In pre-screening his PBS program, “Texas before the Álamo,” San Antonio film director Bill Millet and renowned author Dr. Felix Almaráz, Jr. visited Ágreda, Spain in November 2014.
In the same international goodwill manner, a Spanish delegation of dignitaries is returning the courtesy. Tomorrow, March 21, 2015, the Mayor of Ágreda and a group from both Spain and Mexico will be honored at a St. Mary’s University presentation entitled “Sor María de Ágreda – The Lady in Blue, and the founding of the first Texas missions.”
Their itinerary includes touring of San Antonio Spanish Mexican historical sites and Mission Espíritu Santo in Goliad. The event is open to the public.
Sister Ágreda’s fascinating story is a major part of Spain’s decision to initiate plans to send missionaries and explorers to Texas in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Some of the more famous trailblazers are Domingo Terán de los Rios, Alonso de León, Domingo Ramón, Fathers Francisco Hidalgo, Antonio Olivares, Jesús de Margil, Damián Massanet, and many others. It must be noted that Catholic padres led the challenging construction of many of today’s historical structures. For example, their leadership in early San Antonio history is as follows: (1) Father Olivares founded Mission San Antonio de Valero and Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (Álamo) and was the first to explore the area. (2) Father Margil built San Antonio’s Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo. Construction of other permanent structures followed.
However, what was so significant about Sister Ágreda’s story to cause such attention? The following details summarize her enigmatic life.
Sor (Sister) María de Jesús de Ágreda (1602–1665), also known as the Lady in Blue and the Blue Nun, was born in Ágreda and belonged to a local powerful family. Ágreda is located in the province of Soria, in León, Spain. Maria believed in quiet prayer, and was known to possess particular holiness during prayer. As a very young child, it is said that she placed herself in a trance when she prayed.
Those who knew young María say that there was something special about her, even though she was only four years old. Soon, the word spread that the little girl was indeed gifted. As a result, even the bishop wanted to meet her. He was so impressed that he offered to confirm her himself.
María’s entire family adopted the Catholic holy life when she was 15 years old. Her father, then in his early 50s, entered a Franciscan house. Her brothers were already studying toward the priesthood. Maria, her mother, and sister established a Franciscan family house in Ágreda.
Young women wanting to be part of the shelter came to stay. So, a new convent facility was begun in 1633 with money donated to the group. When her mother died, the nuns named María president and elected her as the abbess of the convent. She was only 25. Her life of living quietly in Ágreda was about to change for the young nun. Very beautiful, extraordinary things were taking place many miles away in America.
In 1629, the abbot and the priests of the Convent of Saint Anthony, in Isleta, New Mexico were stunned! A group of Jumano Indians had just arrived unexpectedly at their door. After walking many miles from what is now Texas, they asked for a priest to come and build a mission in their village. When the priests asked why, the Indians replied that “The Lady in Blue” had sent them.
The priests in New Mexico still didn’t know what to make of it. They wondered who this white lady dressed in blue with a beautiful face might be. They also wanted to know how she had come to America. The mention of the color blue by the natives was worthy of note. María and members of her order wore blue cloaks over their clothing. However, the priests in America hadn’t thought of it just yet. They would soon get to the bottom of the mystery.
They sent a priest to Spain to look into the story. As part of his search, the priest and other church officials finally made their way to the Franciscan convent in Ágreda. There he met Maria. She was able to answer questions that only a person who had been in America would know. The officials were very impressed by her knowledge. Also, she said that what the Indians were saying was true. She had sent them to the abbot in New Mexico to ask him to build a mission for the Jumano Tribe in Texas. María also told the church officials that she often visited the Indian tribes, not only in Texas, but in Arizona and New Mexico. This amazed church officials yet again. For some time now, missionaries in the Southwest had reported that a number of Indian villages already knew about Christianity. Now, they knew how the Indians had learned about the religion.
Amazingly, María never left her convent in Ágreda. That is the biggest mystery of all. Maria further said that she had visited America many times. Somehow, she had the ability to preach to the Native Americans using only her spirit. When asked to explain, she said that she put her mind in a special state or trance. Then, her spirit left her body and traveled to America through a process known as bilocation. That is when the church officials realized that there was no other explanation. They decided that Sister Maria was indeed gifted.
Church officials continued to study the matter. They carefully reviewed every part of the story. High officials of the Catholic Church could not explain what was happening. In the end, they decided that it was truly a miracle. Her story was spread throughout Europe. Even the King of Spain, Philip IV, became her close friend. She acted as his spiritual advisor.
María was an excellent writer. Some of her 14 books are still used today in religious study. Also, her beautiful prose is used in Spanish literature classes around the Hispanic world. Her writings also are part of the colonial history of America.
The position of abbess at the Ágreda convent was meant to be replaced every three years. However, Maria filled the job until her death in 1665. After her death, Pope Clement X honored María by giving her “venerable” status within the church. Because of petitions to the Vatican from modern-day clergy and Catholics, she is expected to be named a saint one day.
An Indian legend in Texas tells the story of when she last appeared. María preached with the Indians and then her spirit moved out into the nearby hills. The next morning, the Indians awoke to a cloak of small blue flowers covering the spot where the Lady in Blue last appeared. The Indian legend says that this is when the first Bluebonnets began to grow in Texas.
If you’ve been putting off learning about early Texas history, this is an opportunity to get you started. As such, if you are able to, please make plans for you, your family, and friends to attend. Come learn the beautiful and unique story of Sor (Sister) María de Ágreda at St. Mary’s University; an event that can only be described as truly “an abrazo across the Atlantic.”