Travel, natural disasters, and the texts of cloistered nuns: a case from colonial Chile.
of Carmelite nuns resided in their cloistered convent next to the river. The rains started in May, but became a deluge in early June and by the time of the great flood, it had poured for 209 hours straight (Vicuna Mackenna 193-94). The nuns would have drowned, had it not been for some neighbors who broke a hole in one of the walls, leading the twenty-eight women to safety. Sor Tadea de San Joaquin, a nun from the Carmelite Convent of San Rafael, retells their story in a 516-versed romance [ballad] titled "Relacion de la inundacion que hizo el rio Mapocho de la ciudad de Santiago de Chile." (1) Written in octosyllabic metre Sor Tadea's poetic voice offers a unique opportunity to view one of the few instances that contemplative nuns were forced to leave their cloistered environment. The first verses of her poem convey a scene of torment and pain. In addition to setting the stage for the nuns' harrowing tale of escape, they also showcase Sor Tadea's adept use of the romance and her familiarity with Baroque and epic poetry:
!Que confuso laberinto, que Babilonia de efectos, que oceano de congojas! que torrente de tormentos, combaten mi corazon, queriendo sea mi pecho nueva palestra de penas, de martirios teatro nuevo, al relacionar el caso mas lastimoso, mas tierno, que en el asunto menciona en sus anales el tiempo. (2)
An analysis of the poem will shed light on the underlying reason that this Carmelite nun decided to depict the destruction of her convent in poetic verse. As illustrated by the quote above, Sor Tadea's verses combine a hybrid style of Baroque imagery and epic themes. In the first instance she incorporates mythological references ("Babilonia") using hyperbole and intense metaphors ("que oceano de congojas!"); and in the second, she recounts the nuns' traumatic escape from the flood, highlighting the ultimate meddle and persistence of the women to survive such a disaster ("al relacionar el caso / mas lastimoso, mas tierno, / que en el asunto menciona/ en sus anales el tiempo"). Ultimately the Carmelite nun draws on a variety of poetic traditions, including that of "disaster poetry," to compose her verses that were published within a year of the great flood. Sor Tadea's poem also serves as a touchstone to review other instances--some due to natural disaster, others for the establishment of new convents--that nuns ventured beyond the walls of their cloistered communities. In recent years more and more attention has been dedicated to the lives and writings of early modern nuns. Thanks to the efforts of landmark studies such as Cultura femenina novohispana by Josefina Muriel and Untold Sisters by Electa Arenal and Stacey Schlau, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Saint Teresa de Avila are no longer viewed as anomalies for their secular and religious works. The recognition of convent writing has opened the way to innovative studies on works written by women religious. (3) To this end, I turn to travel outside the cloister as a fresh approach to recently discovered or lesser-known texts.
To better understand the content and structure of Sor Tadea's poem, we need to take stock of the historical background and context of cloistered nuns in the early modern world. The precepts of the Council of Trent (1545-63) mandated that all female convents be cloistered. When an aspirant nun took her final vows of profession, she shut herself within the thick walls of the nunnery and metaphysically speaking became "dead to the secular world." Once inside a convent, this became her new home for the rest of her life, and it was extremely difficult to break those walls of seclusion. Some exceptions, however, did exist. One in particular, allowed for foundation journeys that enabled religious orders to establish new communities in other cities and even countries.
Specifically the Church gave permission to a select group of nuns to leave their home convents to found new ones. The Capuchin order for example, founded in Naples in 1535, soon spread throughout Spain and later into Mexico, Peru, Chile and then the rest of Latin America. For each new foundation, on average five nuns from an established convent, would voluntarily travel to the new location to teach future novices the ways of the order. In many instances, these nuns would write about their travels, leaving behind multiple documents, illustrating poignant stories that sometimes seem more reminiscent of a Hollywood movie script, rather than handwritten manuscripts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most commonly the women wrote letters back to their home convents and family members, but others penned foundation narratives (convent histories), and some crafted biographies of the founding mothers. While more of these documents are being re-discovered and published, many are still collecting dust in ecclesiastical and/or monastic archives, forgotten in convent libraries or personal collections. Unlike the publication of Sor Tadea's romance depicting the Carmelite's rescue and escape from their flooding convent, these travel documents were almost never published during the lifetime of the author. But the fact that they were not in print does not mean that they were not read. Female religious treasured these writings, circulating them widely among themselves.
Journeys to establish new communities could last anywhere from a few days to a few years. For example, it took only two days by carriage from Madrid to set up a Capuchin convent in Palencia, but three years when five Capuchin nuns left Madrid to found a new convent in Peru (1710-13). That travel odyssey, which occurred during the Spanish war of Succession, included a brush with Dutch corsairs, the loss of one of the five original nuns (she died of breast cancer in the port of Buenos Aires), and a trek across the Andes. With the help of one of her spiritual Sisters, the Abbess Maria Rosa, wrote a foundation narrative of their travels to Peru. (4) After setting down roots in Lima those Capuchins decided to sponsor another convent, this time in Santiago, Chile. On August 12, 1726 five nuns left Lima, boarded a ship in Callao and sailed down the coast to Valparaiso, Chile and then on to Santiago (the whole journey lasted approximately three months). The new abbess, Madre Maria Josepha Bernarda, was also one of the original founders from the home convent in Madrid (Sanchez Gaete 158-159). This example illustrates how some nuns continued their travels, at times living in two or three convents during their lifetime. Once established in a new convent, however, it was very rare that a nun would return to a previous one.
Perhaps the most remarkable case of a transoceanic journey involved the Spanish Franciscan, Madre Jeronima de la Asuncion (1555-1630). At the advanced age of 65 she left her convent in Toledo, Spain to travel all the way to Manila to establish the first convent in the Spanish Philippines. During the first part the epic journey, she stopped in Seville where she posed for three portraits by Diego de Velazquez (one now hangs in the Prado). Sor Jeronima made her overland trek across Spain with five nuns and two novices. Two more nuns joined her small entourage when they stopped in Mexico City. After six months in the capital, the small party mounted mules, making their way through mosquito infested swamps to the port of Acapulco on the Pacific. Many of the nuns lay in hammocks for days trying to recover from tropical fevers (one died aboard ship shortly after leaving Mexico). The group finally arrived in Manila on August 5, 1621, a year and a half after departing the Iberian Peninsula. Sor Jeronima lived another nine years in Manila before her death in 1630. Supposedly, she spent countless hours with pen in hand, but unfortunately her autobiography and other works have been lost. Her travel companion, Ana de Cristo, however, did write a biography and travel account of their journey from Spain to the Philippines. (5)
Sor Jeronima's missionary dreams did not end with her death. In 1634 six Spanish nuns and one novice left the cloister in Manila to travel to the Portuguese colony of Macao to found the first Franciscan convent on the Chinese mainland. One, Maria Magdalena de la Cruz, who had originally traveled from Spain with Sor Jeronima, wrote an autobiography (now lost), and two mystical works, including a lengthy and complicated text called "Floresta franciscana de ilustraciones celestials cogidas al hilo de la oracion en la aurora de Maria." (6) The Spanish nuns had to return to Manila in 1644 when all the Spaniards were expelled from Macao. On their way back to Manila, a Mandarin fleet captured the ship and sentenced everyone on board to death. Although the details are sketchy, Sor Maria Magdalena received a pardon, and she and her companions, returned to their Philippine convent in 1645 (Barbeito Cameiro 353-59).
These stories, many of which are narrated in first person accounts by the nuns themselves, tell true tales of adventure on land and the high seas. Others can be found in biographies about women written by their male confessors or other ecclesiastical authorities. At times the secondary works make direct use of the first person accounts by transcribing entire passages or even chapters and often without giving credit to the original female author. With a little detective work, male-authored biographies provide many useful clues to finding more and more of these forgotten women and their original voice. For example, in the case above, two male biographers (Quesada and Letona) borrowed liberally from Sor Ana de Cristo's writings on Sor Jeronima. Their works were published, unlike Sor Ana's.
Texts written by both men and women reveal the resilient and determined nature of intrepid founders. Not all monastic orders sent nuns across the ocean, since for the most part ecclesiastical authorities saw this as a difficult and dangerous endeavor. The Carmelites, for example, established their first communities in Mexico with "criollas" or "peninsulares" already living in the New World (Ramos Medina 51-94). The first seed convents later sent nuns to found other communities as was the case with Chile. The three founding mothers of the first Carmelite convent in Santiago came from a nunnery in Chuquisaca (modern day Sucre, Bolivia) (El area 40-41). They traveled by mule and by foot, a distance of over one thousand miles via Potosi, Salta, across the Andes at the Paso de San Francisco (4,400 meters), and then down to Santiago from Copiapo and La Serena. On January 6, 1690, after seven months on the road, the nuns founded the Convent of Carmen de San Jose. Added to the daunting task of crossing those lonely and deserted lands, throughout the journey the nuns had to endure bitter infighting between the Carmelite Friar Juan de la Concepcion and the Corregidor of Santiago, Gaspar de Ahumada, each of whom wanted jurisdiction over the women and their future community (Rosales 109-16).
Eighty years later on October 25, 1770 four nuns from the Convent of Carmen de San Jose left their cloister to establish the new Convent of Carmen de San Rafael. At the time, Santiago, Chile had a population of approximately 20,000 inhabitants and seven convents (Viforcas Marinas 229-58). The sole benefactor of this second convent and soon-to-be home of Tadea Garcia de la Huerta, was Luis Manuel de Zaflartu, the Corregidor y Justicia Mayor de Santiago (also known for his construction of the Calicanto Bridge over the Mapocho River).7 Originally from Onate, Spain, he had acquired considerable wealth as a politician and landholder in Santiago. After his wife had died, leaving him with two small girls, Zanartu decided to found a convent that would assure their future and his own legacy. (8)
Tadea Garcia de la Huerta took her vows as the sixth nun of the convent only ten days after the foundation. She, like the majority of nuns in this community, hailed from a wealthy criollo family in Santiago. Her parents were Pedro Garcia de la Huerta and Maria Ignacia Rosales (daughter of a lawyer of the Real Audiencia). Tadea had one sister, Francisca de Paula, and two brothers, Pedro Anselmo, and Miguel--a lawyer educated in Lima (Rosales 174). Although the nuns of the Convent of San Rafael professed as part of Saint Teresa's reformed Carmelite order, they brought with them dowries and servants to the convent, making it one of the wealthiest of Santiago. This shows that the ascetic lifestyle for Carmelite nuns, originally planned by the Spanish saint some two hundred years earlier, had waned by the eighteenth century in the capital of Chile. Luis Manuel de Zanartu spared no expense in the construction of the cloister and church, all built on his land by the Mapocho River. A pen and water color painting from 1773 showcases the grandeur of the buildings and the idyllic backdrop of the Andes. (9) On an interesting side note, the first brick was laid on the same day as the expulsion of the Jesuits on August 25, 1767. Sor Tadea's father, Pedro Garcia de la Huerta, "capitan de milicias en Santiago" had been commissioned to help in the expulsion (Rosales 174).
Although Sor Tadea might not have heard of these aforementioned cases of traveling nuns (let alone their travel oeuvre), indisputably as a Carmelite, she would have known about Saint Teresa (1515-1582) and her reformation of the Carmelite Order. The nun from Avila had been deeply disturbed by the excesses and lavish standard of living that she witnessed in convents of Spain. Spurred by her desire to reform the Carmelite Order (but also ordered by the Carmelite Prior General, Juan Bautista Rubeo de Ravenna) Teresa of Avila had trekked across Spain, founding seventeen new nunneries.
In addition to her travels, Teresa followed her intellectual vocation by penning spiritual and mystical texts, including Libro de la vida, a semi-autobiographical work. These texts (along with letters) spread rapidly, even before their publication, in convents across Spanish America. After the canonization of the saint in 1622 (only forty years after her death), nuns and "beatas" felt bolstered by her success. In the words of Stacey Schlau, "Her life, as represented in her writings and the legends that developed about her, became a how-to manual, a blueprint for maintaining orthodoxy while expressing some aspect of the newly conceptualized self' (290). In essence, Saint Teresa paved the way for other religious women to put quill to parchment, adding to the genre of convent literature.
The widespread success of Teresa's travels, writings, and later sainthood, stood as a role model for Sor Tadea and her predecessors. For example, the nuns from Chuquisaca brought with them a sack full of books including Saint Teresa's Constituciones (1680), "Cartas de Santa Teresa de Jesus con notas de Palafox" (1662) and Obras de San Juan de la Cruz (1672) ("El arca" 81). Sor Tadea herself was clearly an educated and well-read woman. Not only did she have the personality and administrative capabilities to serve three times as abbess of her convent, but she was capable of penning works such as the romance discussed here, demonstrating her ability to follow measured syllabic constraints and set rhyme schemes.
Next to the sonnet, the romance was one of the most common genres in Spanish Baroque poetry and much like epic poetry, the romance lent itself to telling a story because it did not require a set number of stanzas or verses. This poetic form first became established in Spain at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries. The first romances were bom from a combination of European ballads and epic poetry. Over the centuries, multiple variations of the romance evolved, both thematically and stylistically. This became especially true with the emergence of the romance in the New World (Diaz Roig 301-16). Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, for example, employed all different manifestations of the romance. Not only did she opt from a tapestry of metric forms ("pentasilabos, hexasilabos, heptasilabos, octosilabos, decasilablos, endecasilabos"), but she also wove these verses into a variety of loas, autosacramentales, comedias and villanciscos. Moreover, she chose from a diverse array of themes--from amorous and historical--to religious and biblical (Poot-Herrera 189-207).
Like Sor Juana, many other colonial poets composed romances. Chile, for example, produced a large quantity of romances and, in the words of Ramon Menendez Pidal, "en Chile encontre una abundancia de romances comparable a la de cualquier region de Espana" (20). Undoubtebly Sor Tadea drew on this rich tradition poetic tradition. (10) In reference to Sor Tadea's poem, Juan Uribe Echevarria notes, "La lectura detenida de sus 516 versos obliga a una revision mas o menos estricta de todo lo que desde Europa pudo influir literariamente en la fina sensibilidad de una aristocratica monja enclaustrada en la lejana capital del Reyno de Chile" (198). His study compares Sor Tadea's style with that of Juan Luis de Gongora, Pedro Calderon de la Barca, and even Saint John of the Cross. Uribe Echevarria finds many elements of the Baroque tradition in her poem, such as references to Greek Gods (Neptune) and ancient cities (Babylon), her recreation of the River Mapocho as a mythical place, and her repeated use of hyperbole. He also examines what he calls the tradition of "poesia barroca de catastrofes" and contrasts Sor Tadea's poetic voice with others from South America, including Juan del Valle y Caviedes who wrote the romance, "Al terremoto acaecido en Lima el 20 de octubre de 1687," and with an anonymous author whose verses depicted the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1746 in "Rasgo historico sobre la ruina de Lima e inundacion del Callao" (168-89).
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Lima on October 28, 1746 is considered colonial Peru's worst natural disaster. The tsunami itself wiped out most of Callao's population and the estimated 430 aftershocks between October 28 and February 16 left most of Lima's population without homes and fearful for their lives. The earthquake did not spare cloistered nuns, many of whom perished during the event, and some of whom were reported walking around dazed after climbing out of the rubble (Walker 15-46). The women religious were especially vulnerable because of their precarious housing situation: "The cloistered nature of convents, with their high walls, labyrinthine layout, and few entrances and exits as well as their relatively rustic materials, made them especially dangerous" (Walker 67).
The above-mentioned anonymous poem, "Rasgo historico" sheds light on this situation by referring directly to 12 nuns who succumbed to the crumbling walls of their Carmelite convent: "Del Carmelo monjas doce,/!yo no se, como lo digo,!/ son victimas inocentes/de este golpe repentino" and a few stanzas later it describes the remaining nuns left wandering the streets of Lima: "Este es el mayor dolor/ de cuantos Lima ha sufrido!/ Ver sin amparo en las calles/ tantas esposas de Cristo" (Uribe Echevarria 175). It was precisely because of such natural disasters and their effects on religious communities that the Council of Trent (in addition to the previously mentioned proviso for foundations j oumeys) granted nuns permission to leave the thick walls of their nunneries when faced with imminent death by nature or war.
In our own day, we are constantly hearing about devastating earthquakes and tsunamis in places like Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, Japan and Thailand, not to mention the destruction caused by hurricanes, tomados and colossal floods even closer to home, so it comes as no surprise that these graphic depictions of destruction loomed large in the mindset of the early modern milieu. More recent studies of these natural disasters, in particular the Lisbon earthquake that flattened the capital of Portugal on November 1, 1755, have reassessed these historical events, and why many people feared not only the physical consequences of natural disasters, but also God's wrath as a way to punish the collective sins of a city. After the quake in Lisbon, Portugal became the center of a fierce debate between those who saw these natural catastrophes as a punishment from God, while others explained them as random acts of nature. This debate culminated with the condemnation and burning of the Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida who was denounced by Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho e Melo, better known as the Marquis of Pombal. Pombal's accusations of heresy against Malagrida were intertwined with his bitter dispute against the Jesuits in general. In 1761, after languishing in prison for six years, Malagrida, who supported the theory that earthquakes were punishment from God, was put to death by the Portuguese Inquisition. (11)
It is possible that Sor Tadea knew about this debate and the outcome of Malagrida's trial--after all, as mentioned earlier, her father was a key player in the expulsion of the Jesuits from Santiago. Regardless of her knowledge of the subject, in her poem she does not attribute the great flood to God's anger, nor does she mention the punishment caused by sins. If anything, she voices her discontent that the Creator would allow his own sacred buildings to be flooded: "Solo dabamos las quejas/ al Divino sacramento,/ de permitir se aterviese/ aquel turbido elemento/ a inundar su Templo santo." Immediately following these verses, she juxtaposes her initial disappointment with God, expressing their complete devotion to him--the nuns hope he will take them away in his eternal fire, before they drown in the flood. She writes:
Difundiamos el alma con el agua a nuestro Dueno deseando ser por su amor holocaustos de su fuero, antes que fuesen las vidas de la inundacion trofeo.
In the Christian tradition of Imitatio Christi (followed by laypeople as well as ecclesiastics), Sor Tadea offers up their imminent death by drowning as a way to imitate Christ's suffering on the cross. This natural disaster gives the nuns an opportunity to prove their true devotion to their beloved Bridegroom. Yet, she goes on to say, it was not God's wish that the women die in this manner:
Sarah E. Owens
Mas aquel Dios de piedades, favorecer propenso, que puso a Isaac en el Monte, por probar su rendimiento, y sin descargar el golpe, le fue el sacrificio acepto; ordeno, que sobornados tres hombres con el dinero, y tambien de compasivos, no reparasen el riesgo y arrojandose a las aguas surcando mares de hielo, aportasen al compas;
As illustrated by this section of the poem, Sor Tadea affirms that it was God's will that the nuns be saved by the three men (she does not leave out the ironic detail that they had to be "sobornados" (bribed). While she does not elucidate whether God sent the flood as a type of divine punishment, she does make clear that their salvation was not a random act, but something predestined by the Creator himself. Furthermore, throughout the poem, she positions herself and Carmelite Sisters as God's beloved Brides of Christ and thus worthy of earthly charity (and ultimately patronage for the rebuilding of their convent). She also pays homage to the Church mandates; that they not leave their convent without the blessing of the ecclesiastical authorities. Sor Tadea emphasizes this point when she describes the arrival of the three men:
Discurrieron por los claustros Dando voces y diciendo Que nuestro Ilustre Prelado Nos imponia precepto, y nos mandaba salir sin excusa ni pretexto
Even though the Council of Trent could have viewed this as a dire circumstance between life and death, it appears that with these words, Sor Tadea provided the nuns with an extra insurance policy. With the authorization of the bishop of Santiago, Don Manuel de Alday y Aspee, the women had the official right to abandon their cloistered convent and therefore would not be subject to persecution for leaving.
Once the three men had reached the nuns in the choir, they realized that they could not return the way they had come (they had originally entered through the "tomo" or turn [the revolving door that the nuns used to communicate with visitors]), since the flood waters had reached precarious levels: "Avistamos nuestros claustros,/ que hechos lagunas de cieno/ no daban margen alguno/ para transitar sin riesgo." They had to break a hole in the wall for the group to escape, so tiny that Sor Tadea describes their experience as being squeezed through an olive press: "fue el taladro tan pequeno,/ que al salir, mas que aceituna,/ se nos aprensaba el cuerpo"). The nuns only managed to bring with them one item, a crucifix: "No sacamos con nosotras,/ mas que nuestro dulce Dueno,/que pendiente de la cruz/ nos daba a sufrir ejemplo." Her metaphor of comparing the small hole with the size of an olive, not only emphasizes the gravity of the situation, but also makes for lively and even humorous reading; an attribute that surely would have endeared the women's experience with the reader.
After they climbed through the small gap the nuns were at the complete mercy of the men who had saved them. They could no longer shelter themselves from the outside world--now both physical and spiritual bonds had been broken and the journey forced them back into the milieu that they had known before profession. At first, the men took the nuns to a nearby ranch, but again the situation became dire when the flood waters kept rising: "Alli estuvimos un rato,/ pero era con igual riesgo,/ porque las altivas olas/estremecian el suelo." Sor Tadea makes a point in this section of narrating the rough manner in which some of the men treated the nuns, even pushing them into the mud and laughing at them. She writes: "cuando en brazos de los peones/ nos transportaban sin tiento;/ y a unas las tomaban mal,/ a otras echaban al suelo,/ y algunas bien embarradas,/ eran de la risa objeto." The humiliating and even dangerous situation provides a sharp contrast to the comic metaphor of the olive press in the previous section. It also increases the dramatic tension of their precarious situation outside the cloister.
The dramatic tension is soon diminished when they receive word that the prior from a community of Recollect Dominican friars had offered to provide them safe refuge. Sor Tadea refers to the prior as "aquel Moises verdadero," who like the biblical Moses, was about to lead the nuns to the Promised Land (in this case to the security of his monastery). Continuing the biblical metaphor, Sor Tadea, states that this journey, like the trek across the desert, was not without great trials for the nuns. Immediately following her reference to Moses, she describes the unsafe path to the Dominican monastery. The carriages in which the nuns rode struggled against torrential rain, hail, and flooded streets:
Mas no faltaron desgracias si acaso pudieron serlo los trabajos de los justos: mas quiero decir en esto, que se continuo el crisol, y pruebas de Nuestro Dueno; pues, como el llover seguia, era indispensable efecto, que los carros se calasen de aguas de cielo, y de suelo, y penetrasen agudas a las de su furia objeto, que a no informarlas amor, se transformaron en hielo
When the nuns finally arrived at the Dominican monastery, not only were they soaked and bone tired, but they had lost their shoes, their clothes, and all of the convent's valuables. The friars found lodging for them and their servants in a building separated from their main monastery. The quarters were very cramped for the 28 women. They had the use of 13 small cells--4 of which they used for their offices and the rest for sleeping (5 women per cell).
Despite these adverse conditions, Sor Tadea once again sings the praise of the Dominican prior, this time mentioning him directly by his name, Fray Sebastian Diaz, and calling him "el mas cabal sujeto,/ que han producido las Indias." (12) As to the Dominican friars, she dubs them "angeles en terreo cuerpo." Her high praise of these men is reminiscent of the foundation narratives, such as the one mentioned earlier by Madre Maria Rosa about the Capuchin convent in Peru. The last few pages of that text list all the patrons who donated money and time to make the new convent in Lima a reality. It is also calls for new donors, a necessity for the upkeep of the community.
Sor Tadea's poem carefully mentions the Dominican friars as their saviors and providers. Her words imply that others should emulate the generosity of the religious, not the rough treatment of the townsmen. She even states that some of the friars gave the women their own footwear, since many of them had lost their cloth sandals in the muddy waters. She writes: "Pues ni aun en las alpargatas/ recibieron detrimento;/ pero a otras les fue preciso,/ el andar por algun tiempo/ con zapatos de los Padres,/ hasta que fueron hacienda." Nonetheless, these small acts of kindness could not prevent many of the women from falling gravely ill: subsequently, one of the servants died: "Con enfermamos de nuevo/ y muy pocas se exceptuaron,/ de no estarlo en este tiempo,/ y vino a coronar la obra/ una criada muriendo."
Sor Tadea spends the rest of the poem explaining the nuns' will to rebuild and return to their original convent. For three months following the flood, the Carmelites lived under the protection of the Dominican friars. During that time they tried their best to fashion a makeshift convent, rejoicing in the garden, the fact that they had a small choir and chapel, and a place to keep their beloved monstrance--the only item that a friar had saved from their original convent. She refers to these as temporary quarters since their ultimate desire was to rebuild the original structure. This was not any easy task, since according to Sor Tadea, "dire solo lo inundo/ todo, y parte boto." She describes the plan to relocate part of the convent to higher ground and to shore it up with bricks and cement. The rebuilding efforts, however, were still in the planning stages when the poem was written; according to her final four verses, the outcome is in God's hands: "El Senor lo determine,/ si es su voluntad hacerlo,/ y de no, se cumpla en todo/ su beneplacito eterno."
Did Sor Tadea really want to leave the fate of her future home only up to God's will as her final verses imply or was this an astute call to wealthy patrons in Santiago? Although I do not doubt Sor Tadea's true faith and trust in God, an analysis of these verses also leads me to believe that she was a realist; without the help of wealthy patrons, or at the very least richly dowered novices, the women simply did not have the wherewithal to re-build their convent. The founder and sole benefactor of the convent, Don Luis Manuel Zanartu had died a year earlier in 1782. Although he had left the majority of his fortune to the convent (his only two daughters were founding nuns), there had been continuous lawsuits by Zanartu 's heirs in Spain, contesting the legality of his will (Rosales 183-98).
Sor Tadea constructs the poem as a call for help. In order to best formulate her request, she chooses the genre of the romance, one of the most popular verse structures of the time period, entrenched in a strong tradition of poetry from Luis de Gongora in Spain to Juan del Valle y Caviedes in Peru. Not only do the very first verses of the poem exhibit her knowledge of this genre, but they also appeal to the Baroque sensibility, still thriving in Chile during her lifetime. (13) She skillfully adds elements of dramatic tension, and even comic relief, to entice the reader and to make him or her sympathetic to their dire situation. She also appears to be quite familiar with poetry and debates surrounding natural disasters, specifically the earthquake/tsunami that hit Lima in 1746 and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. In an age without newspapers, television, or social media, Sor Tadea would still have had a wide readership for her poem--many people were anxious to find out what happened to the nuns. Thus, a romance with its open-ended length, allowed the nun as many verses as she desired to convey her request for patronage.
From the beginning of the poem Sor Tadea assembles her verses as a platform to emphasize the nuns' unique relationship with Christ. On a spiritual level God did not forsake the women, but on a physical level they had lost everything: their home, their worldly possessions (looters had ransacked the convent) and ultimately their way of life. The story told in these verses would have been a good opportunity for healing and catharsis. Sor Tadea acted as a voice for all the nuns and servants living in the convent; her verses vented their grief and expressed their trauma. Sor Tadea refers to these "penas" in the opening verses and repeats them later on when she describes the death of the servant. After reading these lines one cannot help but feel the overwhelming tragedy and grief of these women. The poem also elucidates the dangers to women outside the sheltered walls of the convent as depicted in the rough treatment by the local townsmen. Sor Tadea, nonetheless, contrasts their dismal situation with elements of hope, inserting information about people who are instrumental in saving the lives of the nuns and their servants: three neighborhood men who rescue the women from imminent drowning by breaking a hole in the convent's wall (albeit they were paid); a Moses-like figure who leads the women to higher ground; and the Dominican friars who provide makeshift lodging while the nuns dream of rebuilding their original nunnery. Sor Tadea metamorphosizes the heroism of these ordinary men onto a higher plane, one that echoes the Baroque images of classical myths (Wagschal 130-50). One by one, Sor Tadea fashions these events into structural elements of the poem, as a way to solicit patronage for a new convent.
In order to obtain this goal, the poem was published in Lima within a year of the flood (either at the end of 1783 or the beginning of the following year). An excerpt from the original title page reads: "Escrita en verso octosilabo por una religiosa del mismo monasterio, que la remitio a su confesor, que se hallaba ausente, de cuyas manos la hubo un dependiente de la Autora, quien la da a la estampa." Rosales lists the poet's two brothers as Pedro Garcia de la Huerta (who sent the poem to Lima) and Miguel Garcia de la Huerta (a lawyer educated in Lima). Perhaps it is a coincidence, but it appears more than likely that Miguel's connections in Lima could have helped to expedite the publication process (174). Although the title page fails to mention Sor Tadeaby name, this does not take away from the achievement of her publication; very few colonial women ever saw their works in print--showcasing how Sor Tadea's poetic prowess, trumped her gender. We know that Sor Tadea and her community moved back into their convent approximately one year after the flood (161). There are also documents showing that new nuns started professing and paying dowries as early as 1785, proof that well-to-do parents supported the re-opening of the convent (Cano Roldan 614). Sor Tadea lived many more years in the new convent; she died on December 24, 1827. (14)
Since the great flood of the Mapocho, the convent has survived other natural disasters--both natural and human-made. There was another flood ini 827 and a powerful earthquake in 1850. The famous architect Fermin Vivaceta renovated the convent in the 1870's, rebuilding the severely damaged tower. In 1958 the nuns decided to leave the original building and move to a quieter neighborhood (they now live in an area called La Reina). Fearing that the original convent would be demolished, the Carmelite nuns paid for its restoration. Subsequently, the church was declared a National Monument in 1983 ("El area" 93-95). The fact that the convent was eventually rebuilt and the community still exists today is at least due in part to Sor Tadea's literary talent.
Sor Tadea's vibrant poem and survival story reveals just one example of what lies behind the history of so many convents in the Iberian Atlantic and Pacific world, much of which is still left to be uncovered. Whether it was due to natural disaster or the purpose of founding a new community, a small cohort of women religious ventured beyond the cloister. Some women voluntarily left their walls of seclusion, as in the case of the nuns who journeyed to Peru, or Madre Jeronima who founded the first convent in the Philippines, but others, forced by floods or earthquakes, had no other choice but to flee the destructive forces of nature. Regardless of the circumstances, their travels, officially permitted by the Church, resulted in some remarkable texts. (15)
Arenal, Electa and Stacey Schlau, eds. Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Works. Trans. Amanda Powell. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1989.
Barbeito Cameiro, Maria Isabel. Mujeres y literatura del siglo de oro. Espacios profanos y espacios conventuales. Madrid: SAFEKAT, 2007.
Cano Roldan, Sor Imelda. La mujer en el reyno de Chile. Municipilidad de Chile: Santiago, 1980.
Diaz, Monica. Indigenous Writings from the Convent. Negotiating Ethnic Autonomy in Colonial Mexico. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2010.
Diaz Roig, Mercedes. "El romance en America."Fi?storia de la literatura hispanoamericana. Epoca colonial. Tomo 1. Ed. Luis Inigo Madrigal. Madrid: Ediciones Catedra, 1982. 301-16.
El arca de las tres llaves. Cronica del monasterio de carmelitas descalzas de San Jose. Santiago: Cochrane, 1989.
Henriquez Urena, Pedro. "The Baroque in America" (1940). Baroque New Worlds. Representation, Transculturation, Counterconquest. Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Monika Kaup. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. 200-08.
Lavrin, Asuncion, and Rosalva Loreto L., eds. Dialogos espirituales. Manuscritos femeninos hispanoamericanos. Siglos XVI-XIX. Puebla: Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, Benemerita Universidad Autonoma, 2006.
Letona, Bartholome de, Perfecta religiosa. Puebla: Por la viuda de Juan de Boija, 1662.
Maria Rosa, madre. Journey of Five Capuchin Nuns. Ed. and trans. Sarah E. Owens. Toronto: Iter and CRRS, 2009.
Maxwell, Kenneth. "The Jesuit and the Jew. The Lisbon Earthquake in Modem Perspective" ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America 6.2 (Winter, 2007): 17-18.
Menendez Pidal, Ramon. Los romances de America y otros estudios. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1972.
Muriel, Josefina. Cultural femenina novohispana. Mexico City: Universidad Nactional Autonoma de Mexico, 1982.
Myers, Kathleen. "Crossing Boundaries: Defining the Field of Female Religious Writing in Colonial Latin America." Colonial Latin American Review 9 (2000): 151-65.
Ortega, Francisco. "Political Memory. Earthquakes during the Colonial Period" ReVista. Harvard Review of Latin America 6.2 (Winter, 2007): 22-27.
Poot-Herrera, Sara. '"Romances de amiga' Finezas poeticas de Sor Juana," Esto, de nuestra America pupila. Estudios de poesia colonial. Ed. Georgina Sabat de Rivers. Houston: Society for Renaissance & Baroque Hispanic Poetry, 1999. 189-207.
Quesada, Gines de. Exemplo de todas las virtudes y vida milagrosa de la venerable madre Geronimo de la Assumpcion. Madrid: Antonio de Marin, 1717.
Ramos Medina, Manuel. Misticas y descalzas. Fundaciones femeninas carmelitas en la Nueva Espana. Mexico City: Servicios Condumex, 1997.
Rosales, Justo Abel. La Canadilla de Santiago. Ed. Ariadna Biotti, Bemadita Eltit and Javiera Ruiz. Sangria Editora: Santiago, 2010.
Ruano, Pedro. Jeronima de la Asuncion. Quezon City: Monasterio de Santa Clara, 1992.
Sanchez Gaete, Marcial. "En las puertas del cielo, clarisas capuchinas de Santiago de Chile," Los franciscanos en Chile: Una historia de 450 anos. Eds. Rene Millar Carvacho and Horacio Aranguiz Donoso. Santiago: Academia Chilena de la Historia, 2005. 149-69.
Schlau, Stacey. "Following Saint Teresa: Early Modem Women and Religious Authority" MLN117 (2002): 286-309.
Toribio Medina, Jose and Guillermo Feliu Cruz. Bibliografia de la imprenta en Santiago de Chile desde sus origenes hasta febrero 1817. Santiago: Impreso en casa del autor, 1891.
Trivino, Maria Victoria, ed. Escritoras clarisas espanolas. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1992.
Udias, Agustin. "Earthquakes as God's punishment in 17th- and 18th-century Spain." Geology and Religion: A History of Harmony and Hostility. Ed. M. Kolbl-Ebert. London: Geological Society, Special Publication 310, 2009. 41-48.
Uribe Echevarria, Juan. "El romance de sor Tadea de San Joaquin sobre la inundacion que hizo el rio Mapocho en 1783" La Revista Mapocho 3 (octubre 1963): 159-98.
Viforcos Marinas, Maria Isabel. "Anhelos de espiritualidad en los claustros chilenos: algunas respuestas heterodoxas," Historias compartidas. Religiosidad y reclusion femenina en Espana, Portugal y America. Siglos XV-X1X. Ed. Maria Isabel Viforcos Marinas and Rosalva Loreto Lopez. Leon: Universidad de Leon, 2007. 229-58.
Vargas Ugarte, Ruben, ed. Relaciones de viajes (Siglo XVI, XVII y XVIII). Lima: Biblioteca Historica Peruana, 1947.
Vicuna Mackenna, Benjamin. Historia de Santiago. Tomo II. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 1938.
Vista del Convento de la Carmelitas Descalzas de San Raphael de Santiago de Chile" Sala Goya, MR/45FACS. 11.
Wagschal, Steven. "Writing on the Fractured "I": Gongora's Iconographic Evocations of Vulcan, Venus, and Mars." Writing for the Eyes in the Spanish Golden Age. Ed. Frederick A. de Armas. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2004. 130-150.
Walker, Charles F., Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru and Its Long Aftermath. Durham: Duke UP, 2008.
Sarah E. Owens
College of Charleston
(1) She is also known as Sor Tadea Garcia de la Huerta (her family last name before becoming a mm).The convent was also known commonly as Carmen de la Canadilla (Carmen refers to the Carmelite order and Canadilla to the neighborhood in Santiago).
(2) All excerpts of the poem in this paper come from Sor Imelda Cano Roldan (389-399). For another version of the poem see Juan Uribe Echevarria (190-97).
(3) For more primary documents written by Latin American women religious, see Asuncion Lavrin and Rosalva Loreto's Dialogos espirituales and for Spanish nuns, see Maria Victoria Triviflo's Escritoras clarisas espanolas. See Kathleen Arm Myers for a discussion on the field of convent writing. See Menica Diaz's Indigenous Writings from the Convent. Negotiating Ethnic Autonomy in Colonial Mexico, as one example of an innovative approach to convent writing (using a lens of race and gender).
(4) In Relaciones de viajes (siglo XVI, XVIIy XVIII) Ruben Vargas Ugarte has included a chapter with the Spanish version (259-381). For an English translation see Sarah E. Owens.
(5) The manuscript is preserved in the Convent of Santa Isabel in Toledo. Some of Sor Jeronima's original correspondence has been conserved in Sor Ana de Cristo's biography and also in Gines de Quesada's, Exemplo de todas las virtudes y vida milagrosa de la venerable madre Geronimo de la Assumpcion. For an English translation of some of these letters see Pedro Ruano (79-96). Sor Ana's manuscript is the focus of my current book project funded by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
(6) The three volume manuscript can be found in the Archivo Franciscano Ibero-Oriental (AFIO), Madrid.
(7) Zanartu used Araucano Indian prisoners to build the bridge and convent. Rosales provides a colorful overview of the charges brought against Zanartu for his mistreatment of the prisoners (125-34).
(8) His two daughters, dona Teresa de Jesus and Maria de Dolores entered the convent at ages 9 and 7 respectively, but neither took their vows of profession until age 16. They each had dowries of 20,000 pesos. See Rosales (124).
(9) The original painting is in the Archivo de Indias in Seville. I was able to see a facsimile copy in the National Library in Madrid: "Vista del Convento de la Carmelitas Descalzas de San Raphael de Santiago de Chile." The painting ended up in the Archive of Indies, because in 1793 the convent still needed more funding for repairs after the flood. The nuns sent the painting to the King of Spain asking for a donation to restore the convent to its original grandeur as depicted in the work. There is a small descriptive pamphlet that accompanies the facsimile copy published by Testimonio Compania Editorial (2001).
(10) In the words of Ramon Menendez Pidal: "en Chile encontre una abundancia de romances comparable a la de cualquier region de Espana" (20).
(11) n 1759 the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal and its empire (Maxwell 17-18). For more on this debate in colonial Latin America see Francisco Ortega (22-27). For the debate in Spain see Agustin Udias (41-48).
(12) In 1783 Fray Sebastian brought one of the first printing presses with him to Santiago from Lima or Buenos Aires, but that year he had only printed a handful of texts explaining why Sor Tadea's poem would have been sent to Lima (Toribio Medina and Feliu Cruz 11-13). For a bibliography of Fray Sebastian Diaz's publications see Rosales (182).
(13) Pedro Henriquez Urena's classic essay argues that the Baroque in America persisted well into the eighteenth century (202).
(14) Her birthday is unknown, but if in 1770 she professed at approximately the age of eighteen, that would make her 75 in at the time of her death in 1827.
(15) I would like to thank Jodi Bilinkoff for providing very helpful commentary on this article. I am also grateful to travel funding from my institution (Global Scholars, The Center for International Education and The Department of Hispanic Studies) to conduct research for this essay at the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.
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|Author:||Owens, Sarah E.|
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2013|
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