Doesn’t Rebellious Nuns sound like a great book title? Particularly when it is a book about the cloistered nuns that lived here in San Miguel for centuries. I should have been suspicious when I learned I was only the second person to take out the book titled Rebellious Nuns in over a decade from the library. What’s up with that?
Despite being the thickness of my forearm the book has about as many interesting antidotes as Goodnight Moon does. Yes, the author did years of plowing through primary documentation but who wants to read those if they aren’t weaved into some sort of story?
The story is the order of San Miguel’s cloistered community in centro, called the Immaculate Conception, was started by the era’s Paris Hilton, a teenager that inherited the biggest fortune in town. Normally an order of clergy (priests or nuns) focuses on a task like education, nursing, eldercare or missionary work. This gal’s cloistered order is not focused on prayer as others are, it’s simply was cloistered.
You see, if you were a local, wealthy gal (read Spanish) that didn’t like men, or want to be a wife and mother, or simply wanted to be educated, the cloistered route was the way to go. In what is now Bellas Artes you could buy an apartment, join the order, bring along you slaves, or servants, and spend the rest of your life studying, napping, or whatever you want to safe from the outside world yet an honorary part of it.
As various Mother Superiors and Bishops arrived the focus of the order changed. One leader may want the nuns to sleep on planks to focus on Jesus’ pain while the next wanted wealthy heiresses to donate their funding in exchange for a lifetime of honor and respect safely behind closed doors.
I gave the book, Rebellious Nuns, nary another thought until a representative for the local Literary Sala invited me for a drink to describe her plans for having an immersion weekend based on the book. She was shocked to meet anyone that actually read it.
She wants folks to pay her to come for a weekend and tour Bellas Artes and meet the author whom I was shocked to learn even lived in my lifetime. The author was described as being in her nineties so waiting until next year for the event seemed unnecessarily dicey to me. When I looked for her on-line, I learned she’s only about a decade older than me, and still teaches at Berkley.
My suggestions for a Rebellious Nuns weekend were to have a photography exposition of the present day cloistered nuns placed in Bellas Artes (where they once lived). Then to do a tour of the art in the Immaculate Conception church explaining how the art impacts daily life.
Today the nuns make their money (every order, cloistered or not, must support itself as money doesn’t come from the Church) with their tamales (yummy) and cookies (dry). At one point the order raised white purebred poodles to make money. (There is an order of friars in New England well compensated for raising German Sheppards.) One day a new bishop came to town and demanded the nuns stop raising poodles so they opened the doors and let them free. That’s why San Miguel’s street dog population has that unique white poodle mix running through them.
One day I went to the order’s office to order tamales for a festival entering a room filled with ancient religious paintings. Confused, I was even more so when a painting of a nun coughed scaring me senseless. She immediately chuckled letting me know she’s done this before knowing the layers of screen over her face provided a sheen normally only century old paintings do.
A nun’s rebellion never ends!
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin