Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda, K.C.H.S., Ph. D., illustrious Catholic historian, and Dr. Charles W. Hackett, Ph. D., eminent Protestant historian, record that over a period of eleven years, from 1620 to 1631, Mary of Agreda made over 500 visits to America. In his book, The Life of Venerable Mary of Agreda (Emmett J. Culligan, K.S.G., Publisher, 1959), Catholic author, James A. Carrico gives us the details of these amazing accounts, based upon the Venerable’s biography, written by José Jiménez de Samaniego, O.F.M., bishop of Plasencia, Spain from 1683-1692.
Mary of Agreda, also known as Venerable Mary of Jesus of Agreda, was born in Agreda, Spain, in 1602, and died there in 1665. She was one of eleven children of Francisco Coronel and Catalina de Arana. She had a desire for the religious life from early youth. In 1619, she became a Poor Clare Conceptionist in Agreda. Her mother and one sister entered with her. Her father, although 60 years of age, took the Franciscan habit, and thus made her mother's admission possible.
Mary was made abbess at the age of 25 by papal dispensation. Shortly before her election, she had experienced many ecstasies.
During one of these ecstasies, Sister Mary was shown on one occasion the whole earth, the different nations thereof, and the small number of souls who knew God, as well as the vast number who did not belong to the Catholic Church. God revealed to her that of all those living in darkness, the people of New Mexico and surrounding countries were the most disposed to seek His mercy. This caused Sister Mary to beg God for the conversion of these people. God answered that in His eternal decrees, the time was near at hand "when these American peoples would be instructed in the faith.”
The time was near at hand when these American peoples would be instructed in the faith.
One day while wrapped in ecstasy, Mary was transported to America, and God commanded her to go among the Indians1 and teach the faith of Jesus Christ. She spoke in Spanish, yet they understood her as distinctly as if she spoke their native tongue. She understood them, and performed many miracles in proof of the doctrine she taught. When she came out of her ecstasy, she found herself in the same place and position in the convent in Agreda.
The Indians did not know who she was nor whence she came. They did not know her name, but because of the color of the mantle she wore, they called her "Lady in Blue.”
Father Pandolphi transcribes from Bishop Samaniego’s, Biografía de Su Autora de la Mística Ciudad de Dios, that Sister Mary related these wonderful events to her spiritual director with humble sincerity. "In consideration of the many proofs of her holiness which he had received, and the unlimited power of Divine Omnipotence, her confessor did not hesitate to believe that she had been miraculously transported to America, and this opinion was maintained by many other learned persons."
Let us now examine the testimonies of this unique event as recorded in the earliest chronologies of the history of the United States.
Fray Alonzo de Benavides of the Order of St. Francis, Custodia of the missionaries of New Spain, of the territory of New Mexico (from Texas to the Pacific), and later Auxiliary Bishop of Goa, India, while superior of New Mexico from 1622 to 1630 —was ordered by his Excellency, Don Francisco Manzo y Zuniga, Arch-bishop elect of Mexico, to find this "Lady in Blue."
Dr. Castaneda reports that the action of the Arch-bishop stemmed from two reliable reports: one was that of Mary of Agreda's confessor, Fray Sebastian Marcilla, who asked his Excellency to investigate the conversion of the Indians of New Mexico by a white woman. This was prompted by Agreda's own confession. The second report was from the missionaries themselves whose apostolate was in New Mexico. They related how the Indians sought them out under the direction of the "Lady in Blue."
One day in the year 1629, while sitting in the cool shade of the old Isleta Mission, listening to a group of missionaries who had just arrived from Spain, he (Benavides) saw about fifty Indians approaching across the plains. He was soon aware that they were of the strange tribe that had been coming every year for many years begging him for missionaries to come among them. This time his heart was not heavy because he would not have to turn them away.
Father Benavides records in his two memorials: first to Pope Urban VIII, and the other to King Phil-ip IV of Spain —that he asked them whence they came, and who had sent them. They replied that they had come a long journey from the southeast, from a kingdom called Titlas or Texas, which had not yet been visited by the white man. He invited them into the mis-sion house and asked them how they knew where to find the friars. They answered: "A 'Lady in Blue' taught us the religion of Jesus Christ and told us to come here and ask you for missionaries to come among us." He showed them a picture of a Franciscan nun, Madre Luisa de Carrion, who had done marvelous work among the In-dians. They declared that her dress was the same, but not her face, "for she was young and beautiful.”
In Father Peter Forrestal's translation of Father Benavides' Memorial to King Philip IV, we read that Father Benavides sent Fra Juan de Salas and Fra Diego Lopez back with the Indians. After the long and perilous journey, they were met by the whole tribe of Jumano Indians, carrying two large crosses. Fra Salas reported that he found they did not need catechizing, so well were they instructed in the truths of the faith by their "Lady in Blue." When Fra Salas asked them if they desired baptism, all of them, from the chief down to the children, raised their hands, the mothers held up the hands of their infants. Then he told how they brought their sick to be cured and how he and Fra Lopez labored from three o'clock that afternoon, all through the night, until ten the next day. They cured some two hundred of their sick.
After searching in vain for eight years, Fra Benavides found the "Lady in Blue”, not in America, but in his native land of Spain. This was in the year 1630. When he arrived in Madrid, he told the motive for his journey to the Superior General of the Order, Father Bernardine of Sienna. Fra Benavides learned that his superior knew that the "Lady in Blue" was Sister Maria de Jesus of the convent in Agreda. As Superior General he had already examined her cause some eight years ago and had come to the conclusion that she was the chosen instrument of God in this amazing mission of mercy in America.
Father Bernardine desired to go with Father Benavides to question Sister Maria, but because of urgent official duties, he delegated him to command her "in virtue of holy obedience” to reveal her secret to him, knowing that the humble nun would otherwise wish to conceal it. Taking with him Fra Samaniego, who was then Provincial of Burgos, they went to the convent in the town of Agreda. There, in the presence of her confessor, the reluctant Maria was constrained by obedience to tell all.
Like St. Paul, when he was taken up to the third Heaven, Maria did not know whether she was taken to New Mexico "in the body or out of the body" to instruct the inhabitants of America. But after questioning her in regard to the various peculiarities of that province; the customs of the different tribes of Indians; the nature of the climate; "she convinced me absolutely by describing to me all the things in New Mexico as I have seen them myself, as well as by other details which I shall keep within my soul."
In a letter to the missionaries in America, Father Benavides said: "I give infinite thanks to the Divine Majesty for having placed me, unworthy as I am, among the number enjoying happy good fortune of your paternities, since you are so deserving of heavenly favor that the angels and our father, Saint Francis, aid you. They personally, truly, and actually carry the blessed and blissful Mother Maria de Jesus, discalced Franciscan of the Order of Conception, from the town of Agreda, which is in the limits of Castile, to help us with her presence and teaching in all these provinces and barbarous nations.
"The first time she went to America was in 1620, making more than five hundred journeys (flights) until the year 1631, sometimes making as many as four visits in one day. I should indeed like to tell your paternities in this letter everything that the venerable Mother told me, but it is impossible. Nevertheless, I have written down a great deal of it in a book which I shall bring with me for your consideration.
"Once she took from here a chalice for consecration, and the friars used it for saying Mass and for carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession. All of this will be found there, as well as many crosses and rosaries that she distributed. She was martyred, receiving many wounds, and her heavenly angels crowned her, wherefore she attained martyrdom from Our Lord.” (Sic)
Father Benavides asked Sister Maria to write a letter to the missionaries in America. In praise of this letter, Father Benavides says: "I decided to commit it to the eternity of printing." This letter had great influence upon the conversions of the southwest of United States. Fra Junipero Serra wrote to his biographer, Father Francisco Palou: "Agreda's prophecy is about to be fulfilled in California."
One line in this famous letter impresses itself upon the mind: "I can assure your paternities that I know with all exactness and light that the blessed ones envy you. . . .If they could forsake their eternal bliss to accompany you in those conversions, they would do it."
Father Benavides continues: "My dear fathers and brothers, all that she told me is more to be retained in the heart than to be recorded. I call God to witness that my esteem for her holiness has been increased more by the noble qualities which I discern in her than by all the miracles which she has wrought in America. I have also the very habit that she wore when she went there. The veil radiates such a fragrance that it is a comfort to the spirit."
That Agreda really and truly visited America many times is attested to in the logs of the Spanish Conquis-tadors, the French explorers, and the identical accounts by different tribes of Indians a thousand miles apart. Every authentic history of the South-west of the United States records this mystic phenom-ena unparalleled in the entire history of the world. As Father Benavides aptly put it: "We should consider ourselves fortunate in being protected by the blessed soul of Mary of Jesus."
The demon had exercised his tyranny over these Indian tribes. Since the flood of Noah's time, His power over them was so fantastic for so many centuries that they sacrificed children of their own flesh and blood to him. Is it not logical to assume that the crushing of his head among these heathen nations be even more fantastic? Otherwise God's prime prophecy to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3, 15) would be in vain. Therefore, through the instrument of a woman who was given the greatest knowledge of the Woman, the serpent was crushed by her heel. Venerable Maria’s conversions in America were no less spectacular than the conversion of Saul and the miracles of the apostles in the conversion of other nations.
Just before Father Benavides was made Auxiliary Bishop of Goa, India, he was ordered by His Holiness, Pope Urban VIII, to write an account of his personal investigations. His account to the Pope, written in 1634, was the revised copy of the one he had written for Philip IV, King of Spain in 1630. It was still in manuscript from his pen when discovered in the Archive of the Propaganda de Fide, in 1912, by Msgr. Peter Gilday of the Catholic University of America.
In 1631, Sister Mary of Agreda asked God to release her of the ecstasies which were causing her so much embarrassing publicity. God answered her prayer.
|From an 18th century engraving|
In his biography of Sister Maria, the Most Rev. Joseph Zimenez Samaniego, Provincial of Burgos, later Bishop of Placenza, states that he read her own account of the eleven years Sister Maria spent in converting America. [Later] she was ordered to burn this precious diary.
Of the two great landings in America in 1620 —the Pilgrims in the north at Plymouth and Agreda in the South— the mystical one has, and will yet have, far greater influence upon the history of the world.
The chronicles of that time and contemporary research reveal that it was through Agreda's inspiration and influence upon the early missionaries, especially Fr. Junipero Serra, that that magnificent chain of old Spanish Missions, from the coast of Florida to the coast of California, were built, and from them messengers of the faith have gone out all over the world. …Ven. Maria's writings, especially THE MYSTICAL CITY OF GOD, “committed to the eternity of printing" —were destined to spread throughout the whole world. I do not believe that anyone has yet manifested the tremendous bearing her writings have had upon the field of theology, or yet greater influence upon its component part, Mariology.
—James A. Carrico
Imprimatur: Leo Pursley
Bishop of Fort Wayne
“The Holy See has not yet made pronouncement in regard to the sanctity of Ven. Mary of Agreda. …Whenever we speak of the extraordinary, such as apparitions, bilocation and miracles, ecclesiastical prudence and common sense demand that our assertions be not made in the absolute manner. This would not be in keeping with the spirit of Holy Mother the Church before she has pronounced upon the sanctity of the person involved. …Therefore, whenever we speak of virtues practiced in the heroic manner by the Ven. Maria, we are merely transferring into English what was alleged by her Biographer José Jiménez de Samaniego, O.F.M., bishop of Plasencia. —From the Author’s Preface.
1Throughout these accounts the author uses the term “Indian”, as referring to the native people of the new territorries of what is now New Mexico & Texas in the United States.