Journey of Five Capuchin Nuns

April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Journey of Five Capuchin Nuns is an absolutely riveting adventure narrative (published in 1722) written by Maria Rosa, the mother abbess of the Capuchin convent in Peru, that begins with her appointment to the new convent, the voting-in of her as the future abbess, and the departure from Toledo across the choppy seas filled with Dutch and Moorish pirates to Argentina and the arduous trek across the Andes into Peru where the convent waits for them with thirty or so women eager to accept the Capuchin laws of life.

I admittedly read some pretty esoteric books from time to time, but I highly recommend this book edited by Sarah Owens.

The introduction by the editor, Sarah Owens, is exceptionally engaging and enlightening. She places the reader into the time period, explaining the context surrounding the manuscript as well as the key religious and historical figures. She explains the history behind travel narratives and even those of women, explaining that there are times in the manuscript where Maria Rosa will humble herself by ‘accidents’ in writing in order to not seem as if she is above the men of the time. It’s interesting to learn that Maria Rosa would need to take into consideration that not only would other men be reading her narrative but the Inquisition at the time might as well. Furthermore, Owens discusses her research surrounding this manuscript (never translated into English until now) and acknowledges issues in translation. Even Owens’s footnotes are interesting!

Maria Rosa is a Capuchin nun with a sense of humor. She’s not afraid to poke fun of herself such as when she describes riding a donkey across the Andes:

“Among my sisters, Madre Bernarda and I were the most burdensome for everyone. We were both poor riders and I had the additional problem of being quite fat, causing the mules to tire easily.”

And there is some tongue-in-cheek humor. As Capuchin nuns they revel in the suffering, offering it up to God, but there occasions with the suffering offered to readers seems to be offered also with a wink:

The room was so small that the mattresses could not be separated and we had to climb over one another. The vicaress…laid down on one end of the mattress and I on the opposite end. I ended up with my face stuck up against a mouse’s nest. I had a horrible night: on top of the foul odor of the mice and my fear of them, I was also very uncomfortable, spending the whole night without a blanket….Although we slept dressed in our habits, It was so cold that we certainly had something to offer up to the Lord. My other three sisters were in the middle and fared somewhat better than us. The vicaress and I, however, slept without a blanket because the others kept pulling it off. May the Lord be well served by all this.

The narrative is excellent. I couldn’t put this book down I was so engaged in the tale. I highly recommend Journey of Five Capuchin Nuns to anyone who likes spiritual or travel narratives as well as well-written nonfiction.

View this lovely short video on YouTube with the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth singing the Concordi Laetitia


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