Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H.
Miguel Cabrera
Born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana
12 November 1651
San Miguel Nepantla,
New Spain, Spanish Empire
Died 17 April 1695(1695-04-17) (aged 43)
Mexico City, New Spain,
Spanish Empire
Occupation Nun, poet, writer
Nationality Mexican
Literary movement Baroque
Relative(s) Pedro Manuel de Asbaje and Isabel Ramírez (parents)


Sister (Spanish: Sor) Juana Inés de la Cruz, O.S.H. (English: Joan Agnes of the Cross) (12 November 1651 – 17 April 1695), was a self-taught scholar and poet of the Baroque school, and Hieronymite nun of New Spain. Although she lived in a colonial era when Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, she is considered today both a Mexican writer and a contributor to the Spanish Golden Age, and she stands at the beginning of the history of Mexican literature in the Spanish language.

Early life

She was born Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana in San Miguel Nepantla (now called Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in her honor) near Mexico City. She was the illegitimate child of a Spanish Captain, Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and a Criollo woman, Isabel Ramírez. Her father, according to all accounts, was absent from her life. She was baptized 2 December 1651 and described on the baptismal rolls as "a daughter of the Church". She was raised in Amecameca, where her maternal grandfather owned a hacienda.

Juana was a devoutly religious child who often hid in the hacienda chapel to read her grandfather's books from the adjoining library, something forbidden to girls. She learned how to read and write at the age of three. By age five, she reportedly could do accounts. At age eight, she composed a poem on the Eucharist.[1] By adolescence, she had mastered Greek logic, and at age thirteen she was teaching Latin to young children. She also learned the Aztec language of Nahuatl, and wrote some short poems in that language.[2]

In 1664, aged 16, Juana was sent to live in Mexico City. She asked her mother's permission to disguise herself as a male student so that she could enter the university there. Not being allowed to do this, she continued her studies privately. She came under the tutelage of the Vicereine Leonor Carreto, wife of the Viceroy Antonio Sebastián de Toledo. The viceroy (whom Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography names as the Marquis de Mancera), wishing to test the learning and intelligence of this 17 year old, invited several theologians, jurists, philosophers, and poets to a meeting, during which she had to answer, unprepared, many questions, and explain several difficult points on various scientific and literary subjects. The manner in which she acquitted herself astonished all present, and greatly increased her reputation. Her literary accomplishments garnered her fame throughout New Spain. She was much admired in the viceregal court, and declined several proposals of marriage.[1] In 1667, she entered the Monastery of St. Joseph, a community of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, as a postulant. She chose not to enter that Order, and later, in 1669, she entered the monastery of the Hieronymite nuns.

In response to critics of her writing, Juana wrote a letter, Respuesta a Sor Filotea (Reply to Sister Philotea), in which she defended women's right to education. In response, the Archbishop of Mexico joined other high-ranking officials in condemning Sor Juana's "waywardness". By 1693, Sor Juana seemingly ceased writing rather than risk official censure. However, there is no undisputed evidence of her renouncing devotion to letters, though there are documents showing her agreeing to undergo penance. Her name is affixed to such a document in 1694, but given her deep natural lyricism, the tone of these supposed hand-written penitentials is in rhetorical and autocratic Church formulae; one is signed "Yo, la peor de todas" ("I, the worst of all the women") She is said to have sold all her books,[1] then an extensive library of over 4,000 volumes, and her musical and scientific instruments as well. Only a few writings have survived, which are known as the Complete Works. According to Octavio Paz, her writings were saved by the vicereine.[3]


She died after ministering to other nuns stricken during a plague, on 17 April 1695.


An early translation of Sor Juana's work into English is Ten Sonnets from Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz [sic], 1651-1695: Mexico's Tenth Muse, published in .


Arguably the most important book devoted to Sor Juana, written by Octavio Paz, Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, 1989), is a work contemplating Sor Juana's poetry and life in the context of the history of New Spain, particularly focusing on the difficulties women then faced while trying to thrive in academic and artistic fields. Paz describes how he had been drawn to her work by the enigmas of Sor Juana's personality and life paths. "Why did she become a nun? How could she renounce her lifelong passion for writing and learning?"[4] Paz knew that such questions could be answered only in the context of the world in which she lived, and so he begins his study with a portrayal of the cultural, political, and ideological forces of New Spain, wherein the subjugation of women was absolute.

In his book, Paz makes a thorough analysis of Sor Juana's poetry and traces some of her influences to the Spanish writers of the Golden Age and the Hermetic tradition, mainly derived from the works of a noted Jesuit scholar of her era, Athanasius Kircher. Paz analyses Sor Juana's most ambitious and extensive poem, "First Dream" ("Primero Sueño") as largely a representation of the desire of knowledge through a number of hermetic symbols, albeit transformed in her own language and skilled image-making abilities. In conclusion, Paz makes the case that Sor Juana's works were the most important body of poetic work produced in the Americas until the arrival of 19th-century figures such as Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

The Dream, a long philosophical and descriptive silva (a poetic form combining verses of 7 and 11 syllables), “deals with the shadow of night beneath which a person [5] falls asleep in the midst of quietness and silence, where night and day animals participate, either dozing or sleeping, all urged to silence and rest by Harpocrates. The person's body ceases its ordinary operations,[6] which are described in physiological and symbolical terms, ending with the activity of the imagination as an image-reflecting apparatus: the Pharos. From this moment, her soul, in a dream, sees itself free at the summit of her own intellect; in other words, at the apex of a own pyramid-like mount, which aims at God and is luminous.[7] There, perched like an eagle, she contemplates the whole creation,[8] but fails to comprehend such a sight in a single concept. Dazzled, the soul's intellect faces its own shipwreck, caused mainly by trying to understand the overwhelming abundance of the universe, until reason undertakes that enterprise, beginning with each individual creation, and processing them one by one, helped by the Aristotelic method of ten categories. The soul cannot get beyond questioning herself about the traits and causes of a fountain and a flower, intimating perhaps that his method constitutes a useless effort, since it must take into account all the details, accidents, and mysteries of each being. By that time, the body has consumed all its nourishment, and it starts to move and wake up, soul and body are reunited. The poem ends with the Sun overcoming Night in a straightforward battle between luminous and dark armies, and with the poet's awakening.”[9]

Other notable works

  • Loa to Divine Narcissus, (Spanish "El divino Narciso")


  • Sor Juana is pictured in the front of the 200 pesos bill issued by the Banco de Mexico.[10]
  • There used to be a restaurant in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen called "La Decima Musa" ("The Tenth Muse"). Its owners were devotees of Sor Juana and its walls were decorated with related memorabilia.
  • Karen Zacharias wrote a play in 1999, The Sins of Sor Juana
  • The convent in Mexico City in which she lived the last 27 years of her life and where she wrote most of her work is today the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana in the historic center of Mexico City
  • María Luisa Bemberg wrote and directed the 1990 film, Yo, la peor de todas (I, the Worst of All), about the life of Sor Juana
  • Alicia Gaspar de Alba's historical novel, Sor Juana's Second Dream (1999)
  • Jesusa Rodríguez has produced a number of works concerning Sor Juana, including Sor Juana en Almoloya and Striptease de Sor Juana, based on Juana's poem, "Primero Sueño"
  • Scientists from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) will attempt to extract DNA from bones discovered at the Universidad del Claustro, Mexico City in 1978. In March 2011, Cinvestav got DNA samples of living members of her family, Ramirez España and Iliana Troncoso Olaguibel, descendants of Sor Juana's sister, who live in Mexico. “The genetic sequencing procedure of Sor Juana and from her descendants will be repeated at least three times in order to ensure correct results. At the end, a comparison will be made to determine if there is a relationship”, said María de Lourdes Muñoz, who studies genetics and molecular biology at Cinvestav.
  • Canadian novelist Paul Anderson devoted 12 years writing a 1300 page novel entitled Hunger's Brides (pub. 2004) on Sor Juana. His novel won the 2005 Alberta Book Award.
  • Helen Edmundson's play The Heresy of Love, based on the life of Sor Juana, was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in early 2012.[11]
  • The Oregon Shakespeare Festival premiered The Tenth Muse in 2013, written by Mexican playwright Tanya Saracho. In a lively 18th-century convent in colonial Mexico, young nuns and servants unearth a hidden play written by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and famous intellectual who died 20 years earlier after falling out of favor with the church.


  • Retrieved: 2010-05-09.
  • Retrieved: 2010-05-09.
  • Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana Retrieved: 2010-08-03.
  • Free scores by Juana Inés de la Cruz in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)


Further reading

  • ALATORRE, Antonio, Sor Juana a través de los siglos. México: El Colegio de México, 2007.
  • BENASSY-BERLING, Marié-Cécile, Humanisme et Religion chez Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: la femme et la cultura au 17e siècle. Paris: Editions Hispaniques, 1982. ISBN 2-85355-000-1
  • BEAUCHOT, Mauricio, Sor Juana, una filosofía barroca, Toluca: UAM, 2001.
  • BUXÓ, José Pascual, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Lectura barroca de la poesía, México, Renacimiento, 2006.
  • CORTES, Adriana, Cósmica y cosmética, pliegues de la alegoría en sor Juana Inés de la Cruz y Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Madrid: Vervuert, 2013. ISBN 978-84-8489-698-2
  • GAOS, José. “El sueño de un sueño”. Historia Mexicana, 10, 1960.
  • MERKL, Heinrich, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Ein Bericht zur Forschung 1951-1981. Heidelberg: Winter, 1986. ISBN 3-533-03789-4
  • MURATTA BUNSEN, Eduardo, "La estancia escéptica de Sor Juana". Sor Juana Polímata. Ed. Pamela H. Long. México: Destiempos, 2013. ISBN 978-607-9130-27-5
  • NEUMEISTER, Sebastian, "Disimulación y rebelión: El Político silencio de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz". La cultura del barroco español e iberoamericano y su contexto europeo. Ed. Kazimierz Sabik and Karolina Kumor, Varsovia: Insituto de Estudios Ibéricos e Iberoamericanos de la Universidad de Varsovia, 2010. ISBN 978-83-60875-84-1
  • PERELMUTER, Rosa, Los límites de la femineidad en sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Madrid, Iberoamericana, 2004.
  • PAZ, Octavio. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz o las trampas de la fe. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1982.
  • PFLAND, Ludwig, Die zehnte Muse von Mexiko Juana Inés de la Cruz. Ihr Leben, ihre Dichtung, ihre Psyche. München: Rinn, 1946.
  • RODRÍGUEZ GARRIDO, José Antonio, La Carta Atenagórica de Sor Juana: Textos inéditos de una polémica, México: UNAM, 2004. ISBN 9703214150
  • ROSAS LOPATEGUI, Patricia, Oyeme con los ojos : de Sor Juana al siglo XXI; 21 escritoras mexicanas revolucionarias. México: Universidad Autónoma Nuevo León, 2010. ISBN 978-607-433-474-6
  • SABAT DE RIVERS, Georgina, El «Sueño» de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: tradiciones literarias y originalidad, Londres: Támesis, 1977.
  • SORIANO, Alejandro, La hora más bella de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, México, CONACULTA, Instituto Queretano de la Cultura y las Artes, 2010.
  • WEBER, Hermann, Yo, la peor de todas – Ich, die Schlechteste von allen. Karlsruhe: Info Verlag, 2009. ISBN 978-3-88190-542-8

External links

  • EDSITEment! The Best of the Humanities on the Web
  • EDSITEment! The Best of the Humanities on the Web

  • Jorge Majfud
  • The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Bibliography Online by Luis M. Villar
  • The Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Project
  • Academic resource on the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  • Six sonnets in Spanish with English translations
  • Mexican Writers on Writing featuring Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Edited by Margaret Sayers Peden (Trinity University Press, 2007)
  • Free scores by Juana Inés de la Cruz in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)

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