On virginity and death

4 03 2010

Not much gets my attention on the Ochlophobist blog. I could care less about the machinations of Orthodox bishops and what a bunch of people with the last name of Smith and White think about Byzantine liturgical praxis. But this I found relevant to my interests:

Only in the Breton Buez is the rape of Non fully dramatized and Non’s reaction to the rape voiced. There is a lengthy scene building up to the event in which Non calls at a nunnery and asks the abbess if she can join the convent and take a vow of virginity. She enters the chapter house and is accepted by the other sisters who all consider her to be a wise, pure virgin. On her way to mass, hurrying through an area of lonely woodland she meets Kereticus and is raped against her will. In the Welsh Lives there is no moral condemnation of the incident, since David’s birth has been foretold thirty years in advance and Sant is merely enacting part of the divine plan:

When the foresaid thirty years had passed, divine providence sent Santus, king of the territory of Ceredig, as far as the kingdom of the people of Dyfed. And the king came across a nun named Nonnita, who was a virgin, an exceedingly beautiful girl, and modest. Lusting after her, he raped her, and she conceived the son, the holy David. Neither before nor after did she know a man, but continuing steadfastly in chastity of mind and body, she led her life most devoutly; for, from the very time she conceived, she lived only on bread and water.

That is one of the stories behind the conception of St. David of Wales. For me, it made me think a lot of the apocryphal death of Sarita Colonia in Peru, in which she is said to have cast herself in the sea rather than be raped by two men. Of course, this is not how the real Sarita Colonia died. She probably died of something like malaria. Nevertheless, she was confused with an actual woman in Peru who had cast herself in the sea in the 1920’s to escape rape. In her death, Sarita Colonia assumed an archetype that predates even the existence of Christianity.

Felix Coluccio and other folklorists tell the story of raped and murdered women throughout Latin America: women who died at the hands of men trying to have their way with them. Some were more “innocent” than others, but these stories are truly a pattern etched deeply into human consciousness.

It also reminds me a lot of AG’s review of the Bergman film, The Virgin Spring.

On the margins of theology – V

7 01 2010

The archbishop vs. the folk saint

The story of Catholicism in Latin America, especially in the last fifty years, has often been a spectacle of the blind leading the blind. While in historical Catholicism, it is the clergy that is supposed to be the defenders of piety and tradition, it has often been members of the common laity who, in their sometimes distorted way, have been defending the historical ethos of the Church. Often, there are no good guys or bad guys, no side that is definitely on the side of the Gospel, or side that is bent on distorting it. In a way, Catholicism is a distorted religion per se since it has always attempted to draw all things towards itself, with often mixed results.

No story in the Church better expresses this than the very real battle between the late archbishop of Cuzco, Luis Vallejos, and the bizarre “folk saint”, el Niño Compadrito. In the late 1970’s, the cleric and advocate of liberation theology waged a real war against this “idol”, seeking to confiscate and burn it while his loyal followers hid him in their houses. While the war is still being waged on a smaller scale in the highlands of Peru, that particular battle was won by the folk saint in a very ominous and tragic way.
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More on faith and culture

5 11 2009


Rather than attempting to build Christianity upon the natural virtues of Inca religion in the Andes, the Jesuits in Juli had come to see Andean customs and beliefs as a serious hinderance to the faith of Christ. The sixteenth-century emphasis on the interior experience of Christianity, which created much higher standards for native converts than had existed in preceding centuries, meant that the Jesuit’s disillusionment with the native potential for Christian evangelization would be experienced throughout the Peruvian church. Eventually, the conviction that they native peoples were not truly “Christian” would lead to episcopal campaigns in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to extirpate idolatry, as well as to modern notions that Andean peoples are “cryptopagans” even when they profess a belief in Christ.

Dr. Sabine Hyland wrote a book a few years back entitled, The Jesuit and the Incas, on one of the first mestizo clergy in Peru, Fr. Blas Valera. A son of one of the conquistadores and an Inca noblewoman, he was one of the first scholars to do a comparison of ancient Incan civilization with the European classical world, and created a world view quite favorable to the conquered empire. It was Fr. Valera’s contention that Inca religion was quite close to Christianity, down to an almost Christian idea of an incarnate God named Viracocha, and an absolute creator god named Illa Tecce. Valera wanted the Spanish clergy to begin to use these names for the Christian God and Jesus Christ, but to no avail. In the end, Fr. Valera was framed on charges of fornication and imprisoned by the Jesuit order for four years. Scholars now believe that he was really imprisoned for syncretic heresy. Only through the intervention of some influential Jesuits was he finally freed and sent to Spain, where he died in a pirate assault on Cadiz in 1597.
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Semana Santa en Huaraz, Peru

8 04 2009

Why Sarita Colonia is venerated by the prostitutes of Lima

7 01 2009


Un día la santita iba caminando por una callejuela del Callao, cuando le salieron por delante unos hombres. Querían robarle y le revisaron los bolsillos. No encontrando nada de valor, decidieron violarla. Ella no se resistió; les dejó que rompan su vestido y la tumben al suelo. Pero cuando esos hombres abrieron sus piernitas, no les quedó más remedio que persignarse. El sexo había desaparecido. No tenía nada entre las piernas: era como un codo. Nada.

One day, the young saint was walking through an alleyway of Callao, when a bunch of men surrounded her. They wanted to rob her and they went through her pockets. They found nothing of any worth, so they decided to rape her. She didn’t resist them; she let them tear off her dress and they knocked her to the ground. But when those men opened her legs, they were shocked and made the Sign of the Cross.  Her feminine organ had disappeared. She had nothing between her legs: it was like an elbow. Nothing.

-found on this site

This more than likely never happened, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Sarita Colonia

18 08 2008

On the Birth of a Folk Saint

Not much information exists in English on the Peruvian cult to Sarita Colonia. Outside of Frank Graziano’s book, Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America, information about her in anything other than Spanish is scarce. In the world of folk saints, however, she is one of the heavy hitters, like Jesus Malverde and Gaucho Gil. The main difference between this Peruvian woman and other folk saints is that we know exactly who she is and the circumstances of her life and death. When her cult was far more popular than it is now, her many siblings were still in middle age and some have benefited from the people’s devotion to her. This has not stopped people from making up stories about her to make her appear larger than life. From a poor immigrant girl from the highlands of Peru to the patroness of the lumpen proletariat of Lima, she is a prime example of how people can take a simple story and create an elaborate mythology around it.
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