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Maria Agreda The Lady In Blue History Essay

Folklores are special. They touch our very existence. They enter into our human frailty and offer a sense of meaning and power to the persons who hear and pass them by. Folklore about a 'lady in blue' has intrigued many and has fascinated a slew of others. There is renewed interest and activity around this folklore. Celebrations in the Concho valley and San Angelo now commemorate the historical event of the how Christianity arrived in the Concho Valley and brings together American Indians who trace their heritage to the Jumano tribe that lived and traded in the area centuries ago.

Sister Maria of Agreda (also known as the Lady in Blue, Mary of Agreda, and Maria de Agreda) is most well known in Spain. Yet this remarkable "Venerable" of the Catholic Church has a fascinating heritage in America, from colonial times to the present and there is a rapidly increasing popular recognition of her significance in American history. Sister Maria was said to have had the gift of bilocation. Although she never left her convent in Spain, miraculously she was able to walk with the Natives in the New World and instruct them in the faith in a way they could understand. Sister Maria's cloak was made of dark blue cloth and because of this the Jumanos referred to her as The Lady in Blue. Maria visited the Native Americans in the New World over 500 times. There is a legend told in Texas that the morning after her last visit, the land was filled with beautiful bluebonnet flowers as a gift to remember her by.

Jumanos and the Missions

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The Jumanos were Nomadic traders and farmers, the Jumanos were noted for their skilled commerce in goods and information-sharing throughout the Southwest. The historic Jumano occupied a marginal position between the Rio de Grande valley and the southern plains, where they operated in the specialized role of traders. [1] At the time of the Spanish conquest in 1598, a party led by Vicente de Zaldivar encountered Apaches trading at Pecos Pueblo; on this occasion, a group of the Indians requested (but failed to get) Spanish support in an attack on their enemies, the Jumanos. [2] In the 1620's Jumanos were found in virtually the same locations and were still at war with the Apache. The most important single source of information about New Mexico in the third decade of the seventeenth century has been Alonso de Benavides's Memorial of 1630, which was prepared as a report on the state of the missions and the colony. [3] 

Benavides was a man of obvious competence, energy, and missionary zeal. He may have been assigned to the unsettled colony of New Mexico, in part, as a troubleshooter; relations between the religious establishment and the colonial government, never easy, seem to have improved during his term of office. [4] His double appointment gave him exceptional power and doubtless facilitated his ability to follow through with the projects of reorganization, construction, and recruitment that were initiated during his years in the colony. The Memorial of 1630 describes the route between Mexico and Santa Fe, enumerates the resources of the colony, names and describes the several native population groups, and discusses the state of the missionary enterprise. Toward the end of the Memorial of 1630, an account is given of the journey of two Franciscan priests-Juan de Salas and Diego Lopez-who, in 1629, crossed through the country of the Vaqueros Apaches to visit a Jumano outpost. It must be emphasized that this narrative, along with later writings of Benavides, constitutes the sole body of primary information for all subsequent accounts of the "miraculous conversion" of the Jumanos and their neighbors.

Twentieth century historian Marion Habig, however, links the first Texas mission-albeit in operation for only six months-with the 1632 expedition from Isleta, New Mexico to the San Angelo area in Texas. The motivating force behind the expedition was the determination of the Jumanos to establish one or more missions near their primary encampments. The 1632 expedition was the second such made- the first being in 1629, to the Amarillo area in Texas-also at the insistence of the Jumanos, as urged by their beloved Lady in Blue, Sister María of Ágreda. "The missionaries from New Mexico came all the way down to San Angelo to the confluence of the three Concho rivers." [5] 

This seminal missionary activity definitively links the Jumanos, the reported evangelization of the Lady in Blue, and the San Angelo area, with the earliest Christian mission heritage of Texas. They first conversion was a group of 50 Jumano Indians who appeared at a Franciscan convent south of what is now Albuquerque, asking for religious teachers for themselves and their neighbors. They demonstrated a basic knowledge of Christianity, claiming they had been instructed by a "woman in blue."

Later an expedition organized in New Mexico and guided by the chief of the Jumano delegations met a large number of American Indians in Southwest Texas - who again, claimed that they had been told by the woman in blue to expect the arrival of Christian missionaries. According to the Handbook of Texas, "subsequently, 2,000 natives presented themselves for baptism and further religious instruction."

Sister Maria of Agreda and Her Mission among the Jumanos

From 1620 to 1631 Sister Maria of Agreda, cloistered and in trances instructed the Jumanos on baptism and the doctrine of the Church. She even visited them personally, twice or thrice a day, and even to the Indians talking their own tongues. Healing the sick, winning converts for Christ were also part of her mission. She asked for assistance from Franciscan friars at Rio Grande pueblos.

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The miracle of bilocation related of her is in fact more remarkable and lasted a longer time than that recorded anywhere in the lives of the saints. Her good sense, her truthfulness, her sincerity, her humility, her unselfish love of God and man eminently adapted her for the communication of messages from God to men. [6] 

Mother Maria had described experiences of this sort, recounting her vivid impressions of travelling, preaching, and other activities, said:

On one occasion ... the Lord unexpectedly transported her in an ecstasy. Without perceiving the means, it seemed to her that she was in another and different region and climate, and in the midst of... those Indians who, on other occasions, had manifested themselves to her by means of disembodied visions. It seemed that ... she saw them with her own eyes, and noted the temperature of the land.... Preaching her faith to those people, it seemed to her that she was actually preaching ... in her own Spanish language; and that the Indians understood her as if it were their own; . . . and that the Indians were converted and she catechized them. [7] 

Her confessor, Father Sebastian Marcilla, declared the experience to be authentic, and other learned persons to whom he communicated this were of the same opinion. He dispatched a letter to Francisco Manso y Zuniga, the archbishop elect of Mexico. The archbishop drafted a letter on May 18, 1628 to investigate Sister María's tales. He sent the letter asking them to report back about their instruction to Catholic faith - the modus operandi of their spiritual life. He sent the letter with Fray Esteban Pera.

Arriving at their destination they were warmly welcomed by Fray Alonso de Benadives. Barring their initial works at their institution they were anxious to review the letter from the archbishop of Mexico. Fray Juan de Salas told them about a woman in blue - the so-called 'lady in blue' - whom the Indians had mentioned about. He also declined the possibility of a nun being sent alone on a mission to the wilderness. He suspected that the Jumanos might have received Christian faith from fellow Indians. He could not imagine of someone from Spain ministering in spirit.

The enquirers showed the Jumanos a picture of Mother Luisa of Carrion, and asked about the resemblance of the woman. The Jumanos denied the lady in the picture and told of a lady in blue, young and charming, descending from the clouds.

Fray Perea wished to investigate their claims more deeply. He traveled far and wide along with his companions and enquired of the lady in blue. Later, with evidence in hand for the spiritual journeys of the Lady in Blue, Fray Benavides returned to Mexico City and informed to the Archbishop Francisco Manzo y Zuniga. He then left for Spain, planning to visit the Poor Clares' Convent of the Immaculate Conception at Ágreda to interview Señora María herself and investigate the story further. He promised to report back to the Franciscans in the New World.

Although there are clear indications that Benavides asked leading questions and that Maria's replies were given under great pressure, Benavides left Agreda even more confirmed in his convictions. [8] He was now convinced not only that Maria de Agreda had been physically present in the New World, but also that her visits had continued until that same year, 1631. [9] In the report he promised to write back to his Franciscan brethren in the New World he wrote, "She told me so many tales of this country, that I did not even remember them myself, and she brought them back to my mind. ... She also told me all we know that has happened to our brothers and fathers, fray Juan de Salas and fray Diego Lopez, in the journeys to the Jumanas [at the village near the river with the waters laden with red sediments], and that she asked the latter and instructed them to go and call the fathers, as they did. She gave me all their descriptions, adding that she assisted them.


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Maria's story has captured the interest of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians. Benavides' historical writings served to preserve the Lady in Blue story and her own writing influenced 17th and 18th century missionaries in its own right. Among modern-day descendants of the Jumanos, there are those who fully endorse the mystical aspects of the Lady in Blue.

A field of endeavor with which Maria de Agreda was identified through much of her life was her "encouragement of missionary activity, especially among the Franciscans". [10] She frequently indicated that God had revealed to her his desire for the conversion of the North American Indians. Through her writings, she charged the Franciscans to take the lead in this apostolic mission, assuring them of success in their endeavors. Her mystical "journeys" to North America are intelligible in this context: though cloistered in Spain, she was still a leader, and a vicarious participant, in the missionary work of her male counterparts.

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