The Mystic of Tunja

The Writings of Madre Castillo, 1671-1742



During the fifty-three years she lived in a convent in the city of Tunja in what is now Colombia, author Madre Castillo stretched the accepted boundaries of female behavior by veiling her intellectual activities in the duties of a colonial nun. Her autobiographical writings reveal a deeply conflicted individual whose keen mind chafed against the restrictions of Counter-Reformation ideology.

In this volume, Kathryn Joy McKnight offers an insightful analysis of Madre Castillo's life and writings. She situates these writings within a tradition of female autobiography in which nuns negotiated the power to represent themselves by inscribing into their stories bleeding bodies, demonic temptations, and celestial visions.

McKnight draws on feminist and post-structural criticism, recent scholarship on nuns' writings, and extensive research in colonial archives to develop a framework for understanding Madre Castillo's life and the genre of the spiritual autobiography, so often required of mystic nuns by their confessors.

Madre Castillo's published works, Su vida and the Afectos espirituals, present a fascinating contrast in self-portraits. Proclaiming herself the center of convent scandal, the three-time abbess wrote an autobiographical tale marked by discord and self-degradation while, with greater confidence, her journal-like Afectos enters the realm of scriptural commentary where few female contemporaries dared to tread.

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