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Celestial Harmonies

By Tim Hazell

Traditionally, attitudes of conservatism limited women’s roles in secular society. Religious vocations offered opportunities for those of vision and talent who had little recourse to careers outside the church. Two extraordinary examples were German Abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) and Jeronymite nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695).

Von Bingen’s prolific output consisted of chants, treatises on healing, and poetry. “I composed plainsong in praise of God and the saints,” she wrote, “even though I had never studied musical notation or singing.” Here is an excerpt from “Ordo Vertutum” (The Ritual of Virtues), the first dramatic opera in history. Von Bingen’s account of the tribulations of Anima, a naive soul tempted by earthly pleasures while drawn to a virtuous calling, was composed around 1152.


Anima: Oh, harsh weight

that I bear in the dress of this life;

It is grievous for me to fight against my body….

Knowledge of God: Daughter of salvation;

be steadfast, and you’ll never fall.

Anima: God created the world;

I only want to enjoy it!


Use this link to hear more from Ordo Vertutum:


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (born Juana Inés de Asbaje) was an interdisciplinary child prodigy whose literary accomplishments garnered her fame throughout New Spain. The church barred women from the priesthood but showed surprising tolerance if they adopted the habit of a nun. Sor Juana’s precocious nature thrived in the Convent of Santa Paula of the Hieronymite in Mexico City from 1669 until shortly before her death. Her trove of books and musical and scientific instruments attracted luminaries.

Convents were responsible for many of the dishes we identify with classic Mexican cuisine. Here is one attributed to Sor Juana. Clemole is a recipe for meats in spicy chile sauce. ¡Buen provecho!


Clemole de Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz:

1 pound pork butt

2 chicken drumsticks

2 chicken thighs

1/2 pound longaniza sausage

1 tbsp toasted cilantro seeds

5 cloves

6 black peppercorns

1 small piece stick cinnamon

6 dried pasilla chiles, deveined and lightly toasted on a griddle over low heat

4 garlic cloves

3 tomatoes

2 tbsp fresh lard, butter, or oil

3 cups chicken stock


Cook the pork butt in lightly salted water for 20 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for another 20 minutes. Add longaniza and cook for a further 10 minutes. Drain the meats and reserve the cooking broth. Griddle-roast the garlic cloves and tomatoes. Toast the spices in a small pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Let cool and grind in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine with the chiles, roasted tomato, and garlic. Pureé thoroughly in a blender.

Heat the lard, butter or oil in a heavy medium-size Dutch oven or saucepan and fry the blended pureé for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. Cut the pork and longaniza into bite-sized pieces, and add to the pan along with the chicken and reserved cooking broth. Cook for 10 minutes longer and serve.


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