María Vela y Cueto: Autobiography and Letters of a Spanish Nun

The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe - The Toronto Series , Vol. 51

María Vela y Cueto: Autobiography and Letters of a Spanish Nun

Edited by Susan Diane Laningham
Translated by Jane Tar
2016 | 192 + xiv pp. | 978-0-86698-559-8 | Paperback 6 x 9 in
MRTS 504 | $34.95 |

OVEME v.51.
When María Vela y Cueto (1561–1617) declared that God had personally ordered her to take only the Eucharist as food and to restore primitive dress and public penance in her aristocratic convent, the entire religious community, according to her confessor, “rose up in wrath.” Yet, when Vela died, her peers joined with the populace to declare her a saint. In her autobiography and personal letters, Vela speaks candidly of the obstacles, perils, and rewards of re-negotiating piety in a convent where devotion to God was no longer expressed through rigorous asceticism. Vela’s experience, told in her own words, reveals her shrewd understanding of the persuasive power of a woman’s body.


María Vela y Cueto was a controversial figure in Counter-Reformation Spain. Some of her contemporaries regarded the visions, voices, and strange maladies she received as signs of divine favor; others suspected her of fraud or even heresy. After her death, her account of her life and spiritual experiences was lost to posterity until the twentieth century. This volume allows English-readers to encounter the sometimes infuriating, always fascinating, María Vela in her own words. Susan Laningham’s insightful introduction and notes, based on years of persistent scholarship, helpfully locate Vela in historical and historiographical context. Jane Tar’s careful and sensitive translation renders the Spanish nun’s writing accessible to a modern audience. This book will be of great interest to scholars and students of religion, gender, and the body in post-Tridentine Catholic culture.
Jodi Bilinkoff
Professor, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro