolled them as a way of learning humility and obedience. Sor María Marcela Soria, who in time became a teacher of novices herself, remembered the humiliations inflicted upon her:

I proceeded with my novitiate, and had much to be punished for. Three other novices came in and because they had protectors within [the convent] my teacher did not punish their faults and instead she charged me, to the point that I received penitence for faults no graver than those the others had incurred, and she begged my forgiveness and asked me that it be kept from the community because such occurrence had never taken place in the novitiate. Once she asked me to ring the bells at eleven, and because I forgot she ordered nine disciplines, and everything was like this. Another day I was cleaning pots in the kitchen and she rubbed my face with a rag full of lard and soot. It was about two o'clock, and she made me wash to attend vespers, and she was in a tight spot because the soot could not be (p.64) cleaned, and she was sorry that the community should see me like that because all loved me. I was hurt by everything that happened to me because I was naturally sensitive, but while I was hurt I kept silence and suffered because since the beginning I put all my will on these two virtues.33

While discipline, punishment, and antagonism were not alien to the teacher-novice relationship, it could also generate affective bonds. Sor Lorenza Bernarda, abbess of the Capuchin convent of Mexico City, was in correspondence with the Puebla philanthropist Doña Ana Francisca Zúñiga y Córdoba, who sent gifts to the convent and who hoped to promote a Capuchin convent in Puebla.34 Between 1689 and 1695, the nun and the patroness exchanged letters with news about the hoped-for new foundation and the quality of the novices in the Mexico City convent. Doña Francisca's letters have been lost, but those of Sor Bernarda Lorenza remain as an unusual testimony of an abbess who had to judge true vocations. In 1689 she tells her correspondent about a novice who had been denied entrance into the convent as a means to test her will and vocation. Even though they lived in a world in which religious vocations were assumed to be a natural happening, the nuns had to exercise much caution in deciding whom to admit, because some girls falsely believed they had received the call. “To learn who are those most suitable is the most difficult thing to discern. Those who are the first in line must have such perfect gifts as strength and health, and above all the blood, because the blood sustains everything.”35 Exactly what was “the blood” for Sor Bernarda Lorenza? Possibly an inner and difficult-to-describe strength which ran in the veins of the novice with the true vocation.

In her letters Sor Bernarda Lorenza disclosed the characteristics of desirable novices and some of her own intuitive judgment on their performance. In July 1690, there were four novices in the Capuchin convent. One was very special. She was the niece of Doña María, the wife of Captain Joseph de Retes, who as a nine-year-old had begged for the habit.36 Her insistence bent the will of the Archbishop of Mexico, who allowed her to enter the convent as a novice. She turned out to be “beautiful and a capable reader of Spanish and Latin and with a talent above her years.” The abbess and her teacher followed attentively the novice's progress in her education, looking for personal character and potential weaknesses and strengths. Among the qualities she mentioned as desirable in a novice, perseverance was very important. It would sustain her will to carry through her intentions against all odds. A “good nature” (natural lindo) indicated a flexibility to adjust to the discipline of the convent and the inner discipline required for the spiritual life. Sor Lorenza Bernarda refers enthusiastically to one novice, Sor Oliva, who “thanks to God, is doing very well. She has not failed to attend matins (early evening prayers) (p.65) or carry out the fasting since she began, and is of humble and good nature, which is the foundation of all virtue. She has spent one week in the kitchen with great joy. May God grant her perseverance.”37 She repeated her praise of the same novice in another letter: “Blessed be the Lord, because this must be his work. She has spent advent without eating a single egg, just vegetables and fish, and since she entered she has not missed matins a single day of her fast, and with such joy that she has all of us very edified, even though this bothers her because she is so humble.”38

The fact that a novice could follow observance with such determination and in such good spirit was important for the rest of the community. It was a sign of having a true vocation. The abbess was impressed and she believed that the novice's example of piety and discipline was a model to others, especially since her initiation in the rigors of discalced life was so recent. The community that would serve as a final judge could, in turn, be instructed by a novice, a process of “cross-fertilization” of the highest importance in a closed religious community, where all were important and accountable to each other. Teaching in this Capuchin community was carried out by example, and not by following a specific rule. At least, that is the impression that the abbess gave the patroness, Doña Francisca, when the latter asked for a copy of the Rule of the Capuchins. In a letter dated November 26, 1696, Sor Lorenza Bernarda denied her a copy of the Rules, because not even in Toledo, where she came from, was this admissible. “In our religion [meaning the Order] it is not customary to give the rules out to any aspirants. I have not seen this neither in Toledo nor here, because we first aim at having them [the novices] learn with deeds rather than reading; otherwise we read them [the Rules] at the Refectory. Until they profess [final profession] it [the book of the Rule] is not given to the novices.”39 For Sor Lorenza Bernarda, the prospect of sending some of her novices off to a potential future foundation led her to formulate, in one letter, her feelings about them and the impact their departure would have on her. It would be like “tearing pieces of my heart, those which by nature are closest to it, and a heavy test, although the consideration that it is the will of God makes me accept it.”40 She felt like a mother to all and felt her ministry very deeply.

Other exigencies of the novitiate are reflected in biographies and autobiographies. Writing about Sor María de Jesús Tomellín (an exceptional nun in the convent of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, in Puebla), her biographer, Fr. Francisco Pardo, stated that during the novitiate she took long and cruel disciplines, and on account of their rigor the blood covered the virginal body.41 Sor María had entered the convent against the wishes of her father, who planned to marry her to a rich man who was hoping for her hand. She tricked the nuns into letting her enter the cloisters and succeeded (p.66) in remaining, professing on May 17, 1599. The disciplines she inflicted on her body were voluntary, and never a prescribed part of the novitiate. Sor María was not alone in her desire to “punish” her body. It was part of the practices of asceticism that some individuals believed to be the best way of imitating Christ. Leocadia G. Aranzamendi, as a Capuchin novice in Mexico City, disciplined herself so harshly that her body was covered with ulcers, a fact that the community disregarded and that did not impede her final profession. The rigor of self-discipline was in vogue in the seventeenth century, when Catholic spirituality found inspiration in the wounds of Christ and his human suffering during his Passion. Paintings of Christ tied to the pillar of the condemned, where he suffered the lashes of his torturers, and the more common icon of Christ on the cross bathed in his own blood were abundant in the convents and served as an uplifting source for personal devotion. Body flagellation was also a means of fortifying the spirit against nagging self-doubts about vocation and lack of spiritual inspiration. Many professed nuns made routine use of flagellations in their penance rituals and their example was a learning experience for the novices. José Luis Sánchez Lora argues that Spanish seventeenth-century religion stressed violence to the body as a form of expiation.42

The rules that guided the teaching of the novice to become a professed nun remained unchanged throughout the colonial period. The panegyric sermon for Sor Inés Josefa del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, who professed in Santa Teresa la Nueva, Mexico City, in the mid-eighteenth century, extolled her novitiate as a probation period “fertile in mortifications” that refined her virtues.43 Equally praiseworthy was the novitiate of Sor Sebas-tiana Josefa de la Santísima Trinidad, of the Franciscan convent of San Juan de la Penitencia. At her funeral, she was remembered as a nun who was inclined to “mortifying” herself, a practice she acquired during her novitiate.44 Before her final profession, she asked her teacher to order a medical exam for her, to obviate any doubts about her health.

While the “heroic virtues” of the uncommon novices were held as models for imitation, there were others who were less exemplary and more human, and who suffered serious doubts about their vocations or incurred human frailties that belie the idealized portrait left by some biographers. In their cases, such doubts were regarded as divine tests to try the mettle of their faith and determination. As a novice in Santa Catarina de Sena, in Mexico, Sor Mariana de Santo Domingo came near to leaving the convent. “Miraculously,” the Virgin Mary appeared to her and warned her that abandoning the convent would mean her condemnation. This divine sign changed her mind, and she asked her abbess to go ahead with her profession, already delayed by two months because of her hesitation.45 More complex and interesting is the case of Sor Josefa Clara de (p.67) Jesús María, a novice in the convent of San Juan de la Penitencia, who was investigated by the Inquisition in 1747. The Holy Office investigation was prompted by the rumor that she had suffered a miraculously fast recovery of some red welts in her face.46 The origin of the marks remains a mystery and they could have been the marks of slaps inflicted by the teacher of novices, Sor María de San Pedro, her “mother” in religion. Such acts of discipline were not unknown in the cloister. Having probed into the case, the Inquisition determined that any irregularity in the observance of internal discipline was not part of its purview. The allegation of a miraculous cure was something else, but having found nothing convincing, and with the case well contained within the walls of the convent, it was declared beyond the competence of the Holy Office.

In the process of training novices, some older nuns took a newly arrived girl under their protective wings. In some instances the novice was a member of their own family and there was a natural nexus established during the apprentice process. The older nun was addressed as “mother” and became a mentor and confidant. If the novice had grown up in the convent, as was sometimes the case, she could be “adopted” by an elder nun since childhood. Some male prelates did not view those close relationships as edifying or leading to an exemplary religious life. The seventeenth-century Franciscan moral theologian, Antonio Arbiol, was one of them. He thought that “mothering” led to factions and partisanship in the convent, especially at elections, when the “mothers” would expect support from their “daughters.” For him, the adjectives “mine” and “yours” among nuns were frivolities that the founding fathers of Christianity, such as Saint John Chrysostom, had condemned.47 Arbiol was not far off mark in pointing at the persistence of mothering relationships, since they had survived for centuries regardless of criticism from male prelates. Small circles of nuns and novices existed in all convents and they may be accountable for some of the political maneuvers behind elections for offices in the convent, as well as for special affective networks developing against all ecclesiastical advice.48

Although mothering was part and parcel of the social life in nunneries, sometimes such relationships became conflictive. The maternal feelings harbored by some teachers were not necessarily found in all of them. One example of a relationship gone sour was that of Sor María de San Pedro, teacher of Sor Josefa Clara de Jesús María, both of the Franciscan convent of San Juan de la Penitencia. Sor María took her case to the Inquisition, following an inner drive of “scrupulosity” or deep concern about the correctness of observance. She declared to the Inquisitors that her spiritual “daughter” gave a bad example to the convent. She had a “bad character,” found occasion to fight with other nuns, and took personal gossip (p.68) to the abbess who, in turn, punished other novices. If we believe this statement, the abbess was not herself a pillar of equity ruling over a kingdom of peace and harmony, and did not investigate rumors brought by a novice before taking punitive action. Sor Josefa Clara, her teacher stated, took too much care of herself and was fond of ornaments. She let her hair show under her veil and demanded a serge habit for her profession rather than the common cloth, in disregard of the fact that serge was very expensive. While Sor Josefa Clara may not have been a model of virtues, the anger of the teacher could have been the result of the natural impatience of an older woman facing the coquetry of a young novice not yet adapted to the rigors of conventual life.49 Testimonies of other nuns began to pile against Josefa Clara's character. Five nuns who had known her in the novitiate declared that she was disobedient, vain, irritable, and inclined to answer her teacher back. However, when the Inquisition began its investigation of the case, thirty-eight of the forty-four nuns declared that while the novice had no “particular virtue” there was nothing “peculiar” about her. This show of solidarity worked in favor of Josefa Clara. Inquisitorial visits were to be avoided by all available means to avoid public gossip and a stain on the public reputation of the convent.

San Juan de la Penitencia was a Franciscan convent under the jurisdiction of Provincial Fr. Bernardo de Arriata, who followed this case closely. He was naturally concerned about the upheaval within the community and the Inquisitorial investigation, but he was also annoyed at the nuns “importuning me with their writings, and asking that since the novice had already been one year in the convent, she should be permitted to make her solemn profession.” Obviously the nuns of San Juan de la Penitencia resented the meddling of male authorities in their internal affairs and were rallying behind the novice, pressing the issue of her profession to save their right to decide the fate of Josefa Clara with their own votes. Arriata wrote of “scandal” and “lack of obedience” on July 18, 1747, an opinion that was echoed by other friars consulted on this case. This turned into a gender-based contestation, but in the end the nuns had their way. The Franciscan prelates advised them to carry on with the final profession in the hope that it would be “for the greater glory of God.” It also would stop the Inquisitorial investigation and the commotion in the convent.

The examination of this novice by her spiritual advisors bears further scrutiny because it also revealed something about the sexuality of the professants, a troubling and thorny matter that remained closeted in the convent. Sor Josefa Clara confessed to feeling many strange sensations, such as being beaten and thrown down the stairs. These were a prelude to confessions of a more intimate nature. She had had “impure” sensations such as being touched by demons, although she added that they never succeeded (p.69) in having carnal congress with her. Being aware that this confession could put her in trouble, because visions were under heavy inquisitorial scrutiny, she stated she had perceived such evil experiences not with her corporal eyes but in her fantasy. The worst sensations were those of demons “coming close to her face and her mouth,” which she knew belonged to “a male face because of the asperity of the beard.” She struggled to ignore her feelings but, apparently, she could not restrain her sexuality. On one occasion she felt “another body come close to hers, perceiving its heat,” but in this case she said she did not experience in her own body the effect caused by the temptation of spilling the human seed, and she claimed to have been very saddened by the experience. How did this cloistered woman get to know the arousal close to spilling the human seed? Innocence in sexual feelings was not a condition required for taking the veil and even after profession some nuns continued to struggle with their stifled sexuality.50 According to her, her confessors had told her that such feelings were torments caused by the enemy, and that she should bear them like a cross, but their advice did not bring her enough inner peace. Possibly in despair, she wrote Fr. Joaquín Pérez del Rey, one of her confessors, a letter written with her own blood. He declared to the Inquisitors that the novice told him that she had drawn the blood from her arm with a pen knife, a penitential act that was carried in imitation of the blood shed by Christ. Altogether, her erotic feelings did not raise a single eyebrow among the Inquisitors, who were well aware of the weaknesses of the flesh. They advised the novice to let herself be guided by a good confessor and ignored the discomfort of the Franciscans friars, who by mid-eighteenth century had spent over one century trying to impose discipline over their own nuns without much success.

The denial of profession to a novice was not unheard of, although we have no data on its frequency. Lack of health or lack of vocation were the most commonly given reasons for those cases surviving in the archives. In 1704, the discalced Carmelites of Puebla had a record of having turned back fifteen novices, some for lack of health, others for lack of mettle and vocation. In fact, one novice who had promised a large endowment was dismissed after her novitiate for lack of character.51 In 1779, Sor María Rosa, abbess of the Capuchins of San Felipe de Jesús, of Mexico City, asked the archbishop for his permission to release Sor María Christina, a novice with an incurable disease, and whose health was incompatible with the rigor of their observance. A physician certified that she suffered from epilepsy, and had been admitted during a five-year remission of her “accident.”52 Another possibility for a discouraged novice was leaving the convent before the community would rebuff her. When a novice left the convent her case was quickly shelved. Failing the novitiate test or (p.70) simply giving it up was a humiliating and sad experience for the convent, the novice, and her family, and their dismissals were carried out with utter discretion. Sor María de San José, cited before for her mentoring experience, had to deal with at least one case of a novice who claimed to have been expelled from the convent. In Sor María's view, the novice's separation from the community was due to her unwillingness to adhere to the strict observance of the discalced Augustine Order. This case raised some resentment in the community and had to be submitted to the viceroy and the Bishop of Puebla for a final approval of her decision.53

In 1764, Sor María Dominga Coleta, teacher of novices in the Indian convent of Corpus Christi in Mexico, wrote a letter to Fr. Diego Osorio to inform him that Sor Diega Martina had a very strong character and did not show aptitude for the religious life. The community had voted against her profession, and in order to save the convent's “public credit” her departure would be explained as a matter of sickness. This would save everybody's face. The Franciscan Provincial played his role and made a public statement in which he explained that the novice's withdrawal was not due to a pending marriage or engagement, or lack of “quality” in her lineage, all dishonorable reasons for leaving. Leaving the convent for marriage meant that her piety was not deep enough to prefer the superiority of religious life. Because Corpus Christi would not admit the profession of mestizas or white girls, lacking quality in the lineage meant that she was found to be a mestiza, or that her family was of low social extraction, and therefore, she could have entered the convent in bad faith.54 This convent had the unfortunate experience of having to evict several novices in the 1730s on account of race. Among those who were evicted from Corpus Christi was Sor Sebastiana Josefa de la Santísima Trinidad, cited previously for her ascetic practices. She had not committed any moral fault or broken any discipline rule. She was española and among a group of novices that a Franciscan Provincial, Fr. Francisco Navarrete, attempted to admit to profession in Corpus Christi, contravening the wishes of its founder.55 Her natural inclination to underestimate herself was worsened by the fact that she did not have enough money to pay for her dowry. When she finally made her way into Corpus Christi, her position there as a white woman imposed upon the Indians by a strong-headed Provincial was very tenuous. The white novices were eventually forced to leave, and Sor Sebastiana recorded the incident as demeaning and causing concern among her relatives and companions. “When they removed me from the holy convent of Corpus, they feared I would die. I did not wish to reveal what my heart felt; it tore my soul to see myself in the street.”56 She professed in San Juan de la Penitencia in 1746, having obtained financial support given to help poor girls to profess.

(p.71) Final Profession

The most eventful day in the life of the novice was that of her mystical marriage to God. This was the apotheosis after a year or more of preparation. Through profession she became the bride of Christ, and she would be allowed to remove the novice's white veil and wear the black veil in honor of her absent husband. Before the ceremony, however, legal formalities had to be fulfilled and spiritual and material preparations had to be made. Reaching the point of final profession demanded the recommendation of the teacher of novices to the community, which had to proceed to receive another member and fulfill the legal rules demanded by the church. First, the novice had to write a request to the abbess which could read as a model suggested to the novices of San Bernardo: “Very Reverend Mother and My Lady, since the year of my probation is ending, for the love of God I beg to be received in this convent, disregarding my bad life and my bad examples, and because I trust [the efficacy of] the prayers of Your Reverence and this saintly convent, I intend to mend my ways and become other than what I have been.”57

For their part, the voting members of the community had to decide in favor or against profession, after having had at least one year to observe the behavior of the novice and judge her character as a potential sister. The voting process could be cast with colored pieces of papers (ballots), and also with beans.58 If the vote was favorable, the nuns asked the permission of the bishop or archbishop for the final profession. A typical request read: “The abbess, definidoras, vicaria and accountants of this house beg from Your Most Reverend Paternity to grant his blessing and license for the solemn profession of our novice, Sor Maria Manuela del Espíritu Santo, who has already finished her year of probation and has been received by vote of this community. We trust we will receive the favor of your Reverence in granting this petition, for which we will remain in perpetual indebtedness.”59

The Vicar of Nuns, the person in charge of the general administration of women's convents, took the next steps, which in many ways replicated those of the first profession. He ordered two ecclesiastics to visit the novice and confirm her free will to profess in a notarized document that ensured she was not forced to take the veil. They verified the novice's social and racial qualifications as stated in her birth certificate.60 Sor María Sebastiana de Jesús Nazareno, Abbess of Corpus Christi, requested such a visit on April 22, 1766, for the profession of Sor María de los Dolores to explore the will of the novice as the Holy Council of Trent orders.61 She was then seventeen years and seven months old, legitimate daughter, and a virgin (doncella). The male authorities interviewed the novice and asked (p.72) if she understood her charge and obligations, and if she was acting of free will. Ritually she would declare that “she had experienced the burdens and obligations of religion during the year of novitiate, which were greater than those of the world outside,” and being aware of them she had the courage (ánimo) to make her solemn profession and to abide by the four vows of poverty, obedience, chastity, and enclosure, as well as obedience to the Rule of the convent. She also declared to have no known impediments to profess, and signed the document. Two lay witnesses attested to her being a virtuous and exemplary girl, and she was examined in her ability to read from a Breviary.62

As they were officially going to “die to the world,” novices had to make a will before profession to dispose of all their personal belongings. This was a legal as well as a spiritual requirement, and it entailed a form of forensic maneuver within inheritance laws. Under Spanish laws daughters inherited equally with sons, but the investment made in a religious profession demanded adjustment in the share of the novice as a member of the family.63 Families of means endowed their daughters as well as they could afford before the profession.64 The family also spent considerable amounts of money on her wardrobe, the ceremony of profession, and maybe even the purchase of a cell in nondiscalced convents. The additional “investment” could amount to 3,000 or 4,000 pesos beyond the dowry. Wealthy families could spend that much, not to mention the fact that some families boasted more than one nun. Professing was not a money-saving device for any family. Since only very rich families could afford marriage dowries of many thousands of pesos, a nun's dowry should be considered as important as a secular bride's dowry, and completing it could involve considerable effort for poor girls. Pious donors and some confraternities had, as part of their charitable objectives, the endowment of girls for either marriage or profession. Many an aspirant had to wait for years until several patrons would complete the required dowry. Sor Antonia de San Jacinto, of Santa Clara in Querétaro, accumulated her dowry and the expenses of her profession by requesting monetary contributions from several patrons.65

With thousands of wills in the archives, and no studies to establish patterns in fashion and time, we can only point to some of their key features. The dowry was most often paid in cash, although exceptionally, convents accepted liens on properties in the early colonial period. Families had to discharge cash for the dowry but they would also mortgage their properties to ensure an income for the nun after profession, to purchase a cell, and even buy a slave for her service. Funds earmarked as income for the nun in addition to her dowry were known as reservas, a source of income that only the wealthiest of nuns could afford. Reading nuns' wills is like (p.73) reading a map of the social and economic geography of her family as well of their own thoughts about the distribution of their money. Families had to balance the assets allocated to each sibling according to their own assessment of the worth of their futures as well as the reach of their means, while respecting the legal stipulations of the laws of inheritance. To marry a daughter well could mean the disbursement of a large dowry; while a male sibling in charge of an estate or a business could legally receive an extra amount of money allowed by the law. The allocation of money to the profession of a nun was pitted against that of her siblings. The professing novice often, but not always, renounced her share in the family inheritance, although it was understood that her dowry and the allocation of money and resources for her future life represented that share. The social standing of the family was judged by the public expression of the religious ceremony and the implicit assumption that she had been well covered for life. Indeed, many nuns carried dowries larger than any lay-woman could ever dream of. When Sor María del Sacramento professed in San Bernardo in 1764, her will tells us that she disposed of 12,000 pesos to be either lent at interest or mortgaged on properties to yield a 5 percent interest for her own expenses. That sum of money was her legitimate share of her family's expected inheritance, which she had not renounced. Her father mortgaged a large rural property and a house for nine years to provide for her.

Having received a share of their inheritance from their families or patrons, nuns became patrons of pious deeds themselves, making the display of charity a mirror of their desire to ensure the destiny of their souls as well as to provide benefits for another woman protégée, younger girls of lesser means, poorer relatives, or other novices waiting for their profession. These were not choices made by sick or dying women. The novices were mostly in the flower of their youth, and looked forward to living a long life. So, unlike the wills of a dying person, these documents resembled more a bonded investment with significance in the present and the future. As such, besides ensuring a comfortable life, they created a network of charity. They also showed the wish to further the interests of their own convents by appointing them as heirs to some of their material goods and money and endowing some saints' feasts. Personal and spiritual security, benefits to other women, and institutional charity rank in that order in their wills.

In 1759, Sor María Micaela de la Santísima Trinidad, a Capuchin from San José de Gracia in Querétaro, left 2,000 pesos mortgaged on property to sustain a chantry, which meant that a religious would say masses for her soul. She left 500 pesos for the dowry of Sor Juana Rosalía, of the convent of Regina Celi, in Mexico, and thirty pesos to a girl interned in the (p.74) convent of Jesús María, for her profession if she so desired. If the girl failed to profess the money should be given to two nuns of the same convent. She also left 200 pesos for the cause of canonization of Felipe de Neri, and ordered that any money left after these allocations should be given to the convent to help pay for the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi.66 Doña Ignacia Palacio y Borbón, one of the wealthiest widows in Guadalajara, professed in the Augustinian convent of Santa Mónica in 1736. Childless, she lavished a significant amount of her money on the convent. At the time of her profession she had already spent 19,000 pesos on improvements in the building and donated a silver lamp valued at 3,000 pesos, promising to do some more with money that was owed to her. In addition, she left money for her niece and a house to the convent of La Merced. Since she owned two slaves, she ceded the service of one of them to another professed nun in the convent of Santa María la Gracia. While not all nuns could offer so much money to a given convent, as a whole, they were some of the best patrons of their institutions.67 Naming the convent as an heir could lead to legal battles if the allocation of money was contested by another heir, or it involved real estate embroiled in litigation.68 But, on the other hand, if no legal problems occurred, the profession of wealthy nuns could be long-term investments for their institutions.

All novices were entitled to one day of “freedom” before taking the veil. They could leave the cloisters as the final test of their determination. This opportunity was interpreted not so much as a final review of the things that they had missed, but as a farewell to everything they had renounced. Whether they took the opportunity to visit their families and have a round of the streets in the company of friends was left to their own personal decision. Some did not leave the cloisters at all and spent the “freedom” period within it. Some convents, such as Santa Inés in Mexico City did not allow the day of freedom to be spent outside the convent. During the episcopacy of Archbishop Francisco Aguiar y Seijas (1682–98), a rather intolerant man, novices seemed to have been obliged to renounce the opportunity of making any visits outside the convent. The archbishop threatened punishment for the conventual officers if they allowed this transgression.69 In 1755 Franciscan Provincial Juan José Moreyra also attempted to restrict the “liberty” of that last day in the world. He claimed that the novices left the cloister before dawn and did not return until the late hours of the night, having spent the day all over the city, giving an unbecoming example to the world. To stop such “abuses” he decreed that the novice should leave the convent at an appropriate hour, and only to visit the home of the vicar (also known a Juez Provisor) to express her freedom to profess. After that she should return to her convent.70 It is (p.75) unlikely that his orders were obeyed for too long, as we have subsequent records of Franciscan nuns doing exactly what he had forbidden.

The bride of Christ brought with her a personal trousseau (ajuar) as a proper bride should, as well as furniture to furnish her cell. The list of items required for the profession of a nun in Santa Catarina de Sena for her first profession had an estimated initial cost of 378 pesos for items such as 48 yards of “Ypre,” a woolen fabric for the habit, and 76 yards of other fabrics for other clothing items, which would be sewn at home or in the convent. Sheets, a mattress, pillows, bedcovers, and furniture for her cell were added in another document. In addition, her family had to pay for the clergymen who officiated in the ceremony, the acolyte, the wax for the candles, and all the paraphernalia required by the ceremony. The minimum cost of the final ceremony was estimated at 120 pesos, and that was in basic costs. She also had to pay legal fees for the paper work, buy breviaries for prayers, a book of the conventual Rules, a book of the history of the saints of her order, the books for the hours of the divine office, and the ring that all the brides of Christ had to wear. This second estimate for all these items did not include the cost of yet another order of fabric for a new habit. Although the costs of music and fireworks were not estimated, they were expected to be “according to the means of the family of the professant.”71 The estimated costs for the profession of one candidate in San Lorenzo (Mexico) in 1667 were 630 pesos.72 In religious life spirituality and worldliness always went hand in hand.

The solemnity and meaning of the final profession was overwhelming.73 After it the novice became a full-fledged nun. She would never leave the cloisters under any circumstance. She would be buried in the convent's church with her new family: her sisters in religion. Her own family ebbed into a world that she would never visit again, and while family members could visit her in the parlor, the Rules of all Orders discouraged the continuation of affective ties with parents or siblings. The ceremony of profession was open to family and a throng of curious people who seemed to look forward to these events. People would crowd the church to witness the irrevocable offering of another bride to God.

A few ceremonial guidelines have survived, allowing us to reenact the ritual. In the convent of San Jerónimo, where Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz professed, an imprint lacking any date recorded the ritual.74 The habit was folded in a basin and was placed on a table in front of the altar. The novice knelt in front of the altar holding candles in her hands. The priest conducting the service blessed the habit and then questioned the novice if she professed of her own free will, if she had any debts, if she was married or had made any promise to marry. After she answered to his questions, the professant kissed his hand and rose, walking to the entrance of the (p.76) convent adjacent to the church. While she did that the nuns sang a responsory, Veni Sponsa Christo (Come Bride of Christ), and a psalm if she was a virgin. If she was not, the responsory (as in the case of professing widows) it was Veni Electa Mea (Come my Elected). Once in the inner sanctum the novice dressed up in her habit and the community gathered to pray before the altar of the coro, the room where the nuns gathered to pray. Once prayers were over, the novice rose to embrace her abbess and the rest of her sisters in religion, in a gesture of Christian agape. Then the veil was blessed and a mass followed, during which she was questioned again about her will to profess. After this, the priest solemnly read the four vows of her profession: to keep her chastity, her enclosure, her obedience, and her poverty. For keeping the vows the priest promised eternal life. Her final profession was administered by the abbess. After another round of prayers she put on the black veil and put on a ring and a crown, while the conventual choir intoned antiphons. The act finished with the priest turning her over for the final time to the abbess and the community. The Brigittines of Santa Brígida made the novice lie on the ground facing down while the bell pealed for the dead. In the Capuchins the novice wore a white veil and a crown of roses. This was replaced by the black veil and a crown of thorns. In a bridal basket she received, among the flowers were the instruments she should use for taking her “disciplines.”75

Sor María Marcela has left an account of her final profession in the Capuchins of Querétaro, which embraces the totality of the moment, from legal concerns to the emotions of her siblings, and reveals her own feelings throughout the ceremony.

On the vespers [of the profession] I made my testament, renouncing everything from my paternal inheritance, because even though I had not spent much from the total of his possessions, I wished that my share should remain in it to cover my expenses. I begged my brothers' forgiveness for the bad example I had given to them and with such fervor that my father, crying all the time, begged me to stop talking, lest I'd kill him. On the arrival of the happy day all fears disappeared, the tears ceased, and the soul brimmed with a serious joy. Immersed in my interior, I entered humbly in the choir and I felt as if the sun penetrated me; my understanding cleared, my will was inflamed, and I saw, with the eyes of the soul the divinity of our Lord, to my right, as a most handsome young man, resplendent and dressed in green with fine gold trimmings, full of happiness, who remained next to me all the time until the end of the public act. I was almost beyond my senses, but attentive to what I was doing to profess with the right intent. I made my vows with great will and so clear and strong that all present heard them, and they stated they had seen me resplendent … As the ceremony finished I saw the Lord no longer, but I felt Him in my soul, calling it and taking possession of it, drawing out of it so many effects, and affections so high that I cannot explain them, and I will only say that the joy I felt was so great and that it grew so much day by day, that (p.77) I could not hide it and I told every person with whom I talked: “my relish grows; I am happier every day; I live in heavens.”76

The meaning of the vision of Christ sitting next to her during the ceremony of mystical marriage that made her his bride is clear. He could not be absent from such a key moment, and this vision assured her that she was truly his. Her family tried to have a portrait of her at profession without much success because she did not want it to be done. After two attempts, the painters managed to paint her head, but the portraits were never finished. Eventually the canvas was used to paint saints' lives. It was customary for the most affluent families to commission a portrait of their daughters dressed up for the final profession. In the eighteenth century the fashion was to wear a high headdress in the shape of a crown of wax flowers. The nuns also carried a bouquet of wax flowers and either a candle, a crucifix, or a figure of Jesus as a baby. Among the Conceptionist nuns breastplates or badges were worn for this occasion. Known as escudos, they had religious scenes finely embroidered or painted and became miniature works of art. A nun in this regalia was as richly dressed as the most exalted bride in an eloquent display of pomp. These portraits became known as “crowned nuns,” and were in fashion until the early years of the republican period.77 The portraits of “crowned nuns” became a symbol of status and helped to create an emblematic model of the nun as a privileged woman. The significance of the wealth and worldly ornaments in which she was dressed was complex. While the religious symbols were appropriate for the occasion, they could also speak to the vanity of the world that she was abandoning. Seventeenth-century portraits show nuns in the more conventional habit they would wear for life and, at the most, holding a simple symbol of their state, such as a lily for purity.

In contrast, what the world saw in most professions was the display of wealth, and the pageant. In 1752, Sor Ana María de Jesús, daughter of Diego García Bravo, a wealthy merchant of Mexico City, professed in Jesús María. Archbishop Manuel Rubio Salinas presided over the ceremony. The chronicle of José Manuel de Castro Santa-Anna noted that the cream of society was present, including titled nobility. The music “was of the utmost delicacy,” being performed by the best masters in the art. He added that her father being among the richest merchants of the city explained the attendance of such exclusive guests.78

Spiritual Meanings

There was more depth to a religious profession than the pageantry of music and light witnessed by socialites. The sermon of profession was part (p.78) of the ceremonial ritual, a crowning commentary on the spiritual character of the nun and the meaning of her profession to the audience attending it. To be sure, the preacher's sermon was a sign of affluence that parents of well-to-do professing nuns could and would pay for and even have printed afterwards. Sermons added solemnity to the occasion and were a means to measure the family's status.79 They also reflect the canons of spirituality of the period. Churches were crowded during a profession and the sermons were the perfect venue to reinforce the image of the nuns in the people's imagination. Popular culture was oral, and from the pulpit the preacher molded opinions and reinforced concepts about the meaning of women's monastic life, creating a consensus about its exceptionality and desirability. Felipe Montalvo, preaching in 1748, stated, “the objective of oratory is to teach and persuade the audience to receive well the doctrine that is being proposed and taught to them.”80 As an example, let us examine a 1686 sermon by Franciscan Fr. Juan de Avila, on the occasion of the profession of Sor Mariana de San Francisco in the convent of Santa Clara in Mexico.81 The profession took place on December 8, a special day in the Catholic calendar because it marked the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The growing reverence for the notion of the Immaculate Conception had gained great impetus since the late fifteenth century, and by the seventeenth century it had become a rage. Although it was not dogma, it was on its way to becoming one of the most sacred beliefs of that period.82 Thus the preacher, in a ritual gesture of devotion, added a fifth vow to the customary four: that of defending the concept of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

In its printed version, the sermon was preceded by a dedicatory page from Sor Mariana's father, Francisco de Murga, who described the profession as “an occasion for happiness” for him, and a sign of the favor of his favorite saint, Saint Joseph, whose blessings he was sure accounted for the profession of his daughter. Sor Mariana was the first in her family to take the veil, and he was obviously proud of it. Profession sermons usually explained the meaning of the vows that would be taken and this was no exception. Fr. Juan explained to the novice and to the audience where she stood in the midst of her new family, “Your husband is Christ and you are the Bride. Your godmother (madrina) is the Holiest Mary; the house of your wedding is this convent of Santa Clara; your bridal bed is the sacrament that makes God and the soul one.” He told her how Christ addressed her, assuming to speak for him as he pledged the bride his eternal love: “On my life, I swear that with all my possessions, and always as your husband, I will serve you with protection so that with joy, your spirit may say that this Bride has also been her Husband's soul repair and served Him well as a virtuous gift.”83 As didactic tools, sermons carried a personal and social message. It is (p.79) not difficult to see a social message for secular marriages in Fr. Juan's opus. Christ symbolized the role of all good husbands in protecting their wives. In return the bride would serve her husband and become a source of solace for him. Fr. Juan also stressed the transition to a new home and a new family, and the convent as a place of shelter and prayer where the novice would join other brides equally dedicated to the highest choice any woman could make. The tranquility and security of the safe port of religion protected the novice from the storms of life and ensured her the means to obtain the most important goal of life: the eternal salvation of her soul.

The sermon extolled virginity, especially since Sor Mariana professed on December 8. To convey the meaning of virginity in words, Fr. Juan evoked “ancient paintings,” a visual strategy frequent in sermons. Virginity was “a winged maiden dressed up in steel, with a sharp knife in her right hand and a lock of hair in her left hand. Her eyes were closed and her mouth open. Out of her mouth came five threads of breath, five beautiful bright stars ascending to the sky which bore an inscription: “Spiritus eius repleabit Caelos” (Spirits like yours replenish heaven). She held the knife of valor and her resolution to defend the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The maiden in the painting, he recalled, cut her hair as superfluous so that “not even a hair of lasciviousness would remain in her chastity.” Ironically, this idealized version of a virgin's purity was not necessarily congruent with the dangers that the church itself acknowledged existed, even within the cloisters and, as will be seen later, had to be fought with strong determination. However, in a society in which consensual unions and births outside of wedlock were frequent, the exaltation of virginity as a part of a paradigm of personal and spiritual perfection carried a forceful message. Marriage as a ceremony to be respected and eulogized also had social repercussions for all those who shunned its bond or indulged in extramarital affairs. Fr. Juan also conveyed the image of the nun as a determined virgin, strong, defiant, and self-assured, recalling more the image of a fighter than a meek Lamb of God. Determination would be invaluable in the pursuit of religious life and it was the result of the tests she had overcome in the novitiate.

The wedding theme was underlined by José Antonio Plancarte, preaching in 1799, over one century later. He traced his source of inspiration to the Song of Songs and compared the brides to pearls sheltered in the shell of the convent. The bride's concealment and preservation of her purity made her beautiful in the eyes of Christ. The love of Christ, the fidelity she owed to him, her total consecration to the groom reinforced the special relationship of groom and bride grounded in the eternal vow between the two of them. Her election to become the bride of Christ made her different from other women, but she should remember, as Juan Bautista Taboada stated in another sermon, that the Christ elected her, and not (p.80) vice versa. Jesus was for everyone, but not everyone was for Jesus. Placing the initiative on Christ, the privilege of the election was enhanced, reinforcing the understanding that men elected their brides. It was the masculine prerogative to choose while the feminine was to feel the joy of being chosen.84 Profession was a gift from heaven and with it, the novice, now turned into bride, received all the tools she would need to endure the heaviest of all tasks, her claustration. With her renunciation to the world she gained the true liberty of finding the spirit of God.85

A retrospective look at the novitiate shows this to be a key period on the life of the future nun that molded her character and taught her the foundations of the discipline she was expected to observe throughout her life. As in all aspects of conventual life, there were human passions involved in the process that betrayed the prescriptive norms of the institution. Nevertheless, the pedagogy of the novitiate is an important component in our understanding of the education of a religious person, an essential element for the understanding of religious life itself. For those teaching it, there was an aesthetic pursuit in the elaboration of ideals of love, submission, dedication, and sacrifice. But they also developed a pragmatic axis of discipline that although following the regulations of the Order, was affected by the values of a period which regarded rigor as desirable in training the candidates. Learning how to follow the vows in body and spirit was crucial to being a religious, and was what made them different from those outside the cloister; thus the emphasis on learning how to pray without overindulging in prayer, or learning how to stand the humiliation of harsh words and rough treatment that would make the novice become a proper nun. The personal recollections of the novitiate by a few testimonies are the welcomed nonmediated counterbalance to the construction of sermons and pedagogical tools. Even though the many years of religious life colored the memory of those humble beginnings, this information about discipline, intrigue, and emotion-laden visionary experiences brings us closer to those who entered a life that seems, at times, so distant from today. They tell us how the novice faced personal shortcomings and inflated expectations of joyous spirituality. She learned that she would be constantly presented with choices that either attached her to the world or elevated her to the comforts of her religion. In the following chapters we will examine in greater depth the spiritual meaning of the religious vows and the world of piety and devotions current in Mexico in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as the complexities of daily life, since nuns were human beings, not angels, and as such, very much involved in the world despite having chosen to separate themselves from it. Spirituality and worldly reality were intertwined and a constant presence in the nun's life.


(1.) Biographies and autobiographies of nuns provide ample evidence of these internal rifts. See, for example, Francisco Pardo, Vida y virtudes heroycas de la Madre María de Jesús, religiosa profesa en el convento de la Limpia Concepción de la Virgen María N. Señora, de la ciudad de los Angeles (Mexico: Vda. De Bernardo Calderón, 1676), 81–85v; Carta escrita por la señora Sor María Teresa, abadesa del convento de Capuchinas de la ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles dando noticias de … la vida y virtudes de … Sor María Leocadia, fundadora. In Alonso Calvo, S.J., Compendio de las ejemplares vidas del P. José de Guevara de la Compañía de Jesús y de su tía, la Sra. Doña Leocadia González Aranzamendi (Madrid: S.N., 1754), 34–35; BN Mexico, Vida de la Madre María Marcela Soria religiosa Capuchina del convento de Querétaro, copiada por una religiosa brígida en 1844, Ms. fol. 107 and following.

(2.) AINAH, FF, Vol. 104, fol. 170, ff. Her mother was of Spanish descent, and she had a brother who was a priest and whose own ordination had not been scrutinized by any authority.

(3.) Alicia Bazarte Martínez, Enrique Tovar Esquivel, and Martha A. Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo de San Lorenzo (1598–1867) (Mexico: Instituto Politécnico Nacional, 2001), 50–52.

(4.) AGN, BN, Leg. 85, exp. 15, 16, 17, 18.

(5.) AGN, BN, Leg. 85, exp. 16; LC, Richard Monday Collection, Reel 9, Vol. 11, Professions of Blasa Ceniceros in the convent of Santa Inés (1682) and Luisa de Salcedo in the convent of Nuestra Señora de Balvanera (1696).

(6.) BN Mexico, Vida de la Madre María Marcela, Ms. fol. 41.

(7.) AINAH, FF, Vol. 109, fol. 116. See also AGN, BN, Leg. 100, exp. 16, 17 18, 19.

(8.) AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 36, Peticiones de ingreso de novicias al convento de San José de Carmelitas, fol. 3. She entered the convent on April 29, 1693. This source records the age of only four novices: two were 16, one 15, and one 25 years old. See also AGN, BN, Leg. 85, exp. 12 through 18.

(9.) AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 36, passim; Rosalva Loreto López, Los conventos femeninos y el mundo urbano de la Puebla de los Angeles del siglo XVIII (Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico, 2000), 203–7; Bazarte Martínez, Tovar Esquivel, and Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo de San Lorenzo, 21–25.

(10.) AGN, Templos y Conventos, Vol. 36, Peticiones de ingreso, passim. All information on this topic is drawn from this source.

(11.) Pardo, Vida y virtudes, 5. This gives an average of three nuns per year. In 1673, there were 114 nuns.

(12.) Josefina Muriel, Conventos de monjas en la Nueva España (Mexico: Editorial Santiago, 1946) 121–32. See also, Gobierno del Ilustrísimo Sr. D. Francisco Antonio Lorenzana, 1766–1722. Condumex, Fondo CIX-I, Ms. In 1767, 48 women either entered as novices or professed in the convents under diocesan jurisdiction.

(13.) Loreto López, Los conventos femeninos, 169–78.

(14.) Margaret Chowning, Rebellious Nuns. The Troubled History of a Mexican Convent, 1752–1863 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 187. For La Purísima Concepción of San Miguel el Grande, see 185.

(15.) See Chapter 9 for attempts to change the form of observance.

(16.) Manuel Romero de Terreros, Bocetos de la vida social de la Nueva España (Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1944), 226.

(17.) Sor María Dolores Rivera y San Román, Noticias históricas de la fundación del convento de religiosas Dominicas de Santa María la Gracia de Guadalajara (Guadalajara: Lit. Tip. Ancira 1924). For the ceremony at the convent of San Jerónimo, Puebla, see Alicia Bazarte Martínez and Enrique Tovar Esquivel, El convento de San Jerónimo en Puebla de los Angeles. Crónicas y testimonios (Puebla: Litografía Magno Graf, S.A. de C.V., 2000), 197–208. The ceremonial of San Jerónimo in Mexico City is described in Bazarte, Tovar, and Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo de San Lorenzo, 59–66.

(18.) Kathleen Myers and Amanda Powell, ed. and trans., A Wild Country Out in the Garden. The Spiritual Journals of a Colonial Mexican Nun (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 62–67.

(19.) Vida de la Madre María Marcela, Ms. fol. 59–60. Sor María Marcela Soria professed as a novice on July 24, 1748, and took the final profession on January 9, 1750. She died in 1775.

(20.) Juan Benito Díaz de Gamarra y Dávalos, Ejemplar de religosas. Vida de la muy reverenda madre Sor María Josefa Lino de la Santísima Trinidad (Mexico: Imp. de Alejandro. Valdés, 1831), 27.

(21.) AINAH, FF, Vol. 100, fols. 186–87.

(22.) Miguel Sánchez, Sermón que predicó el bachiller M. Sánchez en las exequias de la Madre Ana de la Presentación, del convento de San Laurencio [sic] (Mexico: Imp. Francisco Salvago, 1636), 356. He also eulogized her fairness as an abbess, always in the center of her flock and never engaging in any special friendship.

(23.) Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora, Parayso Occidental plantado y cultivado por la liberal benéfica mano de los muy católicos y poderosos reyes de España nuestros señores en su magnífico real convento de Jesús María de Mexico [1684] (Mexico: UNAM-Condumex, 1995), 196.

(24.) Calvo, Compendio de las ejemplares vidas. Sor Leocadia's life was written by Sor María Teresa, abbess of the Capuchin convent of Puebla, in a letter she sent to the bishop-elect of Puebla. Sor Leocadia lived to the ripe age of eighty-two, dying in 1729. On her penitenial acts, she said: “God wished to shape a nun truly a daughter of His wounds.”

(25.) BN Madrid, Carta espiritual anónima a la hermana Doña María Josefa, 1774, Ms. 3534, fol. 126.

(26.) Ibid., fol. 126.

(27.) BN Madrid, Los Puntos de la Regla que han de guardar las sorores del convento de N.P.S. Bernardo de Mexico, Ms. 8135 (1744).

(28.) Puntos de la Regla, no pagination.

(29.) AINAH, Colección Gómez Orozco, Vol. 30, Directorio para las novicias de este convento de S. Phelipe de Jesús y pobres Capuchinas de Mexico, Ms. Por el Padre Cayetano Antonio de Torres, director espiritual del convento.

(30.) BN Mexico, Vida de la Madre María Marcela, Ms. fols. 164–66

(31.) Myers and Powell, A Wild Country, 189–94.

(32.) Myers and Powell, A Wild Country, 136–39.

(33.) BN Mexico, Vida de la M. María Marcela, Ms., fols. 61–62.

(34.) AGI, Mexico, 829; Asunción Lavrin, “La celda y el siglo: Epístolas conventuales.” In Mujer y cultura en la colonia Hispanoamericana, ed. Mabel Moraña (Pittsburgh: Biblioteca de América; Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, 1996), 139–59.

(35.) AGI, Mexico, 829.

(36.) AGI, Mexico, 828. Retes was a wealthy merchant and silver dealer. See Louisa Schell Hoberman, Mexico's Merchant Elite, 1590–1660. Silver, State and Society (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 174–80.

(37.) AGI, Mexico, 828.

(41.) Pardo, Vida y virtudes, 23v. See also Fr. Félix de Jesús María, Vida y virtudes y dones sobrenaturales de la Venerable Sierva de Dios, Sor María de Jesús, religiosa profesa en el V. Monasterio de la Inmaculada Concepción de la Puebla de los Angeles en las Indias Occidentales (Roma: Imprenta de Josepha y Felipe de Rossi, 1756).

(42.) José L. Sánchez Lora, Mujeres, conventos y formas de la religiosidad barroca (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1988), 245–48.

(43.) José María Munibe, Carta edificante que descubre la vida religiosa, y ejemplarísimas virtudes de la R.M. Inés Josefa del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús de la nueva fundación de esta corte, la que escribe su director a la M.R.M. priora y demás señoras religiosas de dicho convento (Mexico: Imp. de Fernández Jáuregui, 1805), 15.

(44.) Fr. Ignacio Saldaña, La Penitente Paloma o gemebunda Maya. Sermón fúnebre en las exequias de … la venerable madre Sor Sebastiana Josefa de la Santísima Trinidad (Mexico: Imprenta de la Biblioteca, 1758).

(45.) Fr. Alonso Franco, Segunda parte de la Historia de la Provincia de Santiago de Mexico, Orden de Predicadores en la Nueva España [1645] (Mexico: Imprenta del Museo Nacional, 1900), 452.

(46.) AGN, Inquisición, Vol. 816, exp. 34.

(47.) Fr. Antonio Arbiol, O.F.M., La religiosa instruída con doctrina de la Sagrada Escritura y Santos Padres de la Iglesia Católica. Para todas las operaciones de su vida regular, desde que recibe el santo hábito hasta la hora de su muerte (Madrid: Imprenta de la Causa de la V.M. María de Jesús de Agreda, 1753).

(48.) See Chapter 4.

(49.) AGN, Inquisición, Vol. 816, exp. 34.

(50.) See Chapters 3 and 7 for chastity and sexuality.

(51.) José Gómez de la Parra, Fundación y primero siglo del muy religioso convento de San José, de religiosas Carmelitas descalzas de la ciudad de los Angeles Puebla (Mexico: Gobierno del Estado de Puebla/Universidad Iberoamericana, 1992), 65, 158. Only one dismissal was registered in the convents under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Mexico between 1766 and 1772. See Gobierno del Ilustrísimo Sr. D. Francisco Antonio Lorenzana, Ms. Condumex Fondo CIX-I.

(52.) AGN, BN, Leg. 146, No. 72; Manuel Ramos Medina, Místicas y descalzas fundaciones femeninas Carmelitas en la Nueva España (Mexico: Condumex, 1997), 297, 306, 308, 309, 394, 395.

(53.) Myers and Powell, A Wild Country, 275.

(54.) AINAH, FF, Vol. 95. Corpus Christi had serious racial problems in its beginnings due to the fact that a Franciscan Provincial began to accept white novices, against the spirit of the founder's wishes. See Chapter 8.

(55.) See Chapter 8.

(56.) BN Mexico, Sor Sebastiana María Josefa de la Santísima Trinidad, Cartas Espirituales. Ms., fol. 114. See also, Josefina Muriel, Cultura femenina novohispana (Mexico: UNAM, 1994), 416–32.

(57.) BN Madrid, Los Puntos de la Regla que han de guardar las sorores del convento de N.P.S. Bernardo de Mexico, Ms. For a complete record of all the paperwork pertaining to the first and final profession, see the process of Doña Blasa Ceniceros' application to the convent of Santa Inés in 1682. LC, Monday Collection, Reel 9, Vol. 11. Other examples are also available in this source.

(58.) Sor María Dolores Rivera y San Román, Noticias históricas: 30. This convent used green beans (habas) for admission; beans for rejection, and chick peas for abstention.

(59.) AINAH, FF, Vol. 109, fol. 122.

(60.) Asunción Lavrin, “Indian Brides of Christ: Creating New Spaces for Indigenous Women in New Spain,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 15.2 (Summer 1999): 225–60.

(61.) AGN, BN, Leg. 719, exp. 4. This profession took place in 1766 and there were two other professants in that year. For other examples, see AGN, BN, Leg. 85 for the convent of La Concepción; Leg. 100, exp. 16, 17, 18, 19 for the convent of San Lorenzo in the first quarter of the eighteenth century; Leg. 156 for San Bernardo in the mid-eighteenth century; Leg. 310 for Corpus Christi; Leg. 1025 for Santa Clara in Mexico City.

(62.) LC, Monday Collection, Reel 9, Vol. 11, Professions of Blasa de Ceniceros (1683) and Luisa de Salcedo (1692); Bazarte Martínez, Tovar Esquivel, and Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo, 64–66.

(63.) AGN, BN, Leg. 49; Leg. 66. As an example, this source contains testaments of the mid-eighteenth century. There are hundreds of testaments in this repository as well as in provincial archives and notarial archives.

(64.) The dowry demanded for profession was much higher than the dowries given to the daughters of common artisans and small merchants. Charitable dowries for poor girls were 300 pesos, while a regular nun dowry was ten times that sum, and even more in the eighteenth century.

(65.) Joseph Gómez, Vida de la venerable Madre Antonia de San Jacinto monja profesa de velo negro y hija del real y religiosísimo convento de Santa Clara de Jesús de la ciudad de Santiago de Querétaro (Mexico: Imprenta de Antuerpia de los Herederos de la Viuda de Bernardo de Calderón, 1689), 7; Vida de Sor Mariana J. Nepomuceno (Mexico, 1808), 21. Female solidarity was behind the cession of a dowry to another woman seeking profession. María de Ocampo, the recipient of a dowry of 300 pesos from a confraternity for either profession or marriage, ceded the money to Sor Josefa Rita del Santísimo Rosario, a novice in San Juan de la Penitencia with an incomplete dowry. See AGN, BN, Leg. 1025, No. 5 (1773). See also, Bazarte Martínez, Tovar Esquivel, and Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo, 43–54; Rosalva Loreto López, “La caridad y sus personajes: Las obras pías de Don Diego Sánchez Peláez y Doña Isabel de Herrera Peregrina. Puebla, Siglo XVIII.” In Cofradías, capellanías y obras pías en la América colonial, coord. Pilar Martínez López-Cano, Gisela von Wobeser, and Juan Guillermo Muñoz (Mexico: UNAM, 1998), 263–80; Asunción Lavrin, “Cofradías novohispanas: Economías material y espiritual.” In Lopez-Cano, von Wobeser, and Muñoz, Cofradías, capellanías y obras pías en la América colonial, 49–64.

(66.) AGN, BN, Leg. 49, exp. 4, exp. 16.

(67.) AIPG, notary García de Argomanes, Vol. 35 (1736), fol. 115. See also fols. 127, 159, 194. This notary was in charge of the business of the convent of Santa Mónica. In the 1770s, Blas de Silva was the convent's notary. Their books offer many examples of nuns' wills. On the issue of women's patronage, see Edith Couturier, “‘For the Greater Service of God.’ Opulent Foundations and Women's Philanthropy in Colonial Mexico.” In Lady Bountiful Revisited. Women, Philanthropy and Power, ed. Kathleen D. McCarthy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 119–41. See also Nuria Salazar Simarro, “Monjas y benefactores.” In Memoria del II Congreso Internacional El Monacato Femenino en el Imperio Español. Monasterios, beaterios, recogimientos y colegios, coord. Manuel Ramos Medina (Mexico: Condumex, 1995): 193–212.

(68.) AGN, Tierra y Aguas, Vol. 387, exp. 5 (1720–32). The majordomo of La Encarnación laid claim to part of a man's will. He had left a nun in the convent a charitable amount of 150 pesos annually. See also El convento de religiosas de Santa Clara de Mexico [sobre bienes y derechos de] su M.R.M. abadesa actual Mariana de San Francisco (Mexico: Felipe Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1782).

(69.) LC, Richard Monday Collection, Reel 9, Vol. II. Professions of Blasa de Ceniceros (1683) and Luisa de Salcedo (1692). “You will not parade in the streets or go to anybody's house.” “She will not be allowed to leave [the convent] under any pretext.”

(70.) BN, FF, Box 75, 25 November, 1755.

(71.) AINAH, Colección Antigua, Vol. 992.

(72.) Bazarte Martínez, Tovar Esquivel, and Tronco Rosas, El convento Jerónimo, 55–59. They quote the cost of one profession as 630 pesos, but indicate that the cost was higher because some expenses were not included in the accounts they used.

(73.) For a comparison between civilian and religious marriages, see Jorge René González Marmolejo, “Diferencias y similitudes entre los ritos del matrimonio espiritual y el matrimonio sacramental.” In Comunidades domésticas en la sociedad novohispana. Formas de unión y transmisión cultural Memoria del IV (p.381) Simposio de Historia de las Mentalidades (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1994), 79–88.

(74.) Orden que se ha de guardar con la que entra en religión y modo de que se ha de vestir el hábito de las religiosas de la Puríssima Concepción de Nuestra Sra. y de San Gerónimo, sujetas al ordinario de este Arzobispado de Mexico (Mexico, no date).

(75.) Antonio García Cubas, El libro de mis recuerdos (Mexico: Imp. de A. García Cubas, Hermanos y Sucesores, 1904), 13–16.

(76.) BN Mexico, Vida de la Madre María Marcela, Ms. fol. 71–72.

(77.) Jesús Romero Flores, Iconografía colonial (Mexico: INAH/SEP, 1940); Josefina Muriel and Manuel Romero de Terreros, Retratos de monjas (Mexico: Editorial Jus, 1952); Virginia Armella de Aspe, Escudos de monjas novohispanas (Mexico: Grupo Gutsa, 1993); Alma Montero Alarcón, “Ceremonias de profesión y muerte en los conventos femeninos novohispanos.” In Bazarte Martínez and Tovar Esquivel, El convento de San Jerónimo en Puebla, 191–95.

(78.) José Manuel de Castro Santa-Anna, Diario de sucesos notables, vol. 4. In Documentos para la Historia de Mexico, 4 vols. (Mexico: Imprenta de Juan R. Navarro 1853–57), 10.

(79.) Brian Larkin, “The Splendor of Worship: Baroque Catholicism Religious Reform, and Last Wills and Testaments in Eighteenth Century Mexico City,” Colonial Latin American Review 8.4 (Fall 1999): 405–42.

(80.) Felipe Montalvo, Místico Vaso de Santidad y Honor. Sermón de la seraphica madre y esclarecida virgen Santa Clara, que en su fiesta de su convento de religiosas de esta corte, 12 de Agosto de 1748, predicó, el Rev. Felipe Montalvo (Mexico: Doña Maria de Ribera, 1748). The number of sermons on the professions of nuns is too large to be fully acknowledged here and some examples will be listed in the bibliography. There is no study of this specific genre. As an example, see Fr. Antonio de Barbosa. Triunfo glorioso de la cruz, … en la solemne profesión, que hizo la R.M. Feliciana de la Asunción, religiosa Dominica del convento observantísimo de Santa María de Gracia de la ciudad, y corte de Guadalajara, el día diez y seis de Julio de este año de 1730 (Mexico: Herederos de la Viuda de Miguel Rivera Calderón, 1730). This sermon was paid by Don Estevan Gómez Trujillo, alcalde of the city and familiar of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, who dedicated it to Saint Rosalía of Palermo.

(81.) Fr. Juan de Ávila, Pureza emblemática discurrida en la profession de la M. Mariana de San Francisco, religiosa de Santa Clara. Sermón (Mexico: Doña María de Benavides, Vda. de Juan de Ribera, 1686).

(82.) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition. A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 4, Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300–1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 383.

(83.) Avila, Pureza emblemática, 3.

(84.) Fr. José Antonio Plancarte, Sermón de profesión … en la que hizo Sor María Antonia Ildefonsa … en el convento de San José de Gracia de reverendas madres Capuchinas (Mexico: M.J. de Zúñiga, 1799); Fr. Juan Bautista Taboada, Sermón panegírico … en las circunstancias de profesar la R.M. María Antonia Manuela de S. Francisco religiosa de velo negro en el convento real de Santa Clara (p.382) de Jesús en la ciudad de Querétaro (Mexico: Herederos de J. Guillena Carrascoso, 1720); Gaspar González de Candamo, Sermón en la solemne profesión de … Sor Juana María de Guadalupe en el monasterio de religiosas Dominicas de Sta. María de Gracia de Guadalajara (Guadalajara: Oficina de M. Valdés Téllez Girón, 1797); Joseph Ramírez de Aguilar, Sermón en la profesión solemne que hizo Sor María Manuela de la Purificación … en el convento de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de la ciudad de Antequera (Puebla, 1692); Nicolás de Jesús María, El Christus ABC de la virtud, cartilla de la santidad. Sermón panegírico … en la solemne profesión … [de] la M. Ignacia Gertrudis de S. Pedro (Mexico: Herederos de la viuda de F. Rodríguez Lupercio, 1726); Fr. Joseph de la Vega y Santa Bárbara, Oración panegírica en la profesión solemne que en el real convento de Jesús María hizo … la R.M. María Ignacia de Jesús (Mexico: Viuda de J.B. de Hogal, 1753).

(85.) Fr. Diego Bringas de Manzaneda y Encinas, “Plática pronunciada en el real convento de Sonta Clara de Jesús de esta ciudad de Querétaro en la profesion solemne … [de] la última de mis hermanas, Sor María de Jesús Bringas de Manzaneda y Encinas.” In Fr. Diego Bringas de Manzaneda y Encinas, Sermones Panegíricos y Morales (Mexico: Herederos del Lic. D. Joseph de Jáuregui, 1792), 249–266. Sor María was the last of seven sisters to profess.