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Las Monjas Church and Oxford Press

By Marcela Andre

A misfiled packet of 18th century letters found by researchers in Michoacán years ago resulted in another fortuitous coincidence regarding San Miguel de Allende: The letters were about San Miguel´s “Las Monjas” (Church of the Immaculate Conception), and the research was conducted for an author at Oxford University in England. In 2005, Oxford University Press released Rebellious Nuns, by Margaret Chowning, a book that surely would become the next must-read in San Miguel for upcoming lectures and an insight into one of the city´s most prominent landmark churches.

The documentation is part of the flawless narrative. It is like a maze that leads over and over to the same point: The natural human reactions to discomfort, uncertainty, economic privilege, and hardships. The title is a bit salacious, ultimately disappointing the reader. The rebellion simply is about a rich family´s daughters’ rebellion against discipline and austerity. This is evident simply by walking into the Bellas Artes building, which was the convent where these nuns lived at its founding, and looking at the portraits (or new reproductions) of nuns wearing crowns with fantastic flower ornaments holding decorated candle scepters.

The book cover used a painting from Mexico City’s convent portrayals. The actual dining room in this convent was the Siqueiros Mural Room inside Bellas Artes. This writer’s great-aunt, Sra. Alicia Quintanar de Trier, attended school there when it was strictly a girls´ school, before the troops and the artists were allowed to use it.

In the early years, the schoolteachers were brought to San Miguel by Don Ezequiel López Escobedo, Sr. Cura José López, and his rich brothers and sisters, to educate girls because there were no schools for them. They brought the schoolteachers to found the Fray Pedro de Gante School for boys and girls. The family donated the school buildings. The Fray Pedro de Gante School was given two buildings at Mesones 74 and 76. Father Señor Cura Jose Lopez Escobedo was the head priest at the turn of the 20th century. He brought the teaching nuns to San Miguel to start the girls’ school. His brothers and sisters lived across the street on Hernandez Macías. Sr. Cura Jose´López Escobedo was this writer´s maternal great-uncle.

In-house monastic politics and rivalries and uninspired ambivalence for penance created the sick days that plagued Las Monjas nuns, according to this book´s documentation.

The book suffers a bit in that the author does not write from a San Miguel perspective, but from a package of letters found in Michoacán. Whispers circulating at this year’s writers´ conferences hinted that the author, Margaret Chowning, would come to San Miguel to lecture. Clearly, a follow-up book is needed, with the documentation being from ecclesiastical sources living in San Miguel.

 

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