A West African Slave becomes a Nun in New Spain

SLAVERY. WOMEN. Gómez de la Parra, José; and Gómez de la Parra, Martinez

Fundacion, y primero siglo, del muy religioso Convento de Sr. S. Joseph de Religiosas Carmelitas Descalzas de la Ciudad de la Puebla de los Angeles, : en la Nueva España, el primero que se fundo en la America Septemtrional, en 27 de diziembre de 1604. Governando este obispado el illustrissimo señor doctor D. Diego Romano, quien lo erigiô, y fundô, en virtud de Breve apostolico de N.M.S.P. Clemente VIII. que con la subscripcion de capitulo 25. del libro 12. del tomo tercero de la Reforma de los Descalzos de Nuestra Señora del Carmen de la primitiva observancia, hecha por Santa Theresa de Jesus, en la antiquissima religion, fundada por el grande propheta Elias / escribe, y saca a luz el Dr. D. Joseph Gomez de la Parra, angelopolitano, colegial del Maior de Santos, magistral en la Santa Iglesia de Michoacan, y despues en esta de la Puebla, electo maestre escuela, examinador synodal en los dos obispados, cathedratico de prima de theologia, en los Reales Colegios de S. Pedro, y S. Juan de esta ciudad, y regente de sus estudios. ; Y por su fallecimiento, proseguida, por el doctor D. Joseph Martinez de la Parra, decano en la facultad de Sagrada Theologia, y calificador del Santo Officio de la Inquisicion de este reyno ; dedicada por las religiosas de este convento, a nuestra Sra. de el Carmen.

Puebla: Viuda de Miguel de Ortega, 1732

$4,900.00

Folio: 28.6 x 19.5 cm. [18], 603, [7] p. Collation: pi² [sec.]-3[sec.]² 4[sec.]² ( -4[sec.]2) A-I² J-Z², Aa-Ii² Jj-Vv² 1-71² 73-103² chi² ( -chi2). For the peculiarities of the printed pagination, see JCB.

FIRST EDITION.

Bound in contemporary limp vellum, rear cover gnawed, rear hinge split, but overall attractive, coming loose from textblock. Contents very good but with some signatures browned and some minor worming, in some instances costing a letter or two. Provenance: contemporary inscription “Es de la comunidad de Nuestra Madre Santa Inés”, almost certainly the Dominican Convento de Santa Inés, Puebla (founded 1620).

A history of the first Discalced Carmelite convent in New Spain (established in 1604), written by the Peruvian-born criollo theologian, José Gómez de la Parra, who preached in the Cathedral Church of Puebla and the city’s convents, and made use of the convent's archives while writing this work.

The bulk of the book consists of biographies of 51 of the convent’s nuns, making this an invaluable record of the lives of the women who lived within the convent’s walls in the first hundred years of its existence. Among the remarkable women, we find Juana Esperanza de San Alberto, who came to the convent as a slave from West Africa. Esperanza’s is one of the very few lives of cloistered African women in New Spain to have come down to us.
José Gómez de la Parra composed his biography of Juana Esperanza de San Alberto, “la Morena” in 1703, more than twenty years after Esperanza's death.

“Juana Esperanza de San Alberto, an enslaved African born at the end of the sixteenth century, lived a life of deep religiosity as slave and then servant to a convent of Discalced Carmelites in Puebla. Her 1678 profession as a nun while on her deathbed was possible because of her reputation as exceptionally pious; black men and women did not normally take formal ecclesiastical vows. Her piety was described in a posthumous hagiographical biography written by José Gómez de la Parra, a priest who relied on the writings of Juana de Jesus María, a nun who had known Juana Esperanza for thirty-nine years.”(Bristol and Harvey)

“Although during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many Black women lived and worked within the convents of Spain and New Spain, it was rare for one of these women to achieve the status of a nun. It was even more rare that she became the subject of a biography…

“The first part of Esperanza's life journey as a slave was quite typical for her time. In 1611 Esperanza was captured as a child in what is today Guinea-Bissau and was brought to New Spain, the colony that contained the second largest population of African slaves on the American continent in 1640. Upon arriving in Veracruz, Esperanza was bought by a woman named Doña Maria Fajardo, who upon her death bequeathed her as a servant to the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites of San José in Puebla. Esperanza lived there for 68 years, during which time she worked in the kitchen and infirmary. The arrival of African slaves like Esperanza in the convents was quite routine since upon entering the religious community, many women brought their slaves to serve them (as Doña Fajardo had done.) 

“However, in contrast with many other female slaves, after following the Carmelite rule for several years, Esperanza managed to be confirmed and obtained permission to stay in the convent indefinitely. Also, unlike the majority of black women inside the convents, some discalced Carmelites who were visiting the community met Esperanza, identified her as an exceptional person, and began to pressure her to profess as a nun. Esperanza agreed to do so, but only just before she died. In 1678, when she thought she was about to pass away, Esperanza had Bishop Santa Cruz called to return to the habit. After becoming a nun, Esperanza survived for almost a year, but she never rose from bed again.” (Valerie Benoist, El "blanqueamiento" de dos escogidas negras de Dios: Sor Esperanza la negra, de Puebla y Sor Teresa la negrita, de Salamanca, in Afro-Hispanic Review , Fall 2014, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 23-40. Translation mine.)

Medina, Puebla 388; Palau 104272; Sabin 27763