Sor (Sister) Maria de Jesus

AGREDA, MARIA FERNANDEZ CORONEL, ABBESS OF, known in religion as Sor (Sister) Maria de Jesus (1602-1665), was the daughter of Don Francisco Coronel and of his wife Catalina de Arana.  She was born at Agreda, on the borders of Navarre and Aragon, on the 2nd of April 1602.  All her family were powerfully influenced by the ecstatic piety of Spain in that age.  Her biographer, Samaniego, records that even as an infant in arms she was filled with divine knowledge.  From childhood she was favored by ecstasies and visions.  When she was fifteen the whole family entered religion.  The father, now an old man, and the two sons entered the Franciscan house of San Antonio de Nalda.  Maria, her mother and sister established a Franciscan nunnery in the family house at Agreda, which, when Maria’s reputation had extended, was replaced by the existing building.  She began it with one hundred reals (one pound sterling) lent her by a devotee, and it was completed in fourteen years by voluntary gifts.  Much against her own wish, we are told, she was appointed abbess at the age of twenty-five.  In 1668, four years after her death, the Franciscans published a story that at the age of twenty-two she had been miraculously conveyed to Mexico, to convert a native people, and had made five hundred journeys through the air for that purpose in one year.  Though the rule required the abbess to be changed every three years, Maria remained the effective ruler of Agreda till her death.  The Virgin was declared abbess, and Maria acted as her locus tenens. In her later years she inclined to the “internal prayer,” and neglect of the outward offices of the church, which was usual with the “alumbrados” or Quietists.  The Inquisition took notice of her, but she was not proceeded against with severity.  Maria’s importance in religion and Spanish history is based on two grounds.  In the earlier part of her life, while the Franciscan, Francisco Andres de la Torre, was her confessor, she wrote an Introduction to the History of the Most Blessed Virgin. It was destroyed by the direction of another confessor.  Later on, by the order of her superiors, and under the guidance of her Franciscan confessor, Andres de Fuen Mayor, she wrote The Mystic City of God. It is an extraordinary book, full of apocryphal history, visions and scholasticism, which professes to have been written by divine inspiration, and is devoted to praise of the Virgin.  In 1642 she sent to Philip IV. an account of a vision she had had, of a council of the infernal powers for the destruction of Catholicism and Spain.  The king visited her when on his way to Aragon to suppress the rebellion of Catalonia.  A long correspondence, which lasted till her death on the 29th of March 1665, was begun.  The king folded a sheet of paper down the middle and wrote on the one side of the division.  The answers were to be written on the other and the sheet returned.  By a pious fraud copies were kept at Agreda.  How far Maria was only the mouthpiece of the Franciscans must of course be a matter of doubt.  Her correspondence was apparently suspended whenever her confessor was absent.  She must, however, have co-operated at least, and it is certain that the Franciscans, who were very unfortunate in some of their pious women, owed not a little to her.  The letters are in excellent Spanish, are curious reading, and are invaluable as illustrations for the second part of the reign of Philip IV.

The correspondence of Sor Maria with the king has been published in full by Don F. Siluela, Cartas de la Venerable Madre Sor Maria de Agreda y del Senor Rey Don Filipe IV.  (Madrid, 1885). The Mystic City of God is one of the most characteristic monuments of Mariolatry, and has continued to be much in favor with supporters of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  It appeared in Madrid in 1668, with a biographical introduction by Samaniego, has been often reprinted, and was translated into French and Italian.  It was for a time reserved by the Index, both Spanish and Papal, but was taken off by the influence of the Franciscans and of Spain, the chief supporters of the immaculate Conception.  An account of Maria de Agreda will be found in the Tracts of Michael Geddes (London, 1706),vol. iii., written by a competent critic and Anglican divine of the 18th century who detested “enthusiasm.”





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