MARY OF AGREDA
THE MEANING OF THE LADY IN BLUE
completion of Benavides’ inquiry, Mary’s visitations to the Native Americans
who knew her as the Lady in Blue drew to a close. But what took place after
the inquiry is nevertheless relevant to interpreting her seventeenth-century
cloistered life in its totality and for its contribution to American
As it happened, soon after Benavides' departure from the town of Agreda, the Mother Abbess' administrative position at the convent came up for renewal. Since she had always dreaded this responsibility, she begged to be released from it. Undoubtedly, she had been assured that Benavides' his staff of workers in New Mexico would be increased and that there would be no need for further assistance from her. It is altogether possible that she may have been glad to see the end to that distressing period when she had suffered from the criticism of her companion sisters as well as from some of her superiors who looked askance upon her trances, levitations, and manifestations of preternatural activity.
In 1627, two years after becoming abbess, she had had an experience that convinced her she was being called to write the biography of the Virgin Mother. She felt incapable of the task because of her lack of education, and therefore was reluctant to accept the assignment. Nevertheless, under her vow of obedience, she had no choice but to acquiesce.
From what she wrote about her American teleportations, her paranormal activities were known to have exhausted her. For this reason she may have felt physically incapable of continuing her missionary work in America while at the same time administering the affairs of her convent in Spain, and writing the voluminous work. It must have been a relief, then, when the apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Julius Rospliogse, refused to ask for the dispensation the Church in Rome required for one so young to be an abbess. She was happy to serve the convent simply as a nun from 1632 to 1635, but did have to resume the burdensome office of superioress again at the end of this three year rest and continued in that capacity until her death in 1665.
Father Francis Andrea de la Torre was her father confessor during this period and two years later, in 1637, he judged she had grown to such spiritual awareness she should begin writing the long biography. This she accomplished, writing it in three parts, a task that took her eight years to complete.
When King Philip IV of Spain heard about her City of God, he asked the Mother Abbess for a copy. She demurred, he persisted, and then she relented. The Reverend de la Torre, who was her father confessor at the time, keeping the matter a secret, supplied him with a copy. Philip submitted it to several eminent theologians who praised it so extravagantly that the King then asked Mother Agreda to become his advisor, not only in matters of his soul, but also of his State. For the next twenty-two years the two were to correspond daily, with Philip writing his questions on the left-hand side of the page, and the saintly nun giving her solutions to his problems on the blank, right-hand portion. These letters are extant today, although as yet not translated into English. To read them is to realize that Mother Agreda was a woman of intellectual capacity as well as of extensive psychic ability.
Before the City of God was published, Father de la Torre was sent to Toledo on a special assignment, and while he was there, another spiritual director was placed in charge of Mother Agreda. When the new director learned of her having written the Mystical City of God, he ordered her to burn it, saying that a woman was not supposed to write on such sublime matters. The Mother Abbess, under obedience, complied with the harsh request, and the manuscript that had required eight years of painstaking effort went up in smoke. When Father de la Torre returned to resume his direction over her spiritual life, however, he reprimanded her for following an unjust order without having sought further guidance and issued her a new order, to rewrite the City of God.
It is understandable that Mother Agreda now became so ill that it was impossible to comply with the new command. However, Father de la Torre did not press her; he was as prudent as he was kind. Rather, he concentrated on helping her achieve a spiritual growth that would create in her both desire and energy to do what she had originally been called upon to do. As Agreda later wrote in the introduction of one of the four volumes titled The Coronation, numerous persons whom she had respected discouraged the endeavor. She, in fact, experienced so "many disturbances among the religious under her charge that her time was taken up in tending to the welfare of the community."(1) She also added that she could not know “such interior peace as is necessary for and befitting the actual enlightenment and intelligence concerning the mysteries to be treated of."
Then, quite suddenly, Father de la Torre, after having been her spiritual director for twenty years, took sick and died, before Mother Agreda had undertaken the re-writing of her original work. The confessor who had ordered the burning of the original manuscript was now reassigned as her permanent confessor. Learning that she had other writings than The City of God, including the diary of the eleven-year missionary adventure in America, he ordered her to burn everything she had written. All that was left from which to glean understanding of her highly-developed psychic and spiritual achievements was what Benavides had written of his investigation into her American activity and what she herself revealed in the later re-written Mystical City of God. Although this was an impressive documentation of her spiritual resources, the work did not provide a first-hand account of history’s most extensive paranormal travels, as had the diary written at the time of her journeys. There was a saint in our own time, however, who teleported from Italy to the Americas--once to North America and once to South America--but not even Padre Pio, as far as is known, had Agreda's record of eleven years of continuous non-physical intercontinental transportation. How unfortunate, then, that the diary of her North American experiences was lost to present-day psychic research.
It will be of interest, however, that Reverend de La Torre had kept the secret that Philip IV had a copy of the original manuscript of The Mystical City of God (but not the young Agreda’s diary) and that this manuscript was not discovered until recent years. It is hoped that the finding of this evidence of her ability to so accurately rewrite the long work might be instrumental in having the Agreda cause for beatification and canonization reopened. Certainly every writer realizes the miracle it was! As it now stands, the Holy See, in 1778, issued a decree placing a perpetual silence on the cause of the canonization of the Venerable Mary of Jesus of Agreda. In 1886, a process to remove this was discussed, but His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII, made a decision that no change was to be made of the decree.(2)
Agreda's newly-appointed director's term was short lived, however, and he died three years later. Then the Mother Abbess was given a new and scholarly spiritual director in the person of the Reverend Father Andres de Fuenmajor, who was her Father Confessor for the rest of her life.
One of the first things Father Fuenmajor did was to renew the precept, given by Father de la Torre, to rewrite the biography of the Virgin Mother as well as her autobiography. The re-writing of the Mystical City of God was accomplished. But of the autobiography she only finished the chapters on her childhood and her early convent life. Reading this unfinished story of her own life, as well as her other writings (as yet untranslated into English), provides a clear picture of both her psychic and spiritual natures from which to comprehend how the young Mary fought for physical strength, yet with a body so frail that the psychic self was able to gain control during the early years when she began her paranormal travels. The meaning here is that the physical self at this period of her life could not dominate the psychic self. This permitted the psyche to emerge, just as in her later years, when her psychic self could not dominate her spiritual self and there emerged the highly transcended, mystical self with which the holy woman has come to be identified.
Mother Agreda did not undertake the rewriting of the City of God until she had gone through what theologians call the "mystical death." She described this experience as "an absolute death of the animal and terrestrial life and its renovation and transformation into a celestial and angelic state of existence." During this time she was intuitively instructed, as she termed it, infused with knowledge or cosmically illuminated, as others describe it. This made it possible for her to translate the most difficult Latin terms of theology into simple language that could be easily understood. Since she was a girl from Spain's mountain country and without formal education, many theologians have been mystified at the high quality of her writing and have pronounced her ability as nothing short of miraculous. She completed the second version of the four volumes in 1660--in only three years time and five years less than the first version had taken--and the amazing fact was that it followed inexplicably close to the manuscript King Philip IV had secretly retained, but which was not discovered for comparison until many years later.
The last five years of her life were lived in meditation and contemplation, during which time she reached what von Goerres called "the pinnacle of perfection in holiness." She was now accepted as one of the great mystics in an age known as the "golden age of mysticism."
After Easter, 1665, she asked her superiors for permission to prepare for her death, which she told her sisters was imminent. On the Monday before Pentecost, she called an assembly, although it had been her usual custom to hold these meetings on Friday. She then gave advice to each nun, telling each that it would be the last chapter she would hold. On Wednesday she was stricken with serious illness, and Pentecost Sunday she died.
Father Samaniego, her biographer, maintained it was more than a coincidence that all her superiors were assembled for a meeting in her province. The Superior General of the Order of St. Francis was even present at her death, when other synchronistic happenings also came to light: Jon Carillo, a teacher who frequently communicated with the Venerable Mary of Jesus, declared that at the moment she died he saw her ascending toward heaven, surrounded by a globe of light: and the Reverend Joseph Ximenez Samaniego relates that at the precise hour of her death she was also seen ascending into heaven by persons of eminent perfection and from several places far distant from Agreda.
Five years after her death the City of God, with its revelations of the inner soul, was published and immediately stirred up controversy in civil as well as religious circles. One of the criticisms weighed against the work was that it declared the earth spherical, with poles at either end. The first edition, in French, appeared about the year 1678. It was inexact and contained many interpolations that drew an avalanche of violent attacks. The Spanish Inquisition examined the City of God for fourteen years and placed it on the index of forbidden books for three months. One of the Inquisition's charges was that since Agreda was uneducated the work had to be fraudulent and must have been a copy of someone else's writing. Seven of the great universities in Spain and seventeen other universities and colleges in Europe hailed it enthusiastically; the Sorbonne, however, found considerable fault with it, because of views the book held which were judged to be Scotist-Franciscan. Out of all the controversy, the book was finally confirmed in 1681, when Pope Innocent XI decreed that The Mystical City of God was to be freely circulated among the clergy and laity. The work was further approved by Popes Alexander VIII, Clement IX, Benedict XIII, and Benedict XIV. In more recent time, these approbations have been renewed by Popes Pius IX, Leo XII, and Pius XI. Eventually, it became popular reading in Europe, and all the praises written of the work would fill a large volume. No book other than the Bible has received so many imprimaturs. There have been sixty editions of the work, in Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Latin, Arabic, Greek, and Polish but no edition in English until the twentieth century. The first English translation of the City of God was made directly from the original, authorized Spanish edition. It was begun in 1902 and in 1912 it was finally printed in America in the four volumes presently available.(3)
It is altogether possible that Mary Agreda will, in the coming age, be as well known as she was in her own time, but not because she performed miracles, rather for what can be learned from her concerning the human personality and its extrasensory capacity for extending its awareness multi-dimensionally so as to embrace and experience the total universe as including psychic and spiritual as well as physical dimensions. When that time arrives the world will be better able to appreciate her Native American "conquest of love" as one of the most noteworthy achievements of our American Colonial period. Whatever historic importance may be given her teleportations from Spain to America, the significance for the twenty-first century is that she actually extended her personality into another age and culture, overcoming the barriers of time, space, and communication, and did it through the soul's implementation of love rather than through physical force or chemical and mechanical aide.
The tendency of the past two centuries, however, has been to reject the nun's somewhat bizarre means of travel since it was unexplainable according to the perception of the scientific thinking that has dominated these times. In the years ahead, however, this may no longer be true. There is as lively interest today in both psychic phenomena and mysticism, in all its varieties, as there was in Agreda's more spiritually-oriented century. Certainly the story of Mary Agreda presents the challenge that it be investigated with an open mind. Who knows what conclusion may be drawn when all the evidence is in?
From the iron age to the nuclear age, human beings have depended on their creative inventions to extend their human limitations. Now, however, interest is shifting to the total human personality--to inner as well as outer capabilities. And with this the perception of what is humanly possible is changing also. During the past hundred years science has been striving to attain more power, luxury, and leisure, but this has led to a sense of anxiety rather than fulfillment. What is coming to light is the soul’s need to be related to what is ultimately real--the infinite and the eternal. Only then is life experienced as having meaning and purpose. When Mary Agreda, as the Lady in Blue, ministered to the Native Americans throughout the 1620’s she discovered the secret that would be her legacy, that
The way to do is to be.
1. City of
God, Vol. IV