The Inquisition of Francisca: A Sixteenth-Century Visionary on Trial

The Inquisition of Francisca: A Sixteenth-Century Visionary on Trial

The Inquisition of Francisca: A Sixteenth-Century Visionary on Trial

The Inquisition of Francisca: A Sixteenth-Century Visionary on Trial


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Inspired by a series of visions, Francisca de los Apóstoles (1539-after 1578) and her sister Isabella attempted in 1573 to organize a beaterio, a lay community of pious women devoted to the religious life, to offer prayers and penance for the reparation of human sin, especially those of corrupt clerics. But their efforts to minister to the poor of Toledo and to call for general ecclesiastical reform were met with resistance, first from local religious officials and, later, from the Spanish Inquisition. By early 1575, the Inquisitional tribunal in Toledo had received several statements denouncing Francisca from some of the very women she had tried to help, as well as from some of her financial and religious sponsors. Francisca was eventually arrested, imprisoned by the Inquisition, and investigated for religious fraud.

This book contains what little is known about Francisca—the several letters she wrote as well as the transcript of her trial—and offers modern readers a perspective on the unique role and status of religious women in sixteenth-century Spain. Chronicling the drama of Francisca's interrogation and her spirited but ultimately unsuccessful defense, The Inquisition of Francisca—transcribed from more than three hundred folios and published for the first time in any language—will be a valuable resource for both specialists and students of the history and religion of Spain in the sixteenth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226142227
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/01/2005
Series: The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe
Edition description: 1
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Gillian T. W. Ahlgren is professor of theology at Xavier University.

Read an Excerpt

A Sixteenth-Century Visionary on Trial

By Francisca de los Apóstoles
Copyright © 2005 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-14224-1

Chapter One


[To her sister Isabel, written on Friday, April 23, 1574]

My beloved sister:

It would not be possible to express the great joy that your letter gave us, so I will not try, because God has given me grace to tell you what has been happening. I wrote rather obscurely about the jewel that Our Lady had promised you, and having received from the hand of God a great punishment for not having done this before, I do not want to wait for a greater one, for that is what I have been promised, although God knows I have not done anything out of negligence, but rather because I understood clearly that it was the will of God, since this is what I always want to do even if it costs me my life. And now that I understand that it is truly His holy will that I write you something of the great things Our Lord has given me to understand since you left, I will tell you whatever God has made known to me.

After Our Lord and especially His most holy Mother consoled me for the great loss I felt due to your departure, a few days later, having just received communion, they told me in the interior of my soul that I should make an effort to suffer a great tribulation that they wanted to give me, until the day of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady [i.e., December 8, 1573], in satisfaction for the ignorance that many had had about this point of the faith, especially the Dominicans. And I, not thinking myself worthy of such a great favor as suffering for such a great satisfaction, offered my soul and body to everything that my God and the most holy Virgin Mary wanted of me with such a great desire that I wished I had more bodies to offer up than there are grains of sand in the sea in order to suffer with all of them for the honor of such a great Lord. To say what I suffered during this time is not possible except to say that a human body could not bear nor a hand write of such great torments if it were not favored by this same Lord who ordered it to suffer. And thus with this aid I suffered the greatest darkness of the soul that can be told and torments in the body as well, because these demons, the mayors of God, visibly tormented it so much that if I laid down in bed to rest a little, my rest was to be beaten so hard by them that I could not walk with the pains I felt. My right side turned so black from the beatings that I can't tell it, and this great travail lasted until Easter. God granted me great mercies, which there is no reason to tell you about, and they gave me the chance to endure another similar trial until the Purification of Our Lady. And there was no way to find consolation except on the day that I went to the Chapel of Nuestra Señora del Sagrario. They gave me permission to go and thus it was that I went, but before and after holy communion the pains in my soul were intolerable, although in going to the Sagrario I found great joy. And four days later, a Monday, having just finished communion, they told me in my interior, "Go, my mother wants to speak with you in the Sagrario." And I went immediately, and while I was kneeling down my spirit was enraptured with great sweetness and I saw the Mother of Mercy who was interceding with her Son for the state of the church asking that they charge Archbishop Bartolomé with its reform. For this Our Lady promised great things, and by these things she managed with all the pleas she presented to convince her Son, except when great satisfaction was necessary to appease the Eternal Father.

And the next day, Tuesday, after just having received communion, I heard in my interior that I should go immediately to see great things. So I did go immediately, and my spirit was enraptured again and I heard the Son of God say, "Send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth."

And I saw a great Majesty, who responded, "You ask much of me, Son, that I renew all the earth, because the offenses they have committed against me are great. I have been waiting seventy years, and I only see myself more offended." And His most holy Son showed Him His wounds and all the suffering that the world had cost Him and the prayer that He said on the cross for those who had crucified Him. He told all of this to His Majesty so that He would pardon the world anew. But Our Lady put herself between them, and she offered up two convents, in which people of great spirit would dedicate themselves through her hand and which would be enough to satisfy His Majesty for the offenses that the whole world had committed. And the monastic houses would be of the same rule that she had written. I saw how this Majesty turned to my sinful soul and said to me, "What do you think, daughter, for the world has offended me, especially this church because with its words it offends me and it crucifies me with its masses." And with great tears I said nothing more than to beg Him for mercy.

And then I saw how the Son of God took the archbishop by one arm and presented him to His Father saying, "Our Father, you see here Bartolomé, who will be enough to reform the church. Be happy in him, because I am pleased with him and I will represent him; he will lose his life for the honor of Your Majesty and the reformation of Your church." The Eternal Father received him, very pleased with him, and after embracing him, He poured out many blessings upon him, and this happened before her and two other persons. And later I saw in the hands of that great Majesty some large lances with very sharp barbs of four parts, and His Majesty crossed his arms over his chest and said He could not show any greater sign of peace than that. And He turned over everything to Our Lady, and thus she and her blessed Son began to sing, "Cantemus, domine, gloriose" (Let us sing glory to you, Lord). And Saint Hildephons, Saint Jerome, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Catherine of Siena responded, because they had all been on their knees praying for what I have said, and later I felt how the Archbishop Bartolomé embraced my spirit, exhorting me to great things. And with that, it ended. I have only been able to say the most basic things about this matter, having been entrusted with this great mercy by that great Lord, who gave it to me, a miserable person and helped me understand that His Majesty would be served. Read it in another spirit than my sinful and base one writes it, my sister. To tell you about the great illness that, since this happened to me, God has given me so that I may present great petitions to Our Lord will not be possible until God allows us to see each other. I pray to His Majesty that it may be soon, for His great honor. Amen.

[To Isabel Bautista, undated]

My dear and beloved sister and my consolation:

I cannot tell you the great joy your letters gave all of us, even though it could not be as great as the pain of your absence has been. For it has been like a breach of faith for us to be deprived of you, our goodness and our light. I do not want to speak more of this because I do not have [a strong enough] heart to awaken my pain without bathing the paper with tears. I resign myself to the will of God who has desired it to be thus. I pray that His Majesty be served by our travails.

My sister, in what you wrote about the state of my soul, I wish I could reveal more, but they do not give me permission because letters are so unreliable. I do not dare to entrust something of such importance to paper. But I say in code that I have received such great mercies from Our Lord and with such clarity about our business that I will remain prepared at all times (lit. "with a candle in my hand"), and I have unfailing faith that God will give what He has promised you, especially the jewel that Our Lady of the Sagrario has promised you. Because after we had made many pilgrimages and had many masses said, I was instructed to have two novenas at the Sagrario. In the first one they gave me great reassurances about all our plans, and I saw the jewel they promised you in her hand. With it all the lost would be rescued, in particular the church. In the second novena I suffered great darkness and tribulations up until today, which I have already told you about. But neither faith nor my tongue fails me and complains to God that He show me justice because He has placed us in these present circumstances after we have endured so many illnesses and travails. It consoles me to know that we did not put ourselves in them but rather that His Majesty ordained it, and thus I trust that the one who gave us these hardships will bring us through them with victory.

What your letter says about being left alone and in darkness could not but pain me, even though it is common for God, when He is going to bring about great mercies, to treat people the way He did Abraham: after having made him so many promises through his son Isaac, He then ordered him to cut off his head. May this give us confidence that God will bring about all He has promised us if He be served and if it be His will, because all of us do not want anything more than that His name be sanctified, and may this be in whatever way His Majesty might command me. You say, my sister, that with all this you have rendered sighs and tears before God night after night, having the floor for a bed, and during the day too: so I will do the same until I see God honored and His poor liberated. And so I say to my God with passion that this is my goal.

In other things we are very happy, even with the great pain that what is happening with the confessor has given me. Remember how much Saint Catherine of Siena suffered with the disbelief of her confessors. I don't believe that God asks any less, since he has put tears before you not knowing you. It is clear that if they had spoken with you as we have and had seen you pass so many months fasting on only bread and water with so much spirit and strength, they would have had to take you in hand! What I feel the worst about is how they deny you communion. I trust in God and that He will give you His favor in everything. To recount the mercies He gives us would hardly be possible because we need nothing for our soul or our body that cannot be remedied with the love of the Father.

You already know that fifteen days before Lent, Ribera and his wife came to live in Toledo, sick of Madrid and with the intention never to return there again in their lifetimes. I gave them housing here. And then on Ash Wednesday Cebrián came, and his conversion has been such that it has overwhelmed us. He has made a general confession with Señor Miguel Ruíz, and he is so obedient to his opinion (as I am), and his change of heart so thorough, that we cannot but think that you are praying to God to join us all together in one spirit because He has done this. We all go to confession with Señor Miguel Ruíz; Cerezo, Ribera, and their wives receive communion every Sunday; and Cebrián and Mariana go to their mass. Mariana put on a veil on New Years Day, and ever since then she confesses to Señor Miguel Ruíz and with such good intention that no one could stop her. She and Cebrián are like husband and wife, and so we are of one spirit and love, helping one another.

My sister, each one of us wants to write you separately, but Señor Miguel Ruíz did not consent to it in order not to trouble Señor Pedro Gonzalez. Cerezo cried very much at this; now there are no quarrels since they have confessed with our father.

In what you say about the Sagrario you have not been deceived because every day he [i.e., Cerezo] has gone there; he has awakened early each morning with me at the hospital, and after hearing mass he goes to the Sagrario, and now so do Ribera and Cebrián.

Our father came with Ribera and his wife. He spent eight days here with everyone, though he felt your absence deeply. God knows how I felt to see us all together except for you. He wrote me this week that he had sent you a letter by post with a great desire to hear from you. Look around there to see if it arrives. I will tell him later that you wrote. Your letter will not come in time. I will send it to him by another way if God wills, and so I beg you for the love of God, write to us as much as you can because we cannot live any other way, especially because the young men [i.e., Francisca's brothers] are determined to go [to see you] there if you do not write more often. It has been a miracle that we have held them here and they have not gone there; every day they make plans. Although you may be able to live without us, we cannot live without you.

About Luisa de Aguilera and all in her house, I let you know that she is as she usually is and her husband is in Valladolid. It is impossible to put down in particular all the greetings from everyone except to say that we are like orphans without a mother. May God let us see one another. I do not say anything about Chacón, because he must write himself, except that he has been a true brother to me.

Your sister, Francisca de los Apóstoles To my beloved and desired sister Isabel de San Jerónimo. She is my sister in Rome.

will see what she says to your grace, I do not want to recount more, except that Señor Miguel Ruíz is pleased to pray a great deal for your grace, and this entire house receives great contentment with that [unspecified; presumably a letter Chacón sent to them] of your grace, and we all kiss your hands.

Cebrián works in Madrid in our father's house. It continues to trouble me that there are no religious orders here. May God be praised for everything, for this is His to make happen; may His will be done in everything, for this is what is most fitting for us: to deny ourselves in all things and seek only God without having any other interest. And I know His Majesty is so just that if we give Him justly our efforts He will reward us by bringing us all back together for his great glory and our happiness. I hope that this will give me life. May God in His mercy do this as a father. Amen.

Francisca de los Apóstoles On the Day of Saint Bartholomew Your grace's sister who desires your greatest well-being

[Dated August 25, 1574]

We received your letters in the octave of Saint Laurence two days after Our Lady in August [i.e., Assumption day, August 15. This would mean that the letters were received on August 17]. We had just finished a fast of forty days, and we were going each day to the crucifix and to the tomb of Saint Bartholomew. We were happy to be able to emerge with the victory because many troubles have presented themselves to us. I spoke of it in detail in a letter we sent a month ago, so I won't say anything here except that our joy was confirmed in hearing from you. It is five months since we have had a letter from you. So how could we feel about your silence when there are no words to make you understand the great pain we were feeling? Glory be to God because in all these travails in which we are embroiled I trust His Majesty to free us from them with victory.


Excerpted from THE INQUISITION OF FRANCISCA by Francisca de los Apóstoles Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Series Editors' Introduction
Volume Editor's Introduction
Volume Editor's Bibliography
Letters and Vows
Transcript of the Inquisitional Trial of Francisca de los Apóstoles
A. Theological Consultants' Assessment
B. Analysis of Accusations
C. Cast of Characters: Biographical Notes
D. Chronology of the Trial
Series Editors' Bibliography
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