Volume 71, Issue 3, Summer 2019
Vocation and Enclosure in Colonial Nuns’ Spiritual Autobiographies
This article examines the discourse of enclosure utilized by Maria de San Jose (1656-1719, Puebla), Jeronima Nava y Saavedra (1669-1727, Bogota), and Francisca Josefa de Castillo (1671-1742, Tunja, Colombia) in their spiritual autobiographies. Despite dissimilar personal vocation narratives, these Hispanic nuns embraced enclosure as a tool of continuing spiritual advancement, both before and after actual profession of monastic vows. They portrayed the cloister simultaneously as connubial bedchamber and isolated hermitage, thus ascribing Baroque religious meaning to ancient anchoritic models through intersecting discourses of desert solitude, redemptive suffering, Eucharistic devotion, and nuptial mysticism. To attain ideal enclosure for self and others, these nuns advocated for reform in New World convents, which often reproduced worldly hierarchies, conflicts, and values. Enclosure, more than a symbolic vow or ecclesiastical mandate, constituted a formative practice that fostered correct action and attitude in nuns’ lives; these women conscientiously sought a cloistered life through which they cultivated holiness and created new spiritual meaning.