Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (b. Nov. 12, 1648, d. April 17, 1695)

Lewis Williams, OFS

Artist's Narrative:
Considered by many as one of the greatest Latin American poets, and an early fighter for women’s rights, Sor Juana was born an illegitimate child and raised near Mexico City. Consumed by a love of Wisdom, but as a woman of her time discouraged in pursuit of scholarship, she struggled with her gender, knowing males had no doors barred. Entering the nunnery as a discalced Carmelite, she later transferred to the Hieronymites. Here she was permitted the study of history\science, following in the footsteps of female poets, philosophers, and jurists from antiquity, the bible and contemporaries whose callings left them in conflict with the male religious and political hierarchies. The pursuit of Holy Wisdom (Christ), she learned, left one open to the “fire of persecution’ and the ‘furnace of torment.’ This she frequently experienced as a writer\ poet who questioned authority. Threatened by the Inquisition, she was silenced the last three years of her life. Denied access to books and study, she discovered that nature, indeed the whole universe, served as her books. It is felt she experienced a profound conversion during this period, and died serving her sisters in an outbreak of the plague.

In this icon, she sits between the two volcanoes of Mexico City, the male Popocatepetal (“Smoking Mountain”) and the female Iztaccihuatl (“Sleeping , White Lady”), symbolic of her struggle in the land between men and women in pursuit of Wisdom. She holds a book of her writings (an act she was forbidden to pursue her last few years). The quote from her writings is here translated in the context as, “The most unforgivable crime is to place people’s stature in doubt.” This double-edged sword describes her conflict with male, Church authority and the truth that all are invaluable in the eyes of our God. No ones stature is ever in doubt.


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