María de Jesús de Agreda (the Lady in Blue) was born in the Spanish village of Agreda near the border of Aragon and Navarre in April of 1602, the eldest daughter of Francisco Coronel and Catalina of Arana. In her youth María, baptized María Coronel, demonstrated unusual piety and remarkable memory. At the age of sixteen, she convinced her father that he should convert the family castle into a convent for Franciscan nuns. She took religious vows on February 2, 1620, and the name María de Jesús. The new order soon expanded beyond the confines of the castle and moved to the convent of the Immaculate Conception in Agreda. The nuns' habit was colored Franciscan brown (pardo) with an outer cloak of coarse blue cloth.
Throughout the 1620s María de Jesús would repeatedly lapse into deep trances. On these occasions she experienced dreams in which she was transported to a distant and unknown land, where she taught the Gospel to a pagan people. Her alleged miraculous bilocations took her to eastern New Mexico and western Texas, where she contacted several American Indian cultures, including the Jumanos. Sister María related her mystical experiences to her confessor, Fray Sebastián Marcilla of Agreda. His superiors contacted the archbishop of Mexico, Francisco Manso y Zúñiga. The archbishop, in turn, wrote the religious superior of New Mexico in May of 1628, requesting information regarding a young nun's alleged transportations and teachings in northern New Spain. That communication arrived in New Mexico shortly before a delegation of some fifty Jumano Indians appeared at the Franciscan convent of old Isleta, south of present Albuquerque, in July 1629. The Jumanos had come to request religious teachers for themselves and their neighbors. They demonstrated rudimentary knowledge of Christianity, and when asked who had instructed them replied, "the Woman in Blue."
An expedition headed by Fray Juan de Salas, organized in New Mexico, set out for the land of the Jumanos. Guided by the chief of the Jumano delegations, it reached a locale in Southwest Texas where it was met by a large band of American Indians. The American Indians claimed that they had been advised by the Woman in Blue of approaching Christian missionaries. Subsequently, some 2,000 natives presented themselves for baptism and further religious instruction. Two years later, Fray Alonso de Benavides, a former religious superior in New Mexico, traveled to Spain, where he sought more information about the mysterious nun. He interviewed María de Jesús at Agreda. Sister María admitted that she had experienced some 500 bilocations to New Spain and acknowledged that she was indeed the Lady in Blue.
During the last twenty-two years of her life, María de Jesús was an active correspondent with the Spanish king, Philip IV. She died at Agreda on May 24, 1665. Her story was published in Spain several years after her death. Although the abbess said her last visitation to the New World was in 1631, the mysterious Lady in Blue was not quickly forgotten in Texas. In 1690 a missionary working with the Tejas Indians heard the legend. In the 1840s a mysterious woman in blue reportedly traveled the Sabine River valley and aided malaria victims, and in the twentieth century her apparition was reported as recently as World War II.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
The Age of Mary: An Exclusively Marian Magazine, January-February 1958. Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Aníbal A. González, "The Lady in Blue," Sayersville Historical Association Bulletin, Summer 1982. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Donald E. Chipman,
“Agreda, María de Jesús de,”
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