The month of August sees the celebration of the feast of St Dominic de Guzman but also of his mother, the Blessed Joan or Jane of Aza, on the second day of the month. Doña Juana, as she is known in Spanish, is not only tied to the hagiography of her sons Dominic and Blessed Manés but also the religious history of her town and medieval lore.
We first meet Doña Juana in The Legend, the first biography of St Dominic. While pregnant, Doña Juana had a dream in which a puppy emerged from her womb holding a burning torch between his jaws. Curious to find the meaning of this dream, she travelled to Silos where another St Dominic was buried in the Benedictine monastery. Doña Juana knew the monastery of Silos quite well as she had visited it several times due to fertility problems. After both her eldest sons entered religious life, the family was left without an heir to their fortune and holdings. Juana had frequented the monastery and begun a novena to become pregnant again. St. Dominic of Silos was venerated as the patron of pregnant women. During one of the visits, she had a vision of the monk in which he explained her dream, stating that her child would light the world for Christ through his preaching. She promptly decided to name him Dominic. The biography tells us other prophetic dreams Doña Juana had relating to her son.
Juana Garcés-García was born into the noble Castilian family of Navarro at the castle of Aza around the year 1135. On both the paternal and maternal lines, the young Juana was related to the royal lines of the peninsula and even possibly France. Her father performed several royal functions, including that of tutor to the King of Castile, Alfonso VIII, and later her brother would also occupy the position of royal tutor. Two of her uncles were churchmen. One of them was the Blessed Pedro from the monastery of Uclés and founder of the Military Order of St. James of the Sword. Her mother was from the Trastamara line. As with all noble families, Juana’s family founded and supported religious houses. Given these connections, she was eventually married to a local nobleman who was warden of the town of Caleruega named Felix Nuñez de Guzmán. She would bear him 4 children and all three sons would enter the religious life: Antonio (a priest later declared Venerable), the future Blessed Manés, and the youngest, Dominic, who would become the founder of the Order of Preachers, known as Dominicans. Her two grandsons would also become Dominican friars.
Juana and her husband Felix had a reputation for running a very pious household and hagiographers claim that the home was devoid of the luxuries typical of the nobility of the time. Juana’s religious devotion was as well known as her charity. During one of her husband’s absences at the service of the King, Juana distributed her household’s stores of wine to the poorer of the townspeople. When her husband returned, he was informed by everyone he met of what she had done and asked her to fetch him some wine. Juana ran to pray and ask God for his help. It is told that her “bodega” ,or store room, became full of wine. She was able to serve wine to all who had gathered with her husband and all became conscious that a miracle had taken place.
Little else is known of the life of the Blessed Juana, except that she died sometime between 1202 and 1205. Immediately upon her death, a religious cult arose around her person. Numerous personal favors were attributed to the veneration of her relics. The towns of Peñafiel, Caleruega and others often invoked her assistance during droughts and during the attacks of the anti-clerical period following the 1868 revolution. Shortly after her death, chapels were dedicated to her veneration. Novenas, poems and Gozos were composed through the years as part of her cult. King Ferdinand VII was particularly devoted to her. She was beatified in 1828 by Pope Leo XII. Her remains are interred in the Church of St. Sebastian in Caleruega. At her tomb, she has been described as SAINT by popular usage since the XV century.