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Reminiscences of Sor Juana in a Festejo in the convent of San Jeronimo (Mexico City, 1756).

It has long been recognized in scholarship devoted to Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651 ?-1695) that the Mexican nun's literary reputation, which had soared during the last years of her life and for some thirty years after her death, declined as the eighteenth century progressed, following the shift from baroque to neoclassic literary tastes. Appreciation for Sor Juana and her work was unsteady at best through the nineteenth century, revived in the early to mid-twentieth century with the "rehabilitation" of Gongorism and the Baroque, and burgeoned late in that century with, among other things, the attention of feminist literary critics and the increased scholarly activity that accompanied the three-hundredth anniversary of Sor Juana's death. In the twenty-first century, the appeal of the nun's life and work has remained very strong in the academy, among general readers, and among creative writers and artists in other media. (1)

Accompanying the intense scholarly interest in Sor Juana in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries--and to some degree spurred on by it--has been the increased attention paid to other female religious in the early modern Hispanic world. Numerous aspects of the lives, writings, and other cultural contributions of nuns in Spain and the Spanish colonies have received scrutiny, in studies that in turn shed a clearer light on Sor Juana's perceived uniqueness, her identity as rara avis that her contemporaries celebrated and which has remained entwined with her image to this day. Doubtlessly, Sor Juana's literary and intellectual accomplishments and her publication success were matched by few Spanish-language writers of either gender during the early modern period, and the fact that she was a female religious made her achievements even more unusual. At the same time, scholarship has revealed that Sor Juana's "exceptionality" was relative; many other nuns of her time demonstrated literary and intellectual proclivities, and a significant engagement with secular spheres--economic, political, social--beyond the cloister. (2) Such tendencies seem discrepant from the models of comportment that the Church prescribed for nuns, based on humility, obedience, reclusion, and "saintly ignorance." Sor Juana was incongruous, but so were many of her sisters in religion, and convent life itself in early modern Spain and the colonies was characterized by certain fundamental tensions and paradoxes.

The present study hopes to make a contribution to these two related questions: 1) Sor Juana's relative singularity (or not) among New Spain's religious women; and 2) the trajectory of her reputation in the decades following her death. The study will deal primarily with a document that offers a privileged vantage point on these questions, having been produced within the very convent of San Jeronimo in which Sor Juana spent her adult life: the relacion of a festejo celebrated by the nuns in honor of a visiting viceroy and his retinue in August of 1756, with theatrical and musical pieces composed by a chaplain of the convent and performed by its nuns and ninas? The festejo and its explicit references to Sor Juana will be examined within the context of other surviving representations of her in the 1750s, to attempt a kind of snapshot--necessarily incomplete--of the nun as remembered some sixty years after her death, and halfway through the century that saw her pass from eminence to relative obscurity. At the same time, the study will attempt to show the degree to which certain forms of theatrical artistry and engagement with civic ceremony, which contributed to Sor Juana's fame in her lifetime, remained alive among her convent sisters of a later generation.


The 1980s and 1990s saw the unearthing of some new documents, or the rescrutiny of half-forgotten ones, that significantly altered scholarly understanding of Sor Juana's life, in particular her final years. They shed new light on Sor Juana's troubles with powerful Church prelates at least since 1682, and on the especially intense difficulties that she faced between the publication in 1690 of the Crisis sobre un sermon or Carta Atenagorica (Sor Juana's refutation of a sermon by the Portuguese theologian Antonio de Vieira) and her death in April of 1695. The details of these discoveries and the scholarly polemics that they aroused exceed the scope of the present study, and have been ably summarized elsewhere. (4)

While scholarly interpretations vary, and much about Sor Juana's final years remains mysterious or speculative, there seems to be general consensus on a number of points. The publication of Sor Juana's Carta Atenagorica by the Bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, along with a letter by the bishop (paradoxically) admonishing the nun to shift the focus of her studies from secular to religious matters, sparked something of a firestorm in Mexico City religious circles, with voices intervening in criticism of the nun and in her defense. The specific content of the Carta Atenagorica, Sor Juana's daring in taking on the esteemed Vieira, and her inappropriate "meddling" in theology, provoked the rancor of certain powerful prelates, and while Sor Juana herself was not denounced to the Holy Office, the echoes of that rancor can be heard in subsequent related Inquisition proceedings. (5) The controversy and the bishop's letter of admonishment incited Sor Juana to pen her own self-defense, the celebrated Respuesta a Sor Filotea of 1691.

The Carta Atenagorica affair clearly was the catalyst for the increased pressure placed upon Sor Juana fundamentally to alter aspects of her life--to conform to ideals of obedience and reclusion from the world that her original vows had promised. Both the Respuesta and some subsequent texts suggest that the nun had little intention of doing so, and that she was counting on the support of powerful secular patrons and sympathetic Church superiors to allow her to continue the way of life that she had enjoyed for decades. This included the study of diverse subjects, the acquisition of books and other items for her personal collection, freedom to write and publish (two volumes of her collected works had appeared in Spain to great acclaim, in multiple editions between 1689 and 1693), and correspondence and personal contact with the world beyond the cloister. But pressure increased from above, including that of Sor Juana's erstwhile confessor, Antonio Nunez de Miranda, and especially that of the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas. Elias Trabulse has affirmed that the archbishop initiated disciplinary proceedings against Sor Juana in 1693-1694, and that this was what led to her renunciation of literary pursuits, the dispersal of her books and collections, and the apparently coerced signing of a series of documents--some with her own blood--in which Sor Juana expressed repentance and renewed her vows (146-57). Yet, as Trabulse and others have noted, perhaps these formal abjurations and outward shows of compliance did not fundamentally alter Sor Juana's sense of self, or her private modus vivendi; they may have been no more than temporizing with circumstances imposed upon her, in hopes that over time these might change.

Trabulse also has argued compellingly that the publication of the third volume of Sor Juana's collected works in Spain, the Fama y obras posthumas of 1700, was orchestrated by the same archbishop Aguiar y Seijas who had forced Sor Juana to retire (visibly) from the world of letters. Trabulse notes the predominance of compositions of a religious nature in the Fama; the inclusion of an edifying biography of Sor Juana by father Diego Calleja, which narrates at length her alleged spiritual conversion; the other prefatory material in the Fama by diverse eulogists who echo Calleja's tribute to Sor Juana's reborn religiosity; and the presence of the "abjuration" documents mentioned earlier, which, Trabulse notes, only could have been supplied by Aguiar y Seijas himself. The archbishop's intent, Trabulse posits, was to fix for posterity the image of Sor Juana as a repentant and reformed nun, who had willingly renounced her worldly intellectual pursuits and embraced a life of conventional --even extreme--piety. The archbishop thus would also quiet any remaining scandal from the Carta Atenagorica affair and conveniently cover up his own role in the messier details of Sor Juana's final years, including the disciplinary proceedings against her.

The Fama y obras posthumas was reedited a number of times in Spain and Portugal, during a span of years that lasted until 1725. Like the two collections of Sor Juana's work that preceded it, it met with great success. Rodriguez Cepeda (73) has argued that the number of editions and the number of printed copies (some 25,000) of these three volumes constitute a publication phenomenon that is almost without parallel in the Spanish Golden Age. It is interesting, as well, that the first two volumes containing more of Sor Juana's secular works (comedias, amatory and occasional poetry, etc.) continued to be reissued alongside the Fama until 1725. Despite the attempted re-imaging of Sor Juana by Aguiar y Seijas and others, the reformed and pious nun must have continued to compete in the imagination of her early eighteenth-century readers with other, more worldly Sor Juanas: the autodidact and polymath, the epistemological dreamer, the darling of the viceregal court, the brilliant literary successor to Calderon and Gongora, and the melancholy ruminator on the vicissitudes of love and fame.

Certainly Sor Juana the playwright was well and widely known in these early decades of the eighteenth century. Her comedia Los empenos de una casa, first printed in the second volume of Sor Juana's works in 1692, continued to be reprinted in suelta form (Rodriguez Cepeda 72-73). Often remarked upon by sorjuanistas as evidence of the wide dissemination of her theatrical works, is the revelation by Armando de Maria y Campos in a 1951 article that both Los empenos and another comedia co-authored by Sor Juana, Amor es mas laberinto, were performed in Manila in 1709 as part of nine days of celebrations marking the birth of the first son of king Philip V. (6) Nor did Sor Juana's more controversial writings fail to find (and provoke) overseas readers. As late as 1727, a Portuguese cleric, borrowing the name of his sister, an Augustinian nun in Lisbon, wrote a lengthy counter-defense of Vieira in response to Sor Juana's Carta Atenagorica, in terms that suggest both Portuguese nationalism and a desire to vindicate Vieira's Jesuit order; four years later, this work was translated into Spanish and published in Madrid. (7) If Sor Juana's early eighteenth-century fame was transoceanic, so were the echoes of her notoriety, at least as regards her foray into theological polemic.

In the same year that "Sor Margarida" defended the honor of the illustrious Vieira, the life experience of another nun, much closer to home, was preempted by a male cleric in a way that conferred frankly sinister connotations upon Sor Juana's worldly interests and erudition, and their influence upon other nuns. As Margarita Pena has revealed, in 1727, following the death of Sor Agustina de San Diego of the convent of Santa Clara in Puebla, a certain Fray Ildefonso Mariano del Rio pronounced a biographical sermon in the nun's honor, published a year later in Mexico City. The story that Fray Ildefonso tells is of Sor Agustina's early friendship with Sor Juana, a friendship maintained through the exchange of letters and gifts, and of Sor Agustina's desire to emulate Sor Juana's erudition and poetic talent. But one fateful day, when about to receive a delegation bearing gifts from Sor Juana, Sor Agustina was seized by the arm by a statue of the Senor del Sepulcro, who warned her of the dangers of pursuing worldly knowledge. This terrifying experience provoked Sor Agustina to reject her scholarly interests and embrace a life of extreme abstinence, asceticism and self mortification--one plagued by the harassment of demons and blessed with the apparitions of saints--which she maintained for her remaining 44 years. Sor Agustina's story, a horrifying cautionary tale about the dangers of intellectual desire among women religious, represents the darker side of Sor Juana's early posthumous fame.

If in the first quarter of the eighteenth century Sor Juana's works were issued in multiple and copious editions in Spain, and broadly known by readers in far-flung parts of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking worlds, a century later the situation would be quite different. Rosa Perelmuter (97-103) has pointed out that by the nineteenth century, copies of Sor Juana's works were scarce and difficult to obtain, which contributed (along with a general disdain for the Baroque) to the relatively few and often erroneous references to Sor Juana by nineteenth-century scholars, and the general neglect and ignorance of her work by readers until the first efforts to reedit her works began toward the end of the century. But what of the 1750s, the midpoint of the century that saw this precipitous decline, and which is the main concern of the present essay? Had the editorial disappearance of Sor Juana begun by that decade?

Several testimonies from both sides of the Atlantic would seem to answer this question in the negative. The Spanish Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde, in his Geographia historica (1752) noted of Sor Juana that "sus obras poeticas corren entre los aficionados, como las obras de otros muchos poetas que salen cada dia en Mexico" (Alatorre 573). Jose de Miravel y Casadevanre, in his augmented translation (1753) of Louis Moreri's Grand Dictionnaire Historique, included a biographical sketch of Sor Juana containing the observation that "todas sus obras andan familiares en manos de muchos, que pueden verse" (De la Maza 307). In his Bibliotheca Mexicana (1755) Juan Jose Eguiara y Eguren was more explicit on the topic, noting, in one of the prologues: " Y que diremos de nuestra monja sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, cuyos libros, publicados en Madrid, siete veces reimpresos en otros lugares de Espana en el siglo pasado y dados reiteradamente a las prensas mas tarde, han hecho conocidisima de espanoles y extranjeros a la que ha merecido el nombre de Decima Musa y los insignes elogios de los varones mas ilustres? Todas esas obras son tan corrientes, que no solo se las encuentra de continuo en manos de los profesores de literatura, mas tambien en las de cualquier persona culta o en las del noble dotado de alguna ilustracion" (Alatorre 578). The Spaniards Murillo Velarde and Miravel, and the Mexican Eguiara, indicate that in their respective spheres in the 1750s the works of Sor Juana printed before 1725 remained widely known and readily available.

Eguiara, rector of the University of Mexico, bishop elect of Yucatan and a distinguished humanist scholar, composed his Bibliotheca Mexicana (left unfinished at his death in 1763) in part as a response to European allegations of the intellectual inferiority of the inhabitants of the New World. In encyclopedic form, the Bibliotheca offers summaries of the lives and works of Mexican men and women of letters, including Sor Juana. Eguiara's masterful entry on the nun necessarily relies mostly on printed sources for its biographical information--primarily Calleja's biography and Sor Juana's own Respuesta a Sor Filotea--and its commentaries on Sor Juana's works confirm Eguiara's careful scrutiny of multiple editions of the three collected volumes mentioned above. The Sor Juana that emerges from Eguiara's pages is the astonishing, self-taught polymath that Calleja had portrayed, as well as the self-effacing, charitable, and--at the end of her life--saintly nun. Like Calleja, Eguiara vindicates Sor Juana's criticism of Vieira's sermon, but goes an emphatic step beyond, elaborating at length on two anecdotes that he has heard "de boca de testigos fidedignos" (De la Maza 315). These anecdotes recount moments when Sor Juana, in personal conversations in the locutorio of San Jeronimo, was able brilliantly to enlighten distinguished prelates on arcane points of theological discussion. One of these men was a visiting Spanish bishop who had expressed outright skepticism about Sor Juana's alleged erudition, until his conversation with her cancelled his doubts and converted the bishop into another of the nun's admirers. Clearly this anecdote fulfills a primary goal of Eguiara's Bibliotheca Mexicana--to rebut the alleged inferiority of American lights vis-a-vis their European counterparts. And his celebration of Sor Juana's mastery of theological argumentation does not retain the faintest hint of the scandalized sexism which her printed forays into that field had provoked in the 1690s.

Eguiara's entry on Sor Juana emphasizes those works--the Sueno, the Neptuno alegorico, the Carta Atenagorica, the Respuesta a Sor Filotea--that give clearest evidence of the range and depth of the nun's erudition. In Eguiara, Sor Juana the formidable intellectual and theologian gains ascendancy over Sor Juana the poetic talent, the wit, the courtier. This seems to reflect a general trend in recollections of Sor Juana in the mid-eighteenth century, which had been heralded by Benito Jeronimo Feijoo rather bluntly in his note on Sor Juana in his Teatro critico universal (1728): "lo menos que tuvo fue el talento para la poesia, aunque es lo que mas se celebra. Son muchos los poetas espanoles que le hacen grandes ventajas en el numen, pero ninguno acaso la igualo en la universalidad de noticias de todas facultades" (De la Maza 291).

Something of this shift perhaps may be perceived in the 1750 portrait of Sor Juana by the Creole painter Miguel Cabrera. Scholars accept that Cabrera's famous portrait is based on Juan de Miranda's equally well known portrait of 1713. The two portraits have many compositional elements in common, including a background wall of books that testifies to Sor Juana's erudition. But Cabrera has replaced Miranda's standing Sor Juana, who raises a quill pen over a sonnet she has just composed, with a seated Sor Juana, whose hand gently turns the pages of a large tome that has been identified as a work by St Jerome. one commentator has noted that Miranda has caught Sor Juana in the act of creating, and suggests that the nun's face conveys "amazement, anxiety, nervousness" in the wake of the creative act. Cabrera, on the other hand, has captured Sor Juana in the act of reading, and her visage and posture convey "immersion in knowledge, the face of calm" (Perea 72). It would seem that this difference is also discernible in the inscriptions painted upon the portraits. Miranda's, far more lengthy, extols Sor Juana's erudition but also her "muchos y elevadisimos poemas, latinos, castellanos y mexicanos, en todo genero de arte y metro ..." (cited in Tapia Mendez, plate facing p. 451). Cabrera's, curiously, makes no mention of Sor Juana as poet at all, while praising her as "unica sucesora de Minerva en quien vinculo el tesoro de su sabiduria sirviendo de ella para fecundar su portentoso entendimiento en la noticia de la Escritura Divina, y toda la Erudicion Sagrada ..." (cited in Tapia Mendez, plate facing p. 461). Like Eguiara, Cabrera exalts Sor Juana primarily for her erudition and her theological prowess.

While after 1725 the lapse in the reediting and reissuing of Sor Juana's works was notable until well into the nineteenth century, this lapse was not absolute. The works that did appear in Mexico City at mid-century are telling in their content. In 1755, the same year as Eguiara's Bibliotheca Mexicana and issued from the press of the same name that Eguiara ran, there appeared a devotional text by Sor Juana, the Ofrecimientos para el rosario de quince misterios que se ha de rezar el dia de los Dolores de Nuestra Senora la Virgen Maria, which had appeared in the 1701 edition of the third volume of Sor Juana's collected works. In 1763, one of Sor Juana's "abjuration" documents was reprinted in Mexico City under the sponsorship of a nun of the Convento Real de Jesus Maria. This Protesta de la fe y renovacion de los votos was conveniently edited with blanks in which other nuns could fill in their name, convent and signature, and thus imitate Sor Juana in her expression of repentance and renewal of her vows. As Trabulse notes (150), the Protesta de la fe had first appeared in print in nearly identical format, and thus with the same purpose, in 1695, surely at the behest of the archbishop Aguiar y Seijas. Its reappearance 68 years later attests both to its ongoing utilitarian value and to the enduring legend of Sor Juana's voluntary "reconversion" during the last years of her life.

Some mid-eighteenth-century allusions to Sor Juana in convent-related writings offer darker shadings of her legend that are reminiscent of Sor Agustina's story recounted above, presenting Sor Juana's life and career as something of a cautionary tale for nuns or aspiring nuns. Raquel Gutierrez has commented upon an allegorical coloquio that she discovered in the archives of the Fondo Conventual Santa Monica in Puebla. Dating from 1748 or shortly thereafter, the coloquio apparently was performed in the convent as part of a celebration of the latter's founding. Some 40 lines of the work allude to Sor Juana, as the characters Deseo and Temor variously persuade El Alma (that of a young woman considering a religious vocation) for and against the religious life. Sor Juana is invoked with all the traditional epithets of praise, but is pointedly not offered as a model for the aspiring nun to follow. As Gutierrez explains, "la mencion rapida de Sor Juana, el enfasis en la erudicion, el lugar minimo otorgado a su actividad de poeta y la reserva con la que se considera su inclinacion por los estudios 'mundanos' al presentarla como algo no recomendable, prefiguran las tendencias que dominan a partir de la segunda mitad del siglo xviii" (152).

Another allusion to Sor Juana in a mid-eighteenth-century sermon makes one wonder just how frequent these may have been in the convent churches of Mexico. In 1758, Eguiara's Bibliotheca mexicana press issued a sermon delivered that year by Fray Juan de Dios Mariano del Rosal in the convent of Santa Isabel. The sermon, titled "Los empenos de Santa Isabel en su casa," takes as its topic the theme of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. This title clearly is based on Sor Juana's Los empenos de una casa. Fray Juan de Dios does not mention Sor Juana by name, but the allusion to her comedia is clear:
   Ahora pregunto: puesta ya la Reina Maria, y colocada en la casa de
   su prima Santa Isabel,  que se siguio? Respondo, que se siguieron
   los empenos de una casa. Este sera el asunto, porque este fue en
   buena frase el del Misterio de la Visitacion. Mas porque tan
   proprio y grave asunto de ninguna suerte haga eco a comicas
   ficciones (que detesto en tan sagrada Teatro), modificalo con estas
   voces: Los empenos de Santa Isabel en su casa. (9-10)

If there is reproof of Sor Juana in this statement, it is not particularly harsh; surely comedias of amorous intrigue were not to be performed within the "sacred theater" of the church. Still, Fray Juan de Dios does replace Sor Juana's "comic fiction" with a sermon of similar name, and which he doubtlessly perceives to be of much nobler nature and higher purpose than Sor Juana's play. Perhaps most interesting of all is that the friar knew that his audience--nuns and lay attendees at mass alike--would immediately recognize the allusion. Sor Juana the playwright was well remembered in the Mexico City of 1758, even if her comedias might carry a tinge of frivolity in the eyes of some of her sterner critics within the Church.

In summary, some general trends can be discerned in these fragments of evidence regarding the way Sor Juana was remembered and perceived in Mexico in the 1750s, as background to a commentary on the 1756 San Jeronimo festejo and its reminiscences of her. For some important figures who gave proud expression to Creole consciousness in that decade--Eguiara y Eguren, Cabrera and others--Sor Juana was recalled principally for her erudition and special proficiency in theological matters. The assumption prevailed that Sor Juana's final years were marked by a heroic renunciation of worldly interests and the willing embrace of extreme religious piety. There would seem to be no particular tension between these two aspects of the Sor Juana legend for these mid-century commentators: they would see Sor Juana's profound religiosity first in her immersion in theology and then in the spiritual transformation of her last years.

The devout Sor Juana remembered in the 1750s might serve as continued inspiration for fellow religious women and other faithful, judging by the reprinting at midcentury of her Ofrecimientos para el rosario de quince misterios and the Protesta de la fe y renovacion de los votos. The Church was pleased to reissue these brief texts for wider dissemination, although they were included in the volumes of Sor Juana's works printed up to 1725--volumes that, we know from the testimony cited above, remained readily available and well known in Spain and Mexico, especially to the literary cognoscenti. If such elite readers might still enjoy Sor Juana's comedias and other secular works, and admire the subtlety of Sor Juana's theological mind, the Church was apparently most interested in Sor Juana's edifying works of immediate, practical applicability, and eager to get them into the hands of readers.

Specifically for female religious in the Mexico of the 1750s, and for those responsible for their spiritual guidance, the evidence cited above suggests that although Sor Juana and her intellectual accomplishments were remembered with admiration and Creole pride--witness the string of epithets that praise her in the puebla convent coloquio--the air of transgression that clouded the later part of her career had not dissipated entirely. The Santa Monica coloquio ultimately rejects Sor Juana the intellectual and poet as model for her fellow nuns. Fray Juan de Dios might prompt knowing nods among his audience of nuns and lay people by alluding to Sor Juana's Empenos, but he then goes on to offer his eponymous sermon as a kind of corrective to the nun's comicas ficciones. And of course the Protesta de la fe is not only an affirmation of faith and renewal of vows; it also expresses repentance and rejects a former way of life. It would seem that in the convents of Mexico in the 1750s, the memory of Sor Juana could evoke not only admiration, but also a certain uneasiness.


Much second-hand evidence indicates that theater of diverse kinds was performed in the convents of New Spain, as in the other Spanish colonies and Spain itself, in the early modern period. However, relatively few works of convent theater have survived, at least in part because such practice existed on the fringes of what was condoned by Church authorities. (8) Works intended for the private amusement or edification of the nuns were tolerated, and in any event probably tended to pass below the scrutiny of Church officials, but performances for the entertainment of religious or lay dignitaries, and which involved the mixing of audience and performers within the sanctum of the cloister, were viewed with skepticism at best, and at times with outright opposition and explicit prohibition. (9) Yet evidence that such practices continued reemerges in the record, perhaps depending upon the relative severity or leniency of the Church authorities in office at a given moment, and upon the favor such performances might find among secular dignitaries.

Certainly festejos in honor of visiting viceroys, like that of San Jeronimo in 1756 in honor of the Marques de las Amarillas and his wife, were celebrated in the convents of New Spain, although it is difficult to determine how common they were. There are sporadic references in public diaries to viceroys being entertained by convent performances of music and dance. Among Sor Juana's works can be found a set of "bailes y tonos provinciales de un festejo a los Condes de Paredes," performed at the convent, perhaps in 1684, for the viceregal couple who would be Sor Juana's most important literary patrons. (10) In 1756 as in 1684, the cultural predilections of the viceregal couple in question must have been a key factor: it would seem that the Marqueses de las Amarillas had a special fondness for theater, as indicated by the mentions in the public record of their frequent attendance of performances at the Mexico City coliseo and in other venues.

But the 1756 series of visits to Mexico City convents by the viceroy and his wife, and the festive reception that they received, may have been unusual both in scope and tone, given the special context in which these visits occurred. Agustin de Ahumada y Villalon, Marques de las Amarillas, and his wife the Marquesa, had arrived in Mexico from Spain the previous fall, and within a few months had suffered the loss of their only son, a boy just two years of age. The couple retired from public view until the late spring, when they slowly began to reintegrate themselves into the civic life of the capital. This included visits to each of the city's convents in an order determined by strict protocol, where they were feted lavishly or modestly according to the character and means of each order and convent. (11) The unfailing joviality of the San Jeronimo festejo, and its sometimes raucous humor, may perhaps be explained as part of the general effort on the part of the populace and institutions of the capital to cheer the couple after their personal loss, and to resume the ceremonies of welcome that had been cut short by their son's illness and demise.

The San Jeronimo festejo is also remarkable for its lavishness. It included refreshments, elaborate decorations, numerous musical numbers and dances, and five one-act plays performed in a little theater constructed for the event in one of the common rooms of the convent. The author of the theatrical pieces was a chaplain of the convent, Joaquin Barruchi y Arana. The dancers and the actors were the ninas or young lay women who lived in the convent under the tutelage of the nuns; this was in keeping with long-standing practice in the convents of New Spain. (12) The participation of the nuns in the festejo was ostensibly restrained and decorous: they performed the music for the event in a little orchestra and sang arias between the plays. However, it is virtually certain that the nuns took an active role in all aspects of the planning and execution of the event.

Since the primary purposes of the festejo were to welcome, honor, and amuse the visiting viceroy and his wife, the notes struck in the theatrical and musical pieces are primarily panegyric and jocose. The panegyric finds expression in the kind of baroque hyperbole, laced with mythological references and culterano language, familiar to readers of Sor Juana's loas and occasional poetry written for viceroys and other notable figures of the court. The jocose often takes a surprisingly satirical direction, as when the plays poke gentle fun at aspects of Mexico City life and even life within the convent. Panegyric and satire work together to advance another apparent purpose of the festejo, which was to advise the viceroy in the art of good government; the praise heaped upon the Marques as leader was surely meant to be prescriptive as well as descriptive, and the aspects of life in Mexico City that are satirically revealed would give the new viceroy an idea of the social questions with which his administration would have to deal. (13) This double maneuver, in which praise and advice are intertwined, is very much in keeping with the messages discernible in the triumphal arches and ceremonies with which the populaces of Mexico and other colonial cities welcomed viceroys as they took up their posts. Yet another purpose of the festejo would be to promote the convent of San Jeronimo itself, and the Hieronymite order in general. In addition to extolling the virtue and the loyalty of the current inhabitants of the convent, the festejo alludes to two historical figures associated with the convent and the order: Saint Jerome, naturally, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

The first reference to Sor Juana occurs in the lengthy loa which is the opening play of the festejo. The loa is similar in design, language and content to the loas de fiestas reales of Calderon and his school, and to those composed by Sor Juana herself to be performed in the viceregal palace and other venues in honor of the kings and queens of Spain, viceroys, vicereines, and other dignitaries. (14) The San Jeronimo loa deploys mythological (Venus, Marte, Dafne, Amor) and allegorical (Afecto Religioso, Holocausto, Alegria) characters in a choreographed pageant, with some verses spoken and some sung, to render tribute to the viceroy and his consort. The character Afecto Religioso, dressed as a nun, calls the other characters onto stage, but not before offering an introduction that contains an element of excusatio propter infirmitatem, including the following lines:
   Solo nuestra Juana Ines
   pudiera de tanto empeno
   desempenarnos su pluma,
   dedicar hoy, en obsequio
   de este principe, su esposa
   y familia, que viniendo
   a dar honra a nuestro claustro,
   son blancos de nuestro afecto;
   pero en el modo posible
   (siempre corto, porque es nuestro),
   divertidlos, festejadlos ... (86-87)

This first reference to Sor Juana is expressed in terms both laudatory and familiar, even affectionate: nuestra Juana Ines. The play on the words empeno / despempenarnos gives a succinct nod to Sor Juana's Los empenos de una casa, suggesting, much as Fray Juan de Dios's sermon was to do two years later, that in the Mexico City of the 1750s the play would be well known to an audience of both Creoles and peninsulares. The allusion to Sor Juana would help to remind the audience of the convent's distinguished cultural heritage, and also recognizes the nun's eminence in the genre of the loa itself. Barruchi y Arana must have pored over volumes I and II of Sor Juana's collected works, in which her loas appeared, as he sketched out the design for his; those of Sor Juana, he implies, were his inspiration, although he rightly recognizes that his will not be of the same caliber.

More allusions to Sor Juana occur in the sainete, which was the fourth of the five theatrical pieces performed in the festejo. The setting of the sainete is the convent itself and the treatment is frankly satirical. The main characters are two serving women of the convent, one of indigenous and the other of African race, who appear on stage to complain bitterly about their exclusion from the festejo being prepared for the viceroy and his retinue, and about their low status in the convent in general. These complaints do not disguise an element of racial resentment toward the Creole nuns and girls whom they serve. The women decide to take matters into their own hands, and call on two male acquaintances, a sacristan (known by the women to be a gran poeta) and a maestre de capilla (an accomplished musician) to help them come up with some musical and dance numbers to perform for the marqueses. The serving women have confidence that these gentlemen can help them, but the sacristan expresses doubt:
   Quisiera ser, reina mia,
   otro Apolo o el Tetrarca,
   y tener a mi mandato
   las Musas y a diez hermanas,
   con aquella Meca Meca
   que a este claustro le dio fama,
   y todo, a uste obedeciendo,
   no me parecera nada. (147)

The sacristaris confusion of Tetrarca and Petrarca gives an idea of his level of erudition, and of the likely outcome of his efforts to compose a performance worthy of the distinguished visitors to the convent. His wish for the intervention of the muses is not ill-founded, and the "tenth muse" whose help he longs for is, of course, Sor Juana, the Decima musa mexicana as she was called in her day, a sobriquet that remained current in 1756 as it does today. Interestingly, that indirect allusion to Sor Juana and the mention of the town near her birthplace, Amecameca, are sufficient to signal to whom the sacristan is referring--more evidence of how present Sor Juana and the details of her life and work remained for the author of the festejo and his audience. Like the allusion to Sor Juana in the loa, that of the sacristan expresses high praise for the nun's poetic talent above all, a talent which conferred fame upon her convent.

Next to appear on stage in the sainete is an elderly lay woman who resides in the convent, who in her prime was known to be a good singer and dancer; the serving women have called upon her potentially to execute whatever performance they can come up with. This lady lives in the celdas nuevas--the newer part of the convent dating from the later part of the seventeenth century--where she took up residence, she says, "ha muchos anos," although she then qualifies:
   No mi vida, que me agravian:
   ayer parece que fue;
   Juana Ines era muchacha
   y no pensaba en ser monja. (151)

Given that Juana Ines was born more than a century earlier, if this lady is her contemporary then she is ancient indeed--a convenient way to signal her years and decrepitude to the audience. Moreover, the Juana Ines that this lady remembers best is not the accomplished poet-nun of San Jeronimo, but the young girl who lived in the viceregal palace, not yet committed to--or even thinking of--taking vows. In this allusion it is tempting to hear distant echoes of the narratives that described the shift in Sor Juana's life from denizen of the viceregal court to professed nun, a decision taken not without considerable doubts, as she reveals in her Respuesta a Sor Filotea, and as was reiterated in the biographies by Calleja and Eguiara, becoming, by the 1750s, a crystallized part of the Sor Juana legend.

The slight irreverence with which this elderly lady recalls the friend of her youth becomes more marked following her disastrous attempt to dance one of her old numbers. As her ancient, gout-stricken legs give way and she collapses to the ground, she ruefully comments:
   Valgate por necia gota
   que me hace caer en mil faltas;
   quiza estare mejorcita
   el dia que ha de hacer la entrada.
    Ay! Las caderas me truenan.
    Ay! Juana, dengues de mi alma,
   yo y tu,  que habernos pasado
   por andar en tales danzas,
   que bien hicimos, de estarnos
   doncellitas celibatas? (154-45)

It is interesting that the future Sor Juana should be invoked in a moment of such broad farce. But what to make of it? Did some vague air of frivolity hang over the memory of Sor Juana, for the convent chaplain who composed the festejo plays and for the nuns who commissioned and executed it? (15) That may be, although it is equally or more likely that this was all to be taken merely in a spirit of innocent fun. In any case, it is remarkable that all involved in and present at the festejo felt relaxed enough to allow for the exuberantly ridiculous and funny to find a place in the proceedings, and to extend that spirit even to the memory of the most illustrious former member of the convent and order.


It would seem that by the 1750s, the retrospective view of Sor Juana among Mexico's elite was evolving towards one that valued more her erudition in subjects both secular and theological, and less her poetic talent--perhaps reflecting the beginnings of a shift in tastes already foreshadowed in the Spaniard Feijoo's 1728 pronouncements about the nun's verses. At the same time, the narrative--or legend--of Sor Juana's final, willing transformation into a penitent nun held steady sway. The image of a self-reformed Sor Juana served the purposes of those sterner Church authorities whose interest in the nun's works was primarily as models for the reformation of the nuns whom they supervised, as made evident by the rare reissuing of works by Sor Juana of a devotional and confessional nature at mid-century. For such authorities, Sor Juana's literary career retained an air of the wayward and the reprehensible; for all their recognition that Sor Juana's fame conferred glory upon her nation, these authorities did not want her pre-repentant existence to be imitated by other nuns. Her independence and worldliness, it would seem, were more of an issue for them than the foray into theological debate that had actually begun her undoing; outside of the echoes of indignation that continued to be heard in the opening decades of the eighteenth century in Portugal regarding Sor Juana's refutation of Vieira, it would seem that the Carta Atenagorica scandal mostly had been forgotten --in fact, it had been conveniently and strategically buried.

But the 1756 festejo suggests that these images of Sor Juana were not necessarily shared by the mid-eighteenth-century nuns of the convents of New Spain, and by the sympathetic clergy and public officials who were bound to the nuns in affective, familial, economic and cultural ties. As seen in the sainete, it was at least theoretically possible that a personal memory of the flesh-and-blood Sor Juana might persist among very elderly residents of the convent, and it seems likely that a sympathetic oral tradition about her persisted among the nuns. The reminiscences of Sor Juana in the San Jeronimo festejo suggest a comfortable--not reverent--familiarity with her life story, a frank appreciation for her poetic talent, a proud claiming of her as part of the cultural heritage of the convent and order, and a shared vision of the cloister as a space that licitly might embrace song, dance and laughter in the company of like-minded secular allies. The way of life that Sor Juana enjoyed--in dialogue with wealthy patrons, participatory in public celebrations and ceremony, surrounded by certain worldly luxuries including servants, mindful of disapproving authorities but able (until the end) to circumvent the strictures they wished to impose --was not only possible but, the festejo reveals, still operative in San Jeronimo as in other well-off convents in New Spain. The nuns would cling to this way of life, in defiance of more austere Church authorities, until the comprehensive reform of the viceroyalty's convents was finally accomplished near century's end. (16)

The San Jeronimo festejo was composed by a cultured, if obscure, chaplain of the convent, but evidently at the behest of the nuns, and with their full collaboration. The nuns surely oversaw the execution of the festejo's music and dance, both of a cultured variety (arias and sung portions of the loa) and popular forms with indigenous and African influences; the breadth of their musical culture must have been impressive indeed. They would have been in charge of rehearsing the ninas in their roles, which involved the correct parsing and articulation of complicated baroque verse, and the handling of highly cultured references. And the nuns would have been in charge of all the other aspects of the preparation of the festejo: the construction of the theater, the design and execution of the stage scenery, the sewing of the costumes, the preparation of the refreshments, and the logistics of a carefully planned event involving the procession of distinguished visitors through the various spaces of the convent. The satirical pieces of the festejo suggest a ready acquaintance with some rougher aspects of life outside the convent and an ability to regard them with tolerance and humor, along with an indulgent view of the inconsistencies and challenges of life within the convent, and of the foibles of its nuns and other residents. The virtually complete absence of religious content in the festejo also speaks to the nuns' worldliness, as does their confidence in interacting in a familiar if respectful way with Spanish nobility and other court luminaries. The unmistakable, if veiled, recommendations to the viceroy in the art of wise and benevolent government, and the equally unmistakable pitch for the viceroy's protection, indicate that the San Jeronimo nuns of 1756 were proficient in the mechanism of patronage that Sor Juana had operated so effectively in the preceding century, on her own behalf and that of her convent and order. In these and other ways, the nuns of San Jeronimo of a later generation shared many of the characteristics of Sor Juana that have caused such surprise and fascination among those who have studied her life and works. The 1756 festejo is yet more evidence that Sor Juana's imagined singularity must be subjected to fresh assessment, in the context of an evolving understanding of the rich complexities of convent life in the early modern Hispanic world.


Alatorre, Antonio. Sor Juana a traves de los siglos (1668-1910). Tomo 1 (1668-1852). Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico; El Colegio Nacional; Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 2007.

Arenal, Electa, and Georgina Sabat de Rivers, eds. Literatura conventual femenina: Sor Marcela de San Felix, hija de Lope de Vega, obra completa. Barcelona, PPU, 1988.

Arenal, Electa, and Stacey Schlau, eds. Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in their Own Works. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989.

Barruchi y Arana, Joaquin. Relacion del festejo que a los Marqueses de las Amarillas les hicieron las Senoras Religiosas del Convento de San Jeronimo (Mexico, 1756). Ed. Frederick Luciani. Madrid: Iberoamericana; Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert; Mexico: Bonilla Artigas Editores, 2011.

Benassy-Berling, Marie-Cecile. "Actualidad del sorjuanismo (1994-1999)." Colonial Latin American Review 9, 2 (2000): 277-92.

Cabrera y Quintero, Cayetano. Obra dramatica: teatro novohispano del siglo xviii. Ed. Claudia Parodi. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1976.

Camarena Castellanos, Ricardo. "Crisis de otro sermon: La fineza mayor, de Francisco Xavier Palavicino." Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz y las vicisitudes de la critica. Ed. Jose Pascual Buxo. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1998. 87-108.

Chowning, Margaret. Rebellious Nuns: The Troubled History of a Mexican Convent, 17521863. New York, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Cotarelo y Mori, Emilio, ed. Coleccion de entremeses, loas, bailes, jacaras y mojigangas: desde fines del siglo xvi a mediados del xviii. Vol. 1. Madrid: Bailly-Bailliere, 1911.

De la Cruz, Sor Juana Ines. Obras completas. Ed. Alfonso Mendez Plancarte and Alberto G. Salceda. 4 vols. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1951-1957.

--. Ofrecimientos para el rosario de quinze mysterios que se ha de rezar el Dia de los Dolores de N. Senora la Virgen Maria. Mexico: Biblioteca Mexicana, 1755.

--. Protesta de la fee, y renovacion de los votos religiosos, que hizo, y dejo escripta con su sangre la M. Juana Ines de la Cruz, monja professa de S. Geronymo de Mexico. Reimpresa a expensas de la M. Maria Josepha de San Ignacio, Religiosa professa de el Convento Real de Jesus Maria. Mexico: Los Herederos de la Viuda de D. Joseph de Hogal, 1763.

De la Maza, Francisco. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz ante la historia. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1980.

Gage, Thomas. Thomas Gage's Travels in the New World. Ed. J. Eric S. Thompson. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1958.

Gutierrez, Raquel. "Sor Juana en un manuscrito poblano ( del siglo xviii?)." Cuadernos de Sor Juana: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz y el siglo xvii." Ed. Margarita Pena. Mexico: Coor dinacion de Difusion Cultural, Direccion de Literatura, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1995. 143-53.

Kirk, Stephanie L. Convent Life in Colonial Mexico: A Tale of Two Communities. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.

Lavrin, Asuncion. Brides of Christ: Conventual Life in Colonial Mexico. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Luciani, Frederick. "Criminalidad y buen gobierno en un entremes conventual: las monjas de San Jeronimo instruyen al virrey (Mexico, 1756)." Bulletin of the Comediantes, 58, 1 (2006): 141-53.

Muriel, Josefina. Conventos de monjas en la Nueva Espana. Mexico: Santiago, 1946.

Myers, Kathleen Ann. Neither Saints nor Sinners: Writing the Lives of Women in Spanish America. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2003.

Parodi, Claudia. "Teatro de monjas en la Nueva Espana." De palabras, imagenes y simbolos: homenaje a Jose Pascual Buxo. Ed. Enrique Ballon Aguirre y Oscar Rivera Rodas. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 2002. 233-51.

Paz, Octavio. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1982.

Pena, Margarita. "'En el abismo de su nada': Sor Agustina de San Diego, la amiga de Sor Juana." Aproximaciones a Sor Juana. Ed. Sandra Lorenzano. Mexico: Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana; Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2005. 279-83.

Perea, Hector. "Oscillating Angles on the Face of Sor Juana." Artes de Mexico 25 (1995): 72-73.

Perelmuter, Rosa. "De la excepcionalidad a la impostura: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz ante la critica (1700-1950)." Los limites de la femineidad en Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: estrategias retoricas y recepcion literaria. Madrid: Iberoamericana; Frankfurt am Main, Vervuert, 2004. 93-125.

Ramos Medina, Manuel. "De lo que hacian las otras monjas novohispanas." Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz y sus contemporaneos." Ed. Margo Glantz. Mexico: Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Centro de Estudios de Historia de Mexico CONDUMEX, 1998. 45-51.

Rodriguez Cepeda, Enrique. "Las impresiones antiguas de las Obras de Sor Juana en Espana (un fenomeno olvidado)." Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz y las vicisitudes de la critica. Ed. Jose Pascual Buxo. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1998. 13-75.

Rosal, Fray Juan de Dios Mariano del. Los empenos de Santa Isabel en su casa. Sermon panegyrico. Mexico: Imprenta de la Biblioteca Mexicana, 1758.

Sten, Maria, and Raquel Gutierrez Estupinan, eds. No solo ayunos y oraciones: piezas teatrales menores en conventos de monjas (siglo xviii). Mexico: Facultad de Filosofia y Letras, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; Puebla: Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades Alfonso Velez Pliego, Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, 2007.

Tapia Mendez, Aureliano. "El autorretrato y los retratos de Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz." Memoria del coloquio internacional 'Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz y el pensamiento novohispano. 'Toluca: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura; Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico, 1995. 433-64.

Trabulse Elias. "El silencio final de Sor Juana." Sor Juana & Vieira, trescientos anos despues. Ed. K. Josu Bijuesca and Pablo A.J. Brescia. Santa Barbara: Center for Portuguese Studies, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1998. 143-55.

Frederick Luciani

Colgate University


(1) The volumes by Alatorre and De la Maza both collect, in chronological order, references to Sor Juana made by biographers, encyclopedists, other poets, etc., from the seventeenth century onward. An excellent overview of the arc of Sor Juana's fame and literary reputation, with references to some previous reception studies, can be found in Perelmuter.

(2) The bibliography on this topic has grown quite large, but some key studies and editions are those by Arenal and Schlau, Arenal and Sabat de Rivers, Lavrin, and Myers. The studies by Josefina Muriel were pioneering in this field and remain indispensable references.

(3) See my edition and preliminary study of the festejo (in Works Cited under Barruchi y Arana). Quotations in this article from the festejo are from this edition. The manuscript of the festejo is owned by the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.

(4) An excellent summary can be found in Benassy-Berling.

(5) Specifically, a defender of Sor Juana, the Jesuit Francisco Xavier Palavicino, delivered a sermon in San Jeronimo in 1691, lauding Sor Juana and her critique of Vieira while offering his own opinion on the theological point in question. Palavicino's sermon was published and promptly denounced to the Inquisition. The record of the views of the calificadores who reviewed the case reveals their hostility to Sor Juana's incursion into theological matters. See Camarena Castellanos for a complete explanation of the Palavicino case.

(6) "El teatro de sor Juana Ines de la Cruz en Manila, en 1709," Novedades, Sunday supplement to Mexico en la Cultura 145 (1951). I have not been able to consult this article directly, and take the reference from Paz 441.

(7) Alatorre includes portions of this Apologia a favor do R. P. Antonio Vieyra by "Soror Margarida Ignacia" [Luis Gonsalves Pinheiro] as well as the Spanish translation of 1731.

(8) Two important additions to the small corpus of extant convent theater for New Spain are: Claudia Parodi's edition of Cabrera y Quintero, which includes several theatrical pieces performed in convents or convent schools, some for the Marques de las Amarillas in 1756; and the edition by Sten and Guitierrez Estupinan of miscellaneous brief pieces performed in convents in the eighteenth century. See also Parodi's 2002 article and the prologue by Sten and Estupinan to their volume.

(9) See my introduction to Barruchi y Arana, pp. 16-21. In their preface to their collection of eighteenth-century Mexican convent theater, Sten and Gutierrez Estupinan helpfully include documents that shed light on official prohibitions or limitations of convent theater in the eighteenth century. Ramos Medina (50-51) cites a 1620 document from the Archivo General de Indias in which the king admonishes the archbishop of Mexico for permitting theater in convents, and for being present himself at such "representaciones indecentes".

(10) In Sor Juana's Obras completas, vol. 1, 177-87. See also Mendez Plancarte's notes 466-72.

(11) For the first months of the administration of the Marques de las Amarillas and the context of his visit to the convent of San Jeronimo, see my preliminary study to Barruchi y Arana 8-16. The Diario de sucesos notables for Mexico by Jose Manuel de Castro SantaAnna was an important source for reconstructing these events.

(12) In 1648, an English traveler in New Spain, Thomas Gage, had observed in his description of Mexico City that "gentlemen and citizens give their daughters to be brought up in these nunneries, where they are taught to make all sorts of conserves and preserves, all sorts of needlework, all sorts of music, which is so exquisite in that city that I dare be bold to say that the people are drawn to their churches more for the delight of the music than for any delight in the service of God. More, they teach these young children to act like players, and to entice the people to their churches, they make these children act short dialogues in their choirs, richly attiring them with men's and women's apparel ..." (72).

(13) For this aspect of the festejo, see the 2006 article by Luciani.

(14) I borrow the designation loas de festejo reales from the categorizations of the loa made by Cotarelo y Mori, pp. xxxii-xl.

(15) The unusual word dengues, which I take to be part of the phrase dengues de mi alma and have punctuated accordingly in my edition of the festejo, had a number of mean ings in the eighteenth century, usually with connotations of feminine affectation, delicacy, etc. Perhaps dengues de mi alma here is used as a term of endearment with which the elderly lady recalls a young--and somewhat flighty?--Juana Ines. See my introduction to Barruchi y Arana 57.

(16) On the late eighteenth-century convent reforms, and the prolonged efforts on the part of the nuns of New Spain to resist or forestall them, see Chowning, Kirk and Lavrin.
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