Renaissance and Reformation Mother Juana de la Cruz
Jessica A. Boon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0197


Juana de la Cruz (b. 1481–d. 1534), born Juana Vázquez Gutiérrez in the village of Azaña (now Numancia) near Toledo, Spain, is the principal Castilian visionary before Teresa of Avila. Juana fled an arranged marriage at age fifteen, dressing as a man to arrive safely at the third order Franciscan beaterio in Cubas, near Madrid, known as Santa María de la Cruz. This beaterio, a house for laywomen leading a quasi-monastic life, had been founded after a series of apparitions in 1449 to a young girl named Inés; Juana claimed that God had designated her to reestablish the convent’s fame, changing Juana from male to female while in the womb so that she could become its leader, but leaving her a large Adam’s apple as mark of the miracle. The beaterio was enclosed as a convent in 1509, the year Juana became its “abbess,” which she remained until her death, except for a two-year period when she was falsely accused by a nun of wasting convent funds on papal bulls. Cardinal Cisneros, in charge of reforming the Spanish church and a firm supporter of women visionaries, ceded Juana the right to appoint a priest of her choice to the benefice at Cubas. Her choice of her brother for the post brought accusations of nepotism; a friar’s written offer that she be the mother of his child whom he expected to be the Messiah brought further concern. Neither scandal proved insurmountable. She is best known as a visionary who went into ecstatic rapture every Sunday for thirteen years, lying unconscious while a low-register voice issued from her, claiming itself to be Christ (or the Holy Spirit, or her guardian angel Laruel). The voice narrated the scenarios Juana was viewing in heaven, including biblical episodes, feasts, and pageants staged by the angels and beatified that she refers to as figuras. Both the nuns of her convent and dignitaries such as Cisneros, the Gran Capitán, and Emperor Charles V visited Cubas to witness her sermones, of which seventy-two were recorded in manuscript form. Her visionary experience occurred outside of the designated public sermons as well; manuscripts produced by the members of her convent indicate that she was understood to converse with Mary to urge her aid for specific nuns and to take on the pains of purgatory on behalf of those suffering in the afterlife. Madre Juana’s fame while alive led locals to venerate her as santa Juana, a living saint, and to an unsuccessful beatification process begun in 1615 in which she was affirmed Venerable in 1630. The process was reopened in 1986, resulting in a reaffirmation of her status as Venerable in 2015, and it is still in progress.


Juana de la Cruz has emerged as the subject of scholarship only recently, and thus no general overviews of the state of the field exist. The early 17th century saw a revival of devotion to Juana and an attempt at beatification. Daza 1613 and Navarro 1622 are hagiographies; Molina 1948 (written by Tirso de Molina in 1613–1614) is a popular dramatic trilogy about her life and visions. A revival of the beatification proceedings in the 1990s led to several contemporary biographies in Spanish, including García de Andrés 1999, Triviño 1999, Pablo Maroto 2001, and Cortés Timoner 2004. Surtz 1990 is the only English-language academic monograph on Juana, and the author’s focus on gender and authority sets the standard for scholarship on her work. The scholarly introduction in Boon 2016 in the English translation of Juana’s sermons is the most recent English overview of Juana’s life and works.

  • Boon, Jessica A. “Introduction.” In Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481–1534: Visionary Sermons. Edited by Jessica A. Boon and Ronald E. Surtz, 1–33. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2016.

    This introduction contextualizes Juana within the Spanish reform efforts of Cardinal Cisneros, particularly his support for female visionaries and Passion spirituality. It discusses the complex authorship of the three manuscripts before turning to Juana’s major theological themes, Mariology and Christology. It ends by examining “visionary sermons” in the light of performance studies and materiality.

  • Cortés Timoner, María del Mar. Sor Juana de la Cruz, 1481–1534. Madrid: Ediciones del Orto, 2004.

    Brief biography of Juana in Spanish, contextualizing her in terms of other late-15th-century authors, both male and female, with particular attention to the topic of authority and her representation of Franciscan topoi such as humility.

  • Daza, Antonio (OFM). Historia, vida y milagros, éxtasis, y revelaciones de la bienaventurada virgen Sor Juana de la Cruz. Madrid: Luis Sanchéz, 1613.

    The first edition of Daza’s biography (1610) was censored by the Inquisition for its uncritical acceptance of miracles related to her life, as well as some of the theological material recounted in her visions related to purgatory. Revised in 1613, discussion of the visions and miracles is more limited, leaving space for an elaboration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

  • García de Andrés, Inocente. “Introduction.” In El conhorte: Sermones de una mujer; La Santa Juana, 1481–1534. Edited by Inocente García de Andrés, 13–217. Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Española, 1999.

    Extensive introduction to the 1999 edition of her sermones that provides a thorough look at the biographical tradition and the beatification process. García de Andrés was also the first Spanish writer to treat Juana as a theologian, highlighting her Christology and Mariology in the context of popular religion. One of the principal contemporary Catholics seeking her beatification on behalf of the nuns of her convent, María de la Cruz in Cubas de la Sarga.

  • Molina, Tirso de. La Santa Juana, trilogía hagiográfica 1613–14. Edited by Agustín del Campo. Madrid: Editorial Castilla, 1948.

    Three-part hagiographical play by an eminent Spanish dramatist, based on Daza’s first biography and contributing to the enthusiasm around her beatification process opened the following year.

  • Molina, Tirso de. La Santa Juana: Primera parte. Edited by Isabel Ibáñez. Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Auriseculares, 2016.

    Recent edition of the first part of Tirso’s trilogy, including lengthy introductory material examining Tirso’s version in comparison to the two editions of Daza’s biography, the manuscript tradition of the play, and its dramatic themes.

  • Navarro, Pedro (OFM). Favores de el rey de el cielo, hechos a su esposa la Santa Juana de la Cruz. Madrid, 1622.

    Critiques Daza’s biography as too limited because he did not consider her theological ideas. Annotates her visions and revelations as part of the beatification proceedings, with extensive justification of her role as visionary.

  • Pablo Maroto, Daniel de. “La ‘Santa Juana,’ mística franciscana del siglo XVI español: Significación histórica.” Revista de espiritualidad 60 (2001): 577–601.

    Good brief biography that situates Juana in relation to the Spanish querelle des femmes and provides comparisons to other Iberian religious women’s texts, such as those by Teresa de Cartagena and Isabel de Villena.

  • Surtz, Ronald E. The Guitar of God: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Visionary World of Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481–1534. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.9783/9781512808162

    The only full-length English monograph on Juana, including a compact but rich biography in the introduction followed by five topical chapters that situate major themes from the visions in the Conhorte and the Vida y fin in line with the history of Christian thought as filtered through gendered forms of visionary authority.

  • Triviño, María Victoria. Mujer, predicadora, y párroco: La Santa Juana, 1481–1534. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1999.

    Biography by a Franciscan nun that melds the hagiographical sources, the testimonies for the 1615 beatification petition, and the sermones. While problematic as a scholarly biography for its uncritical acceptance of 17th-century hagiographic detail, it provides extensive examples for how Juana’s life experiences influenced specific sermon content.

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