“The nun with the wounds”: on mockery, politics and the supernatural

by Andrea Graus

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Figure 1: Sor Patrocinio and Queen Isabel II of Spain, c. 1865. White globes cover the stigmata. Figure 2: Caricature of Los Borbones en Pelota (c. 1868), by SEM (pseudonym).

The Spanish Franciscan nun Sor Patrocinio was born on 27 April 1811. “On that day,” wrote the authors of an anticlerical booklet entitled Los Neos en calzoncillos (1868) (“Neo-Catholics in their underwear”), “the woman was born who perhaps, and by no accident, has for over thirty years been the staunchest enemy of the Spanish people, the true queen of Spain, who with her feigned saintliness managed to dominate the granddaughter of a hundred kings [Isabel II].”[1]

In the early 1830s, she gained a public reputation as a stigmatic and became popularly known as “la monja de la llagas” (the nun with the wounds). Her stigmatization coincided with times of national transformation, when the transition from an absolutist to a constitutional monarchy opened the way for a liberal regime and threatened the status quo of the clergy. During Queen Isabel II’s reign (1833-68), Sor Patrocinio allegedly exercised her political influence through mystical experiences. Alarmist letters from Spanish politicians warned that the Queen based some state decisions on “the nun’s visions”. To many, Sor Patrocinio became a symbol of the Church’s attempt to control the throne. A very popular satirical sonnet of the time expressed this fear:

I fear that the sceptre will become a crosier […] / I venerate God, I venerate the tabernacle; / but not a hypocrite Sister who with emetic tartar, / mimics the [holy] wounds […] / if this cynical farce continues, / all masks will fall / and all Spain will burn like a match.[2]

This politicized image of Sor Patrocinio continued during her lifetime and after her death in 1891. Even though hagiographies tried to restore the nun’s image,[3] popular texts and cartoons continued to depict her as political and a dubious mystic. Being part of the monarchy’s clique, Sor Patrocinio became the enemy of the republican and liberal cause, and was depicted in mocking caricatures. In Sor Patrocinio’s case, caricatures did more than transform the nun’s image: they build it. Despite her celebrity status, most people did not know what Sor Patrocinio looked like. Being a cloistered nun, she was not supposed to leave the convent and only aristocrats and other distinguished people were allowed to visit her. In fact, the first caricature of Sor Patrocinio ever published bears very little resemblance to her (Figure 3). In it, the nun appears to be thin with sharp features; while she was quite ample with a round face.

Figure 3

Figure 3. “A nun who tries to bring happiness to Spain by filling it with convents.” Gil Blas, 2 (1865): 3.

In most of the caricatures, Sor Patrocinio’s name was not mentioned. It mattered not; she was “The Nun” in Spain and it was sufficient to draw a woman in a habit for all to realize that it was her. Most caricatures depicted her as a symbol of neo-Catholicism, understood as a Spanish politico-religious movement that aimed to restore Catholic traditions within society and government. An 1865 caricature depicts Father Claret, the royal court confessor, as the “new” Don Quixote and Sor Patrocinio as Sancho Panza, the knight’s squire (Figure 4). Their field is labelled as “neos”, which stands for neo-Catholics; while a train named “progress” is approaching from behind.

Figure 4Figure 4. “The new Don Quixote.” Source: Gil Blas, II (1865): 3.

We have so far seen Sor Patrocinio’s image through the lens of the republican and anticlerical press. However, not everything was published. During the nineteenth century, a new type of clandestine circuit emerged. The collection of watercolours entitled Los Borbones en pelota (“The Bourbons in the buff”) is a good example of this. Though the set of watercolours constitutes a single book or collection, reproductions of single pictures in cartes de visite or postcard format circulated clandestinely. They date from around 1868. Just as with the pornographic caricatures depicting Marie-Antoinette,  Isabel II and all the powerful figures who surrounded her are either portrayed engaging in sexual intercourse, or using recurrent mocking themes of the time, such as the circus and the animal kingdom. Hence, pornography was used to delegitimize the monarchy. Sor Patrocinio appears in nineteen watercolours and is one of the five most depicted people in the collection (see Figure 2 above).

With the new wave of anticlericalism that swept across Europe during the late 1860s, Sor Patrocinio’s fame as a political mystic and conservative advisor to Isabel II became transnational. French newspapers used her image to warn of the dangers of the clergy ruling the state. On the front-page of the republican and Bonapartist journal Le Gaulois we find a pictorial portrait of Sor Patrocinio and the Kings, along with a small satirical biography: “she ate ONE OUNCE of bread per day! It was the beginning of her glory. To pass herself off as a holy, she declared herself stigmatized and pretended that the wounds in her hands, feet and side bled every Friday” (Figure 5).

le gaulois.png

Figure 5. L. Estor, ‘La révolution espagnole,’ Le Gaulois, 1 (1868): 1. Emphasis in the original.

It is clear that Sor Patrocinio’s life was marred by many scandals. Today, two Catholic scholars are trying to restore her reputation, probably to refloat her Cause for Beatification.[4] They are ready to reassess her image, and see her evolve from an example of absolutism and ecclesiastical control to a victim of liberal, republican and anticlerical persecution. It seems, then, that Sor Patrocinio continues to act as a symbol for ideological causes, arousing passions even from the afterlife.

Further reading: Andrea Graus, “‘Wonder nuns’: Sor Patrocinio, the politics of the supernatural and republican caricature”Journal of Religious History (forthcoming).

[1] A. Funes, E. Lustonó, Los Neos en calzoncillos (Madrid: Imp. de los Sres. Rojas, 1868): 16-17.

[2] The sonnet is attributed to Manuel Bretón de los Herreros (1796-1873). Cited in: Dos Amigos Filósofos (pseudonym), Biografía de Sor Patrocinio, o sea la célebre monja de las llagas (Madrid: Imp. de los Sres. Rojas, 1868): 143.

[3] M.-I. de Jesús, Notas de las épocas más principales de la vida de nuestra amadísima venerada y reverenda Madre abadesa y fundadora Sor María de los Dolores y Patrocinio (Madrid: Librería Religiosa de Enrique Hernández, 1899).

[4] Professor Javier Paredes (Universidad de Alcalá) and Professor Eudaldo Forment (Universidad de Barcelona). See: Paredes, ed., Las llagas de la monja. Sor Patrocinio en el convento del Caballero de Gracia. Introduction by E. Forment (Madrid: San Román, 2015).

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