Missionaries and Laywomen
Evidence from wills highlight the striking number of non-elite women living outside of marriage who successfully professed as lay Franciscan tertiaries, that is, as members of the powerful Franciscan Third Order. Chapter 2 explores how and why priests in Guatemala’s colonial capital, especially Franciscans and Jesuits, allied with poor single and widowed laywomen and supported active and unenclosed female religiosity. Santiago de Guatemala’s status as a distant provincial capital, removed from the Inquisition’s close oversight and without the institutional resources necessary to enforce female enclosure, led to greater tolerance of lay female religiosity and single women compared to larger cities like Mexico City and Lima. At the same time, global missionary movements forged diverse models of female piety and sustained support for active female ministries. These findings suggest the need to modify interpretations of early modern Catholicism as primarily hostile towards single women and lay female religiosity.
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