Today the order of San Miguel de Allende’s cloistered community in Centro, called the Immaculate Conception, celebrated the 250th anniversary of the death of their founder, the era’s Paris Hilton, a teenager that inherited the biggest fortune in town.
Josefa Lina de la Canal y Hervas was born in 1736 the first child in the Canal family, one of the wealthiest families in San Miguel de Allende during the Inquisition. Both parents died when Josefa was 15 and she used her inheritance to construct a convent and church.
Her actions, at that time, weren’t all that unusual. If you were a wealthy, Spanish woman that didn’t like men, nor wanted to be a wife and mother, or simply wanted to be well 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 your servants, and spend the rest of your life immersed in what you enjoyed studying. The women were safe from the outside world yet an honorary part of it.
The order of the Immaculate Conception was created by St. Beatrice. Beatrice was a Portuguese lady-in-waiting to the Queen in the 1400s. Having good looks that raised the jealousy of the Queen, Beatrice left courtly life to start her cloistered religious order.
Normally an order of clergy (priests or nuns) focuses on a task like education, healthcare or missionary work. St. Beatrice’s cloistered order is not as focused on prayer as others are, it’s simply was cloistered.
Today the Immaculate Conception nuns of San Miguel de Allende make their money (every order, cloistered or not, must support itself as money doesn’t come from the Church) selling eggnog, their moist, yummy tamales and wickedly dry cookies. At one point the order raised white purebred poodles to make money. (There is an order of friars in New England well known for raising German Shepherds.) One day a new bishop came to town and demanded the nuns stop raising poodles so they opened the doors and let the poodles free. That’s why San Miguel de Allende’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 at how to place a tamale order, I was scared senseless when a painting of a nun coughed. She immediately chuckled letting me know she’s done this before since the layers of screen over her face provided a sheen normally only century old paintings do
Josefa left her order dying at age 33, the same age as Jesus, leaving behind a convent home to just over 70 nuns. Her remains lie under the choir loft in a space only opened for public viewing on the anniversary of her death, August 9th. Later, on August 17th, is the feast day of St. Beatrice, one of two days the nuns are released from their cloister vows and are visited by family and friends. The other day is the December 8th celebrating the Immaculate Conception which is why Mary’s birthday is celebrated nine months later, September 8th.
by Joseph Toone