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Francisca Josefa del Castillo y Guevara, La Madre Castillo

Other names/titles:
Gender: F
Ethnic origin: White

Biographical details

She was born in Tunja, Colombia, in October 1671, the daughter of a Spanish merchant, Ventura Castillo, and noblewoman, María Guevara, a descendant of the Marqueses of Poza. She had a very religious upbringing. and was educated at home. She entered the convent of Santa Clara after being forbidden to marry her cousin. There she learned Latin in her cell and read the Spanish mystics, especially Santa Teresa de Jesús. She taught other nuns and was eventually promoted to mother superior (“La Madre Castillo”). Her autobiography, Vida de la Venerable Madre Francisca de la Concepción escrita por ella, was published in Philadelphia, 1817. There are several books about her. (Flores, 347-349)

She enjoyed the Spanish comedies to the classics and received the attentions of a gallant, but buried her love in a nunnery, loathing sentimental pastimes. In her cloister, her intelligence and virtues brought her the dignity of abbess and her disciplinary zeal led to friction with some of her own nuns. She suffered from ill health all her life and this was worsened by the conditions in the nunnery. Her most important works are Mi vida and Sentimientos espirituales. Her prose is rich, although not always grammatically correct. Her poetry is at times subtle and conceptual. Her writing shows spontaneity, tenderness, delicacy and a great range of concepts. Ardila describes her style as strongly rhetorical and very rich, but lacking in naturalness and simplicity. (Ardila, 14.)

She lived at Santa Clara de Tunja nunnery from 1689-1742 where she leaned sufficient theology and Latin “to follow the liturgy and sing the psalms with understanding”. Martín describes her as a mystical nun, who wrote her autobiography in “superb Castilian”. It “unfolds the inner life of a soul locked in a constant struggle with the ultimate issues of human existence”. As a child, she read the work of Saint Theresa of Avila and this led her to become a nun. Peru also claims her as a Peruvian on the basis that Tunja was in the north of the Viceroyalty of Peru. (Martín, 174, 180, 206.)

Knaster lists her Complete Works as edited by Dario Echury Valenzuela, Obras completas de la Madre Josefa de Castillo, según fiel transcripción de los manuscriptos originales que se conservan en la Biblioteca Luis-Angel Arango, Talleres Gráficos del Banco de la República, Bogotá, 1968, 2 vols. This includes an introduction in which she is compared to Santa Teresa and to Mexico's Sor Juana. Quoting Dario Echury Valenzuela, she explains how La Madre Castillo was able to read and write despite the Inquisition’s prohibition of mystical works. The exportation of books from Spain was an important revenue for the Spanish Crown. (Knaster, 65-66.)

Su Vida is a text that interlinks dreams and fantasies with everyday details, without being concerned about chronology. It also includes childhood memories, details about the author's family and the misfortunes of her existence in the cloisters of Santa Clara, together with intimate testimonies, mystical experiences and pious thoughts. (Robledo, a, 211)

She never attended school because there were none for girls in Tunja at the time. Her two works, Su vida (55 chapters) and Afectos espirituales, are both autobiographical and reveal mystic convictions. They show the complexities of her inner world, the anguish, struggles and problems of her life in the Santa Clara nunnery and the manipulation of her many confessors, she had more than 10. Yet other of her works reveal her to be a model nun. (Robledo, b, 35-39)

She was not a popular figure and was "physically attacked and verbally abused" by other nuns. She claimed to have seen the devil, "dressed as a cleric, glare at her balefully, then go into the cell of a sister nun". (Scott, 223)

She died in Tunja in 1742.

Life Events

Born 1671She was born October 1671, Tunja.
Died 1742She died in Tunja.
Other 1817Her autobiography was published.


Flores, Angel, (1966), The Literature of Spanish America

Ardila A, Hector M., (1984), Hombres y letras de Colombia

Martín, Luis, (1983), Daughters of the Conquistadores: Women of the Viceroyalty of Peru

Arciniegas, Germán, (1988), Manuel de literatura colombiana

Knaster, Meri, (1977), Women in Spanish America: An Annotated Bibliography from Pre-Conquest to Contemporary Times

Zea, Gloria, (1988), Manual de literatura colombiana

Caillet Bois, Julio, (1959), Antologia de la poesía hispanoamericana

Romero de Valle, Emilia, (1948), Mujeres de América

Smith, Verity, (1997), Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature

Echavarría, Rogelio, (1997), Antologia de la poesía colombiana

Velásquez Toro, Magdala; Reyes Cárdenas, Catalina; Rodríguez Jiménez, Pablo, (1995), Las mujeres en la historia de Colombia


Poem: Afectos espirituales


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Resource id #57 (19)

Resource id #61 (14)

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