Seven pilgrims from Spain traveled to New Mexico last week to places where only the hardiest tourists go.
They were looking for the sights where miraculous things happened some 400 years ago, when a young nun in blue ministered to the Jumano Indian tribe ensconced near what is now Mountainair — without ever leaving the cloistered confines of her convent in Ãgreda, Spain.
Call it holy holography, astral projection, teleportation or bilocation. The believers, like the pilgrims from the nun’s hometown of Ãgreda, call it one reason the nun who blessed the Southwest with her hallowed presence should be canonized as a saint.
And yet most New Mexicans, including me, have never heard of the Blue Nun.
I’m an old Catholic school girl, raised on religion and the reasons we are put here on this earth, and, until a few days ago, the Blue Nun was simply a cheap, sweet wine. But the real story is far more intoxicating.
As the story goes, Sor Maria de Jesus de Ãgreda — aka the Blue Nun — had a gift of going into a trancelike state that allowed her to bilocate by “the aid of angels” to our isolated plains, where she taught the Jumanos in their own language about the Catholic faith, how to pray, how to make rosaries and altars and crosses and how they should seek further religious guidance and baptism from the Franciscan friars located near what is now Isleta.
Because of her many trips, which numbered in the 500s from 1620 to 1631, she could describe in great detail the lined tattoos on the Indians faces and arms and the land on which they lived far across the ocean. She knew they were called Jumanos, not common knowledge in Europe or anywhere beyond what are now New Mexico and West Texas.
In turn, the Jumanos described her as beautiful, white-skinned and dressed in a blue cloak, yet historical records show there were no nuns, no white-skinned women for miles and for years later.
Investigations into their claims performed by numerous priests, bishops and the Inquisition found no other explanation for how both Sor Maria and the Jumanos could know what they knew. Of special interest was how the tribes knew so much about the Catholic faith even though Franciscan missionaries had yet to begin spreading the word there.
Such verification of Sor Maria’s miraculous travels — combined with the accomplishment of her seminal book, “Mystical City of God,” on the life of the Virgin Mary as told to her, as the story goes, by the Virgin Mary — was enough evidence for Pope Clement X to begin the process of sainthood for Sor Maria in 1765, bestowing upon her the title of Venerable, the first of the three steps to sainthood.
And that is where, at least in New Mexico, the story of the Blue Nun began to fade away.
“Men of great intellect and repute in New Mexico say, ‘Wow, I have never heard of the Blue Nun,’ ” said Dr. Henry Casso, a longtime academic who led two well-attended round-table forums on the Blue Nun in January and April at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “Interest in her has always been stronger in Europe.”
Indeed, Sor Maria is one of the most revered and influential women in Spanish history, Casso said.
But beginning last year, interest in the Blue Nun began to grow in New Mexico and Texas through the efforts of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Hispanic Culture Preservation League, the University of New Mexico, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and others.
This week’s trip by the Spanish visitors is the first international pilgrimage to New Mexico, a commingling of efforts to help Sor Maria obtain sainthood and regain her rightful place in Catholic history beyond Europe.
“They are ordinary people, these pilgrims,” said Casso, who accompanied the group during its four-day trip, which included audiences with Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Isleta Pueblo Gov. Frank Lujan and former ambassador to Spain, Ed Romero. “They are teachers, workers who have scraped together the money to come here. They are people of faith.”
Their itinerary took them to Mountainair and Gran Quivira, where for the first time in 150 years Mass was held. The pilgrims also visited Abó, which like Gran Quivira is part of the Salinas Pueblos Missions National Monument; Isleta Pueblo, UNM, San Felipe de Neri Church in Old Town and St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe.
When the pilgrims return to their homeland, they plan to meet with the Most Rev. Gerardo Melgar Viciosa, bishop of Osma-Soria, Spain, and others to present their findings on contributions of the Blue Nun to the areas she visited hundreds of years ago.
“It is important work they are doing,” Casso said. “But even more important is continuing the dialog, spreading the word on this most holy woman and her influence in our own state.”
Miracles don’t happen every day. But here’s one that happened in our own backyard. Might be a good time for us to learn more about it.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal