The beatas and alumbradas of Spain were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition, which was determined to stamp out “marvels” among unauthorized persons. Women in the Inquisition: Spain and the New World, 1999 (ed. Mary E. Giles, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U Press) has some extraordinary stories about them. The book refers to trance, visions, ecstatic practices, and healing by the beatas (“blessed women,” who gathered in beaterios and ritual prayer groups called oratorios) and alumbradas (“illuminated women”).
Inés of Herrera del Duque, known as the Prophetess of Extremadura, had visions and dreams, and counseled people. Francisca Hernández (1530) was “reputed to have extraordinary healing powers” as well as spiritual guidance.
Ana Dominga who was tried by Barcelona Inquisition and jailed for six months in 1610, was a “beata profesa” described by the author as “an itinerant holy woman whose exuberant prayer scandalized her companions.” (But she was also religiously very conservative, self-derogating, and into flagellation). A lot of these women were into fasting, which could be seen as either churchly mortification of the body, or an ascetic path to altered states.
María de Jesús de Agreda was a mystic renowned for her trances, levitation, and most famously, for bi-locating to New Mexico. She’d go into ecstatic trance after taking communion. Was tried several times by the Inquisition in its campaign aimed at “stopping individuals who publicly displayed trances, speaking in tongues, and other spectacular forms of behavior.” It also cracked down on “acts of unmediated [by the priesthood] contact with the Divine or the demonic.” (All depends on interpretation, there’s the rub.) In 1624 she underwent an auto-da-fe (not executed though) with six other alumbrada women, and three men, and one corpse.
One author in the anthology describes alumbradismo as “primarily a female transgression associated with women who reported visionary experiences.” Yet some clerics sought out such women as spiritual directors. One such was Maria Catalina de Jesús, a miracle worker who led a group of alumbrados in Seville with nearly 700 members; the Inquisition sentenced her to public penance and two years of labor as a hospital servant (a common punishment of the Sp Inq).
Another of these recognized leaders (not by the institutional hierarchy) was the beata Isabel de la Cruz, in the 1500s known “as the true mother and teacher of all the alumbrados.” And then there are into the syncretic cross-confessional ties of this movement: “Both Sufis and alumbrados underwent individual trances and group experiences that sometimes became extravagant expressions of emotion with dancing, weeping, ecstatic shouts, incomprehensible speech, and prophecies.” This threatened the powers that were, and they set about crushing the beatas and their oratorios (prayer gatherings).
Shown, Beata Francisca de Paula de Jesus, known among her Brazilian people as Nhá Chica (Aunt Francie), who died in 1895 and who unlike the women described above, received recognition by the hierarchy. But the beatas of 16th and 17th century Spain would have looked very like her.
Suppressed Histories Archives