An Unlikely Vocation
And so Juana left the realm of viceregal society. As a Catholic sister at the Convent of San Jeronimo, the novice Sor (sister) Juana Ines de la Cruz was required to attend prayer at fixed hours and to contribute some light work as the convent accountant. Other than that, Juana’s time was pretty much her own. The monastic rule to eat meals all together wasn’t even enforced. Each nun had private living quarters, staffed by servants, complete with kitchen, bath, sleeping quarters, and parlor.
What was not to like about the Convent of San Jeronimo? Sor Juana Ines found much of the independence and tranquility she needed to cultivate her “inclination to study.” Her own comfy corner cell had two floors; her second-story window featured a view of the Valley of Mexico. There she built up her own personal collection of books, both secular and sacred, works of art, and a variety of musical and scientific instruments. Over time, Juana Ines amassed the largest library in all of Mexico, right there in her convent rooms.
During her years as a nun of the Convent of San Jeronimo, Juana Ines de la Cruz wrote widely: religious and secular plays, verses for dance tunes, sacred poems, love poems, comedies, philosophy, an essay in theology, even an autobiographical defense of the right of women to study. Her works were published and performed. Juana was renowned as the most erudite woman in Mexico before she was even twenty years old. She grew into a great poet and playwright celebrated across the Western hemisphere.
As a cloistered woman, she was never permitted to leave the convent—ever. But the world came to her. Juana corresponded with learned persons across the Spanish dominions and Europe. Visitors, from academics to courtly socialites, came to her locutory. Juana’s parlor become a kind of literary and philosophical salon where she taught seminars, read her poetry and plays, and debated ideas.
You haven’t heard of Sor Juana de la Cruz? You can blame it on centuries of storytellers, the ones who’ve recounted the intellectual traditions of men and disregarded the silent and silenced contributions of women. Your ignorance is no surprise. Even in her own day, Juana’s bold public voice was hushed by bishops and priests. It’s been 350 years since she lived, but it’s not too late to bring Juana back. Her words have been here all along.
Karen Wright Marsh is executive director and cofounder of Theological Horizons, a university ministry that has advance theological scholarship at the intersection of faith, though, and life since 1991. Taken from Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh. ©2017 by Karen Marsh. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com