Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Lady in Blue

On a hot summer day in July 1629, 50 members of the Jumanos tribe from deep West Texas showed up at a Franciscan convent just south of modern-day Albuquerque. They displayed "a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity" and asked for religious teachers for themselves and their neighbors.

So far so good. Only, Europeans had never been to that part of Texas, which is quite isolated.

"So, like, how did you learn about Christ?" the Franciscans asked. [I'm translating loosely from the Spanish.]

"Well, the Lady in Blue, of course," the Jumanos said. "Isn't she here?"

It turns out that a beautiful young woman in a blue cloak, with a brown and white habit, had appeared to the Jumanos several times, like a "light at sunset." She instructed them in Christianity, and then she told them how to find the Franciscan convent, more than 400 miles away.

The Franciscans flipped out. It wasn't just the story they heard from the Jumanos that blew their minds; they had just received a letter from the Archbishop of New Spain about a young nun in some little village in Castille who would go into deep trances and dreamed of visiting strange looking people in a far away land. This happened on "hundreds of occasions," and her confessor got her to describe in detail the places she visited. He relayed the information to someone who told someone else about it, and her story eventually wound up being told to the Archbishop of New Spain, who thought the places she described sounded like the northern frontier. So he wrote to the Franciscan convent to let them know about it.

And then the Jumanos showed up.

Well, the Franciscans got pretty excited. They sent Fathers Juan de Salas and Diego López back with the Jumanos, in what became the first Spanish expedition into that part of Texas. They talked with hundreds of Indians who had claimed to see the "Lady in Blue."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch convent, Father Alonso de Benavides took the report of the expedition to Texas and headed off to Mexico City to deliver the news. Then, he sailed to Spain and hitched a ride to the village of Agreda, between Soria and the borders of Navarra and Aragon. He met the cloistered nun, whose name was María de Jesús, and she said, "Ah, yes, Father Benavides, I recognized you from my journeys to New Mexico."


María de Jesús was experiencing bilocation. Sort of like when you're stuck in an office at work and you want to be at the beach, only she was actually in the office AND at the beach at the same time. Cool, right?

She got a reputation for her mystical travels to Texas. [Yeah, but did she bring back a Don't Mess with Texas t-shirt and a six-pack of Shiner Bock? I don't think so.] King Philip IV met with her in 1643 and they became friends. In fact, they wrote over 600 letters to each other. She was sort of a spiritual adviser to him. She also wrote a couple of books, including Introduction to the History of the Most Blessed Virgin and The Mystical City of God.

So why isn't she a saint? Well, there are theories. You can check them out and read more about her life here.

You can also read an abridged version of The Mystical City of God.

So what about the The Jumanos? Well, a second expedition went back to visit them in 1632, but no mission was ever established. The Jumanos eventually disappear from recorded history. Some believe they dispersed into other tribes. No one really seems to know. They did leave us with one more beautiful story, however:

After the Lady in Blue's last visit, the Jumanos said they woke up the next morning and discovered "the fields covered with flowers of a deep blue color like her cloak." These were the first Texas bluebonnets.

And that seem like a good place to stop for the night.


Liam said...

Most excellent post, batman! Beautiful, mystical, and funny. Spanish, Franciscan, miraculous and Texan. Great mix.

Poor sister Maria seems to have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to sainthood. Ah, politics... It might be time to advance her cause again.

I'll have to read the Mystical City when I have a chance. Sounds like a trip.

crystal said...

Astral projection? Cool :-)

Jeff said...

Great images and great story, William. Fascinating and informative post. I had never heard of either the Jumanos or of Maria de Jesus.

I remember reading once about a Spanish nun (I can't remember where now) who was a well-known mystic at around the same time that St. Teresa of Avila was around. At the time her rep even overshadowed Teresa's. Stories were told about her bilocations, levitations, and even of her flying up into the apse of a Church on occasion. At the end of her life she supposedly confessed that her "powers" were not from God but from the Devil. I can't remember who it was, but I don't think it was Maria de Jesus, because she seems to have come along a bit later. She and St Teresa don't seem to have been exact contemporaries... Intriguing post about a fascinating era.

By the way, I finally finished Assassins' Gate, and posted a few more impressions here. I'd be interested in your take on it.

Cindy Jordan said...

I heard about this legend last Thursday. I live in San Angelo Texas and googled the words "bluebonnet Lady in Blue" and your blog showed up. You did a wonderful job. Love the photos. Where did you find this info?? Amazing story!

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for visiting. Ah, yes, San Angelo, been through there many times.

I first encountered the story in Gone To Texas: A History of the Lone Star State, by Randolph B. Campbell (Oxford University Press, 2004). That led me to Spanish Texas, 1519-1821, by Donald Chipman (University of Texas Press, 1992). I also found a book on Maria de Agreda - The Visions of Sor Maria De Agreda: Writing Knowledge and Power, by Clark Colahan (University of Arizona Press, 1994). All of these are available on Amazon. The Campbell book should be at your local library, and the other two might be as well. If not, you could get them through Inter-Library Loan, I'm sure. I got all of them from libraries. Good luck. It is a fascinating story.

Say hi to Texas for me!