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Maria de Jesus de Agreda, Mystery Lady in Blue

Updated on September 10, 2013

A Very Devot Woman

Every place has its myths and stories from the past. We are told that myths always start with some grain of factual truth and just evolve over time. In some cases the facts and the myth don't diverge that much and it becomes relatively easy to discover the real story behind the myth.

In other cases, the myth diverges to such a degree that the story and facts are lost and we are left with a mystery.

Regardless of whether the truth behind a myth still exists, a good myth always makes for a good story and that is why the myth, true or not, continues to endure.

Between myths behind which are verifiable facts and those that are so removed from the truth that they are just stories we occasionally find one that can be easily verified up to a point but, at its core is a mystery that cannot be explained. This is the case with the American Southwest's mysterious Lady in Blue.

As Missionaries Moved into Arizona, New Mexico & Texas they Heard Stories of a Lady in Blue

As most people know, the area that now comprises the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas was once the northern frontier of New Spain. This was not only the last part of Spain's New World empire to be claimed and explored but it was also the most thinly settled portion of that empire with the majority of the inhabitants continuing to be the native Indian population with European settlers being mostly missionaries and Spanish troops on garrison duty.

Our story begins with the missionaries who spread northward from Mexico into what is now Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. As they advanced into new territory they were often surprised to discover that many of the local Indians had already been introduced to Christianity and were expecting the missionaries to come and baptize them.

Even more strange was the fact that they claimed to have been introduced to Christianity by a white woman wearing a blue dress. The missionaries were dumbfounded, as this was a harsh and dangerous country. These early missionaries themselves usually traveled as a group with a small military escort for protection. But, here was a woman traveling alone in the country.

Numerous missionaries, including Father Kino who built the mission of San Xavier in Tucson, heard the story of the lady in blue who had came to the Indians ahead of the missionaries and had preached to the Indians, in their language, about Christianity.

Missionaries sent accounts back to their superiors in Mexico City and Spain describing their find and asking who the woman was and who had sent her.

In their replies, their superiors said that it was against both Spanish or Church policy to send women into the wilderness to preach, let alone a woman traveling alone.

However, the Indians' story remained consistent from tribe to tribe. A beautiful young white woman, dressed in blue had come to them a few years earlier and had instructed them in the rudiments of the Christian faith.

Not only was the story about a young and beautiful white woman dressed in blue consistent from tribe to tribe, there was no question that the people of these tribes had a knowledge of the Catholic faith and were expecting the arrival of the missionaries. Since the records showed that no Spanish missionaries had been sent into the area earlier and there was no evidence of French missionary activity this far west, the Spanish had a real mystery on their hands.

The Reverend Mother Maria de Jesus de Agreda was a well educated and accomplished woman having written scholarly books as well as advising King Philip IV of Spain in over 600 letters sent from behind the walls of her convent.
The Reverend Mother Maria de Jesus de Agreda was a well educated and accomplished woman having written scholarly books as well as advising King Philip IV of Spain in over 600 letters sent from behind the walls of her convent.

The Father-Custodian of the Church in New Spain Investigates

Enter Father Alonzo (or Alonso) de Benavides, the Father-Custodian for the Church of what is now the American southwest. Depending upon which source you use, Father de Benavides either began an investigation that ultimately led him back to Spain or investigators for the Inquisition in Spain called him back to testify in one of their cases.

Either way, Father de Benavides did undertake an investigation to get to the bottom of the stories of the Lady in Blue.

The first thing he determined was that the lady was a nun in the Poor Clare order. Members of this order wore blue habits and Father de Benavides had obtained a painting of a Poor Clare nun and showed it to some of the Indians who had seen the Lady in Blue. They immediately recognized the habit as the blue dress the Lady in Blue wore but indicated that the lady in question was much younger and more beautiful than the one in the picture.

Instead of helping, this information created more questions, because the Poor Clare order was a cloistered order and not a missionary order. Members of the Poor Clare order never ventured beyond the convent walls once they took their vows – these women spent their lives in prayer and meditation within the confines of the convent.

Father de Benavides then went to Spain and, on the off chance that the Lady in Blue was some type of renegade from the order, began visiting Poor Clare convents seeking information about a nun who may have gone to the New World.

Arriving at a Poor Clare convent in Castile, Father de Benavides introduced himself to Reverend Mother Maria de Jesus de Agreda, the Mother Superior of the convent, and asked if she knew of any nuns who had gone to the New World to preach to the Indians. To his astonishment, the Reverend Mother confessed that she was the nun in question. She then began to describe to him the mystical trances that she had experienced since childhood.

Maria de Jesus de Agreda

Born into an aristocratic family on April 2, 1602 Maria Agreda developed a deep faith and began having mystical experiences as a child. Her deep faith and mysticism had led her to become a nun at 17 and abbess at age 25.

What she really wanted was to go to the New World and be a missionary to the Indians. Of course, this was out of the question.

However, in the years roughly between 1620 and 1631, following her entry into the convent she frequently suffered from cataleptic seizures which would put her into a trance. While in these cataleptic trances she had visions of traveling through a strange and wild land where she found herself preaching the Gospel to the natives.

Listening to her descriptions of the people and places she saw while in her trances de Benavides saw that they matched what he and others had seen when they had encountered the Indians who had told them about the visits of the Lady in Blue.

Even more astonishing was the fact that Maria's account included names of tribes and even individual Indians that de Benavides himself had either encountered in person or had recently been reported to him by others.

There was no way Maria could have been privy to these reports as they had only recently been written in the New World and then brought to Spain with de Benavides.

One thing in Maria's story still perplexed de Benavides and that was how she was able to communicate with the various tribes all of whom spoke different languages? Her answer was that it was simple, she preached to the Indians in her native tongue and they heard and understood it in their own language.

So, here we have it, documented evidence from a number of Southwestern Indian tribes all giving the same account of a visit from a mysterious Lady in Blue as well as an account by a cloistered nun in the blue habit of her order, that basically substantiates what the Indians related.

The only problem is that the lady herself was physically within the confines of a convent in Spain, separated from the northern deserts of New Spain by thousands of miles of land and ocean.

The unresolved mystery at the core of this tale is the question of whether this lady's spirit could actually separate from her body while she lay in a trance and travel thousands of miles to another land in a such a manner that both she and the people to whom she preached could accurately describe each other?

The Push for Sainthood

Adding to the mystery of Maria de Jesus de Agreda is the fact that her body, which remained inside her cloistered convent in Spain during the times when her spirit traveled as a missionary to the Indians in the American Southwest and now rests inside her coffin in the Convent of the Conceptionists in Agreda, Spain, is said to be incorruptible.

Maria died in Spain on May 24, 1665. Her body was placed in a sealed coffin inside the Convent of the Conceptionists in Agreda, Spain which she founded.

In 1909, two hundred and forty-four years after her death, the coffin was opened and briefly inspected by a team of scientists. In their report they stated that their cursory examination revealed no sign of the normal decay that one would expect after so many years.

In 1989 a Spanish medical doctor by the name of Andreas Medina participated as a member of another team that opened the sealed casket for another examination. According to Dr. Andreas Medina the condition of the nun's body was the same as described in the report of earlier 1909 investigation.

The fact that her body has proven to be incorruptible and not subject to normal decay has led to increased efforts by her followers to have Maria de Jesus de Agreda canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Travel's of Maria de Jesus de Agreda's Spirit

show route and directions
A markerAgreda, Spain -
42100 Ágreda, Soria, Spain
get directions

Agreda Spain birthplace of Maria de Jesus de Agreda. While her body never left Spain her spirit crossed the ocean.

B markerSan Angelo, Texas -
San Angelo, TX, USA
get directions

San Angelo, Texas a city in the center of the area where Maria's spirit traveled as a missionary to the Indians.

© 2007 Chuck Nugent


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      Ron 7 years ago

      This is one of the great legends and mysteries of the southwest, expertly related here, Chuck. Well told!

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      bobmnu 10 years ago

      Your research will make my next visit to the southwest more interesting. I would love to read more about the myths and ledgens of the areas I visit. Thanks for the information another great hub page.