As is often the case with talented women, particularly in Spain, society seeks to downplay or erase their roles in history. Female rulers aside, the woman in the home, the field, the convent, the theater, and a myriad other places is often relegated to the secret drawers of the historical record. There they lie often neglected by historians as a result of prejudices or indifference. One of these women has been rescued from such a fate. Her name is Sor (Sister) Marcela of San Felix (1605-1687), the talented nun daughter of the 17th century playwright and poet, Felix Lope de Vega.
As the child of a writer in 17th century Spain, Marcela was exposed to her father’s brilliant writings, to his circle of friends, both literary and aristocratic, his chaotic love life, and his struggles to support 15 children at various points of his life. Marcela was illegitimate, having been born of Lope de Vega’s liaison with the actress Micaela Luján. She and her younger brother would join their father’s household upon the death of his wife. Once in his household, Marcela witnessed her father’s struggles with his addiction to women and his deep Catholic faith, even after having taken Holy Orders. It was this combination that engendered in Marcela a profound religious vocation in addition to her writing talents.
In 1620, Marcela enters the Convent of the Discalced Trinitarians in Madrid, a convent that has housed the bones of Miguel De Cervantes recently re-discovered, with a profound literary Tradition. Her father composes special verses for her Profession day and invites numerous dignitaries. With a strong Faith and conviction, Marcela performs her religious duties well, rising to become Mother Superior several times. And she wrote numerous poems, romances, devotional works- influenced by her father’s style and the spirituality of St. Agustine and St Theresa of Avila. Unfortunately, most of her works were lost. A common practice during this period led to their destruction: in obedience to her confessor, Marcela burned them. Her surviving works deal with topics very close to her experiences: devotion, loneliness, obedience.
Voces del convento: Sor Marcela, la hija de Lope ( Sabat de Rivers, Georgina and Arenal, Elena), Instituto Virtual Cervantes, 1987
Photo credit: bne.es
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