Inés of Herrera

Today I’m tipping my hat to late 15th-century conversa mystic, Inés of Herrera, as I find myself once again reading about a woman (well, a girl, actually) who was investigated—and in this tragic case, executed (1500)—by the Inquisition as a result of not only practicing her religion, but also publicising it. That said, most of the women mystics I come across are Christian. Thus, Inés and her ardent followers remind us that Christians were hardly the only Europeans filled with religious zeal in this period.

Inés was born c. 1488. In her late childhood, Inés began to have visions and transcendent experiences in which her deceased mother and angels accompanied her on ascents to heaven. As a result of her experiences, Inés began to prophesy about the deliverance of her co-religionists, Spanish conversos/conversas (Jews converted forcibly and otherwise to Christianity), to the Promised Land, as well as the coming of Elias (who would announce the coming of the Messiah in 1500). Despite having been coerced and even violently forced to convert to Christianity, many of her co-religionists lent her their eager ears. Adults and children alike travelled to Herrera to hear her prophecies, as well her messages about the importance of following the 10 Commandments, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. What I love most about this is that many of those who came to visit Inés were (or claimed to be?) tanners and shoemakers travelling under the guise of doing business. Inés’s father, Juan Esteban, was a shoemaker and tanner by trade, and would invite travelling colleagues ostensibly in Herrera to buy leather to his home to meet his daughter.

In 1499, Inés and her enthusiastic followers came to attention of the Inquisition. Although she and many of her followers were investigated and punished (with various degrees of severity and “lenience”), surviving inquisitorial records literally testify to the expressions of Jewish joy that Inés and her prophesies generated in the community. Many children were especially fervent followers of hers, and records mention how they played, danced, and sang in her presence.

Haim Beinart, throughout her chapter in Inés in Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World, points out that the records surrounding Inés’s case reveal how the Jewish faith remained very much alive among many conversos/conversas (at least those in and around Herrera) following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Despite having been coercively converted (at best), testimonies from Inés’s case show Jewish perseverance in their frequent references to passages from the Hebrew Bible, as well as the reports of fasting and Sabbath observance.

~S

 

Bibliography

This entire post is based on information found in:

Beinart, Haim. “Inés of Herrera del Duque: The Prophetess of Extremadura.” In Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Edited by Mary E. Giles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 42-52.

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Inés of Herrera

Jeanne Guyon

Today I tip my hat to Jeanne Guyon, a 17th-century Catholic woman mystic, whose religious practices—especially her mode of intensive, interior, constant prayer intended to maintain oneself in the presence of God—and writings lead to her persecution by officials in both the French government and the Catholic Church in France.

Like many early modern women authors, Jeanne was born (1648) to a wealthy family, and her parents had her educated. She was thus privileged with the ability to commit her beliefs to text. Although she became a mystic and author later in life, Jeanne was not an apt pupil, but nevertheless continued to be educated by nuns in various convents as her family moved repeatedly. Though she apparently lacked the makings of a scholar, Jeanne was devoted to her religious life from early on. She desired, at one time, to become a nun, but agreed instead to marry at 15.

After 12 years of marriage, Jeanne was widowed and left with 3 surviving children. As a widow, Jeanne began to teach her beliefs about and methods of prayer, causing controversies in France (and beyond). She was accused of heresy and imprisoned several times (including a 7-year-stint the Bastille). However, she also enjoyed considerable support from many elites. In St. Cyr, Madame de Maintenon, who ran a girls school, invited her to lecture to her pupils.

Jeanne’s adulthood was rife with gains and losses of friends and support (she was asked several times by local authorities to leave towns in which she settled). Indeed, de Maintenon eventually became one of many who cut ties with Jeanne once her controversies caught up with her as she moved from place to place. Even the support of pious courtiers, however, did not prevent her imprisonment after the publication of her book, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer. During her imprisonment Jeanne was forced to renounce her book in exchange for her release. In 1693, with the aim of clearing herself of the socio-religious taint of heterodoxy (Jeanne always considered herself a Catholic), Jeanne requested that Bishop Bossuet (a foremost Catholic cleric who enjoyed the favour of Louis XIV) review her work. He found much of it unorthodox and Jeanne subsequently promised to cease teaching. After a year off the radar, Jeanne tried her luck again. She went to Meaux, home of Bossuet’s cathedral, straddling the line between prisoner and penitent. After 6 months there she escaped with a “certificate of orthodoxy” bearing Bossuet’s signature.

Jeanne’s escape led to her imprisonment in the Bastille. She was released in 1703 on the condition that she live with her adult son in Blois and remain under the supervision of the local bishop. Although she had renounced her writings years before, Jeanne remained devout until her death in 1717, and Blois became pilgrimage site even during her lifetime.

There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to write about Jeanne today (beyond my interest in women mystics). First and foremost, much of the readily available/public sources that discuss Jeanne centre the men in her life. During her earlier years as a spiritual writer and teacher, much is made of one man’s influence over her mind. After her ideas began gathering momentum, another man’s importance to the rise in their popularity is emphasised. Given the patriarchal nature of early modern (and modern) society, I’m sure these men were influential and important, but ultimately Jeanne was the mystic. It was Jeanne who wrote about prayer, her ecstasies, and her experiences of God’s own presence, and it was she who wanted to teach her method of prayer to others. Secondly, Jeanne reminds me to be compassionate when studying history. She didn’t heroically stand by her teachings in the face of indefinite imprisonment; she renounced her greatest work and went on living piously. These actions might not have been as noble as some of those we’ve written about on this blog, but they can remind us that historical hotties respond to hostility in many different ways because at the end of the day they’re “just” people.

~S

Bibliography:

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Guyon, Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Degert, Antoine (1913). “Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon“. In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Jeanne Guyon