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Ricardo Fernández Gracia, Director of the Chair of Navarrese Heritage and Art.

Heritage and identity (19). Between the unusual and the legendary: visions and marvelousness.

Fri, 01 Nov 2019 18:06:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The past centuries, particularly the XVII, were very given to the diffusion of prodigies and supernatural events that would have taken place, in many cases, behind the lattices of the enclosures, in the context of a society anxious for extraordinary phenomena, in which a climate of great religious excitement was lived. Most of those portentous events were related to nuns, around their ecstasies, raptures, raptures, revelations or demonic persecutions, which were considered as evidence of what was then understood as signs of exemplarity and perfection. These were times when holiness seemed to be measured by the issue of heavenly interventions in the lives of the blessed. The celebrations of All Saints and of the Souls in Purgatory were the occasion, until recent times, to recall some of those legends and surprising events, by means of oral accounts and various readings, without lacking in bad jokes.


The visions of a nun in Pamplona in the seventeenth century

If it is necessary to highlight a visionary nun in the panorama of the Ancien Régime in the Navarrese cloisters, that is, without a doubt, Sister Francisca del Santísimo Sacramento (1561 - 1629), for the private revelations of numerous souls in purgatory, of which she was the protagonist. Sister Francisca took the habit in the Carmel of Soria and professed in the Carmel of Pamplona in 1584, shortly after its foundation. She died with a reputation of sanctity in 1629, in her convent located at place del Castillo. The documentary sources affirm that he had an impulsive and rough character and his face was not very graceful. Her biographer adds that she was a hard worker, possessing great skill for spinning, applying herself with great diligence to this task, for which she had the nickname of "the wardrobe of the house"

By mandate of the general of his order, Fray Juan del Espíritu Santo, he wrote all those supernatural experiences, which were partially edited in plenary session of the Executive Council XVII century. A copy of the notebooks with his writings was given to Bishop Don Juan de Palafox by the Discalced Carmelites of Soria, without knowing that the Aragonese Miguel Bautista Lanuza, knight of Santiago and protonotary of Aragon, had another copy and was preparing to give it to the printer.

The aforementioned Lanuza edited those notes with the degree scroll de Vida de la sierva de Dios Francisca del Santísimo Sacramento ( Zaragoza, 1659). The General of the Discalced Carmelites, Fray Diego de la presentation, was very sorry that it was published, exclaiming "God forgive the protonotary". The other seiscentist edition was carried out by the aforementioned Juan de Palafox, former Visitor and Viceroy of New Spain and then Bishop of Osma. The Palafoxian edition came out with degree scroll de Luz de vivos y escarmiento en los muertos ( 1661) and is one of his works written for didactic, moralizing, exemplary and catechetical purposes. The book became so famous that it was published several times in Spain and abroad. Isabel Ostolaza has dedicated another study to the process of elaboration of the work and its transmission. However, a work is still missing, based on the original manuscripts of Sister Francisca del Santísimo Sacramento, which gave rise to the editions of Palafox y Lanuza.

Professor Álvarez Santaló points out Palafox's version of Sister Francisca's work as one of the most widely distributed of the Baroque centuries, based on its repeated presence in library inventories. In addition, he points out three great peculiarities that make Palafox's book superior to others of the estados genre. In the first place, the book captures the reader through the use of the texts of the Carmelite that contain apparitions and that serve the bishop to give moral proposals, in an indirect way, far from a purely doctrinal intellectualized essay . Secondly, he notes the efficacy of the messages perceived, not as a consequence of a theological science, but as a living reality of the protagonists, with descriptions of family and daily life. Finally, thirdly, he notes that it is not only an entertaining narrative, but a fascinating one, with brief but profound descriptions and the bishop's comments that make up "another book within the book"


Broad social spectrum: from the nobility to the artisans

The hundreds of very brief notes with the appearances are surprising for their quantity and their protagonists, of all social origins subject . In a way, they become a kind of chronicle of the Navarre and Pamplona society of the time. In those private revelations, the Carmelite nun evoked everything related to the purgative church, which with the militant and the triumphant ones form a unit.

Through his cell and the corridors of the old convent in Pamplona parade men and women of various professions, ecclesiastics, military and government people of the capital of Navarre and other cities of the Kingdom, noting details of clothing, appearance and other circumstances of the protagonists of the visions. Thus he states: "They all denoted in the insignia the dignities they had, such as tiaras, mitres, crowns, scepters and the others that usually indicate the personal or hereditary Degrees . Others came with instruments and penalties that manifested their faults. Those who left the religions with habits dragging and as if tripping over them. The gamblers with burning decks of cards. The officials with burning tools of their ministry, which they lacked. The slanderers, stepping on each other's tongues. The free in life, like savages. Those who were light, engulfed in flames up to their breasts. The profanely gallant women, scorched in rags of fire. And those who wore shaving, their faces full of dirty and burning ashes". Regarding the appearance, he points out "the ugliness with which some of them appeared .... the most horrible part to the sight were the eyes, sunken, hollow and burning"

In the chapters of the book, the torments of two viceroys of Navarre are recounted, as well as those of the prothomedic of Pamplona who had not visited the sick as he should have, an innkeeper of the city who rented mules at exorbitant prices, a lazy and gambling blacksmith who appeared with his deck of cards on fire, a highborn lady dressed in rags and another one fond of make-up with a totally disfigured face, a waxmaker who adulterated white wax with resin, and different religious men, each one with penalties according to their sins and faults.

The fact of the apparitions of the three brothers of one of the most outstanding nuns of the convent at that time, Mother Leonor de la Misericordia (Ayanz and Beaumont), is not without significance. In addition to begging Francisca to thank Leonor for the suffrages to get them out of purgatory, the reasons why they were there are noted. In the case of Jerónimo, because of the "many occupations that I had in the world and because of the marriage that I made bothering the Supreme Pontiff". Don Francés confessed that he suffered "for Doña Isabel and the son is mine", in allusion to some love affairs. For his part, Don Carlos recognized that he was there for the "spirit of revenge and for the case of Doña Isabel, that I was very much a part so that my brother would not marry".

Among the apparitions we will cite the one of a conventual Augustinian of Pamplona "of great virtue and presumption" who died, after having enjoyed a high income of 200 ducats, for life, which he used in "reliquaries, paintings and curious things to decorate his cell ... but he was so engrossed in this that he spent much time and death found him in the house of a layman in search of two chests that were brought to him from Castile full of these curiosities. He then appeared to Mother Frances, in great sorrow, surrounded by all those reliquaries, pyramids, paintings, flowers and curiosities, made fire, in which he so disorderly occupied his heart to degree scroll that would result in the use of his house; and then they were those that most tormented him. He asked her to entrust him to God because he was in great need and work, and disappeared saying what we all say: How deceived we live and how dearly it is paid ...". He also mentions the polyphonist and chapel master of the cathedral of Pamplona, Miguel Navarro, on September 19, 1627, more than eight months after the death of the musician. This is how that vision is narrated to us: "On the 19th the soul of Maestro Navarro (who was the soul of the Chapel of Singers of the Holy Church of Pamplona) appeared to him alone, and very resplendent, and full of Glory, in award of the works that he suffered here. He said to her: How deceived we live hating mortification and penance that we care so much to exercise; because there is much to enjoy in heaven, and that we are lazy in disposing ourselves to gain so many goods from here". As it is known, Navarro, besides being chapel master between 1616 and 1627, was prior of the hermits of the bishopric of Pamplona and in charge of examining the aspirants to the hermit life. 


The chickpeas of the Discalced Carmelites, in 1631.

plenary session of the Executive Council In the 17th century, Brother Juan de Jesús San Joaquín (1590-1669), a native of Añorbe and a Carmelite layman, resided in Pamplona. He was famous for his prodigies during his lifetime and for the numerous accounts contained in his biography, published in 1684. Since then, until a century ago, the seiscentist text has been reprinted several times. Called upon by towns to ward off epidemics, by the king, courtiers, nobles and viceroys, he was the protagonist of the finding of the Virgin of the Wonders in 1656, as well as of the diffusion of the cult of other saints, especially Saint Joachim, to whom he entrusted the offspring of couples who had difficulties in having children.

In the successive editions of his life, a passage is narrated, certainly disconcerting, with the Souls of Purgatory, in which are mixed, as in so many other events of his life, the legendary with the astounding. The event is set in 1631, a calamitous year, when his community was short of food and there were only some small, bad chickpeas left over from the previous year that "when cooked, took on the color of steel and became hard as buckshot". After numerous attempts to cook them, the friar was called upon to make a pact with the souls in purgatory, agreeing that they would take care of the chickpeas while he listened to all the masses in the convent in order to gain the corresponding indulgences. After hearing them, he would return to the kitchen "finding the chickpeas as white and as well cooked as the best in Fuensauco". After the meal, the superior asked him about the matter, to which the friar answered, without further explanation: "We have already done it, our father, your Reverence already has chickpeas until the new ones come: there is nothing to fear". However, among the friars it was noticed that the friar was neglecting the kitchen in the mornings, so the superior ordered him not to abandon the supervision of the pots, to which the layman obeyed. That day the chickpeas came out again like buckshot and the friar had to confess his pact with the souls with these words: "If your Reverence, our father, wants good chickpeas, let me hear the masses, and the souls will take care of them; if not, you will have no remedy", to which the prior responded with a blessing, telling him: "Hear as many masses as you want and give us the good chickpeas"


The Count of Lodosa, revived to go to confession in Agreda

In the Hispanic scope of the XVII century, Sister María Jesús de Ágreda (1604-1665) was known by her bilocations, the correspondence with Felipe IV and the contents of her most important work, the Mystical City of God. Her first biography, written shortly after her death, by the Franciscan José Ximénez de Samaniego, is in consonance with the time, full of paranormal facts and notes of marvelousness. 

We will refer here to an event of the sacramental confession of a deceased person, authenticated in one of the processes for the beatification of Sister María de Ágreda by several witnesses, although only some identify the protagonist with the Count of Lodosa, without mentioning the year, not even the name of the aristocrat who, by the way, was among the benefactors of the foundation of Ágreda, in 1632.

A summary of what happened tells us of the deposit of an ark in the church of the convent to make night in Ágreda, without nobody knew of its content. Sister Maria, being in prayer, in her tribune, heard some sad and deep moans that left her frightened, being revealed to her that they came from a soul that died impenitent, whose body was in the church of her convent. She immediately sent for her brother, Father Francisco Coronel, "learned and virtuous" but also "pusillanimous and cowardly in spirit". The friar, aware of what was happening to Sister Maria through the lathe and drawing strength from his weakness, approached the ark, from which the deceased arose and made confession after humiliating himself before the Blessed Sacrament. After receiving the absolution, that body returned to its box, not without looking before towards the tribune of the Venerable Mother Ágreda, from where the nun had contemplated numerous visions of souls of the purgatory, among them the exit of that place of those of the queen Isabel of Borbón and of the prince Baltasar Carlos. Father Coronel forbade his sister to speak about the matter with anybody, although he himself referred it, years later, to father Pedro de Arriola who revealed it to the bishop of Pamplona and in the declaration of the apostolic process of Sister Maria de Agreda. The mentioned father Arriola was a mercedario natural of Sangüesa, conventual of San Lázaro of the Aragonese capital, qualifier of the Holy official document, reader of Philosophy and preacher of several cities like Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona.