By Martha Vera,
Honorary Consul of Spain in El Paso
It is said that the Lady in Blue is a legend that is told all over the North American Southwest, but I Martha Vera; am here to tell you, that she was very real. The Lady in Blue is the name the natives gave to Sor Maria de Jesus of Ágreda, who taught them to seek baptism at the mission. ‘Sor’ means ‘Sister’, and in modern Spanish translates to ‘Hermana’.
She was a cloistered nun in the Franciscan Order of the Concepcionists that lived in Ágreda, Spain from 1602 to 1665. She was considered a mystic at a very young age. She was born to the Coronels who had been Jewish and converted to Catholicism as children. She began to see her guardian angels at the age of 4 and by the age of 8, knew she wanted to be a nun. She became a nun at age 18 when her “exteriorities”, as she called them, began to happen. During mass, in a prayerful state, she began to levitate. People would come to see this from nearby towns. The priest asked her to stop the levitation. She said that she did not know that this was happening. The priest asked her to pray that her levitations stop because people were going to mass not to worship, but to see her levitate. He told her that it was not appropriate to call attention to herself. She did so and the levitations stopped.
Let’s backtrack historically. In 1598, Governor Don Juan de Oñate took his expedition northward from Valle de Allende, which is now close to Santa Barbara, Chihuahua to San Juan de Los Caballeros, what is now Ohkay Owigeh, north of what we now know as Santa Fe, New Mexico. This road is the second half of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Nine Franciscan priests were part of the expedition. Spain had very strict laws that Spaniards in the New World had to obey. The first of these laws was enacted in 1504 by Queen Isabella to protect and preserve the native people. To break the law was to end up in court and be tried. Another law stated that the priests would meet with the natives first. These preists will later testify to Sor Maria de Jesus’ ‘Bilocations’, defined as being in two places at the same time. She never left her room in her cloistered convent in Spain but was seen half a world away by the natives she loved.
Back in Ágreda, Sor Maria de Jesus had heard that the natives had killed several priests. She feared that her brothers and father may be sent to Nuevo Mexico and have the same experience. She began to pray for the natives that they receive the word of God and enter His kingdom. She had another “exteriority” during prayer where she found herself traveling over the world. She recounts, in the 5th volume of the Mystical City of God, “Our Lord showed me the world and I learned of all His creation… He showed me with great clarity the multitude of children and souls and He showed me those that did not know the faith but could enter to be children of God through baptism in the holy church… The Most High manifested His will in this and moved me from the depths of my soul to love them as He does…He told me of His creation in Nuevo Mexico and other remote kingdoms that made up that part of the world. These people had the most disposition to convert and were the ones who received His mercy.
On another day, after receiving our Lord, His Majesty showed me more distinctly those Indian Kingdoms that he wanted converted. He sent me to pray and work for them. The information I received was clearer and more distinct about their ways, disposition, and the type of ministry they needed…On this occasion I was shown the different kingdoms, the qualities, and properties of that part of the world. I was also shown the type of men and women they were…I know their names and the names of their tribes. I was told not to touch anything or bring anything back…I did have rosaries with me that I gave to the Indians…
I also saw the wars they had to endure. They did not fight with weapons as we know them but with instruments that hurl rocks in waves and crossbows and knives made of wood. I would raise my arms in prayer for them as this work of theirs would pain my heart.”
She bilocated to the southwest over 500 times and visited many tribes. She specifically names the Piros, Chillescas, Chabufos, Kingdom of the Fidas, Kingdom of the Yumanas, Kingdom of the Quivira. She also evangelized the Isleta Pueblo of which the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo are descendants. She had the natives seek baptism at the only mission on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which is outside of what is now Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the Isleta Pueblo known as San Agustin Mission. Fray Alonso de Benavides presided over the Custodia de San Pablo at the time. Another Franciscan, Fray Salas, also wrote of his experiences traveling to far off tribal lands to baptize the natives.
Proof of her visits to the tribes of the Southwest exist today in petroglyphs and pictographs carved or painted on rocks by the natives on their sacred grounds and oral history of her visits to their tribes. The Hopi also have a story they tell of the Lady in Blue who visited them. They did not want to listen to her because they did not understand her. They killed her with rocks, but she would stand up, dust herself off and fly into the clouds. Another story is that wherever her blue cloak touched the ground, blue flowers grew, now called the Bluebonnet which is the State flower of Texas. In her convent in the museum are her own beautiful embroidered vestments for the church and priests with native designs and flowers and birds that only exist in the Southwest.
I have visited Ágreda numerous times, studying her books and taking many friends. I have translated and sung a musical ballet written by my friend, Cynthia Jordan, called ‘The Lady in Blue.’ Carlos Hisa, my friend and ex-Governor of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and his family have visited the convent with me, as well. This year, the Tribal Council at Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, led by Governor Michael Silvas and Cacique Jose Sierra, Sr. donated a piano so that the sisters would have a functional piano that would fill the chapel with music.
She wrote four volumes of ‘Mistica Ciudad de Dios,’ or, ‘Mystical City of God,’ which is another exteriority of hers and worth another story. I am currently working on completing the translation of the 5th Volume of the Mystical City of God into English. It will be available for purchase in 2023.
Sor Maria de Jesus’ Convento de las Concepcionistas, which she designed and had built 400 years ago, is undergoing some much-needed reconstruction to prevent more damage caused by water and moisture entering the convent through the floor and walls. If you would like to donate to help restore the building, you may contact me, Martha Vera, Honorary Consul of Spain in El Paso at firstname.lastname@example.org.