Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695; SJIC)


1648         (November 12: Octavio Paz's theory about her birth date) Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez was born in San Miguel Nepantla, México (Valley of Mexico); she was her parents' illegitimate daughter. Her father was Pedro Manuel de Asbaje, and her mother was Isabel Ramírez. As a child she lived on her grandfather's hacienda in Panoayán, which is located in a farming region between Mexico City and the Popocatépetl volcano (17,887 feet). At the hacienda she read all of her grandfather's books including the theological works of the Portuguese Jesuit, Antônio de Vieyra. 

In order to visualize where she lived as a child, see the following images:

1654         At six years old, she learned to read at a school called "Amiga" (girl friend) in Amecameca (near Mexico City).

1656         Her beloved maternal grandfather, Pedro Ramírez de Santillana died. Upon his death she was sent to live in Mexico City with an aunt.

1656-61  Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez lived an aunt and, later, either with unknown relatives or in the court of the viceroy.

1658         Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez composed a eulogy (una loa) for the Holy Eucharist (el Santo Sacramento), the first poem we known she wrote.

1661         Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez moved permanently to Mexico City.

1664         She arrived at the Mexican vice-regal court of the marqués (marquis) Mancera and his wife, the marquesa. The marquesa would become Juana's patron, and Juana would refer to the marquesa in her works as "Laura". The marqués de Mancera's actual name was Antonio Sebastián de Toledo. He was the viceroy from 1664 to 1673.


                 This viceroy's name was don Sebastián de Toledo. He was viceroy from 1664 to 1674.

                 Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez became a lady-in-waiting (una dama) of the marquesa.

1665         Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez wrote a poem about the death of the king of Spain, Felipe IV.

1666         She became a novitiate (una novicia) in the convent of the Discalced Carmelites (las Carmelitas Descalzas); after three months in this convent of barefoot nuns, Juana changed her mind and left the convent.

1668         Viceroy Mancera gave Juana a test to determine if Juana's knowledge and intelligence were legitimate because she had shown signs of extraordinary talent. The test results amazed him and everyone else.

1669         Juana became a nun in the religious Order of San Jerónimo, and she signed her last will and testament in and for this religious order. (The Orden de San Jerónimo was less severe and less strict than the Carmelite order she tried out first.)





                 Juana de Asbaje y Ramírez changed names to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (SJIC). She lived in the convent of Santa Paula in the center of Mexico City. This convent was founded in 1586. In the 21st century the convent has been transformed into a university. For a visual tour of this Mexican convent-become-university, see: => Universidad Claustro de Sor Juana.

1674-1680                   A new viceroy ruled the Virreinato de Nueva España (Viceroyalty of New Spain): Fr. Payo Enríquez de Rivera. He was simultaneously viceroy and Archbishop of New Spain.

                 SJIC wrote three baroque sonnets on the death of the virreina (the wife of her first viceroy, the Marqués de Mancera). She called this woman "Laura."

Viceroy and Archbishop Enríquez

1676-1691                   SJIC wrote fifteen villancicos (Christmas carols), which were commissioned by various people in the court and in convents.

1680-1686                   A new viceroy arrived: el marqués de la Laguna and la marquesa, his wife. The viceroy's name was don Tomás Antonio de la Cerda y Aragón, and his wife was María Luisa Manrique de Lara. Both came from the highest Spanish aristocracy, and both favored and sponsored SJIC.


Viceroy de la Laguna

                 SJIC wrote love poems (poesía erotica) and plays (comedias) for her protectress, la marquesa.

                 SJIC published her long allegorical poem, "Neptuno alegórico".

1680-1690         SJIC wrote poems and plays for the court, for her own intellectual pleasure and to suppress and sublimate her own emotions and psyche.

1681-1690         SJIC wrote a letter to P. Antonio Núñez de Miranda, who was her father confessor from 1671-1690. She accused him of intolerance and she dismissed him (rejected him) as her confessor in 1690. (Nuns had obtained the right to dismiss a confessor (change confessor on their own) as one of the reforms of the Council of Trent (el Concilio de Trento) in 1563. Painting of Núñez de Miranda:

1685         SJIC wrote the masterpiece of her poetry, "el Primero Sueño" (First Dream). This long philosophical, metaphysical baroque poem was published in 1692. To read this poem on-line in Spanish, click on this URL: => El Primero Sueño. And in English translation: => First Dream.

1686-1688                   A new virrey and virreina arrived: the Count of Monclova (el conde de Monclova), Melchor Portocarrero y Lasso de la Vega. Unusually, he did not serve a full term in New Spain, because he was called to Lima to become the viceroy of Perú in 1688.

1686         SJIC wrote a poem celebrating the viceroy's wife (la virreina), whom she calls by the cryptic name of "Lysi".

1688-1696                   A new viceroy ruled over New Spain, the Count of Galve (el conde de Galve). His name was Gaspar de Sandoval Silva y Mendoza.


El conde de Galve

                 The first edition of Volume I one SJIC's works was published in Madrid. Its title is: Inundación castálida. (Inundation of the Muses).

1690         SJIC's enemy arrived in Mexico: the new archbishop, Rev. Francisco de Aguiar y Seijas, a Jesuit priest.


Fr. Aguiar y Seijas



                 SJIC's auto sacramental (one-act religious play), El divino Narciso (Divine Narcissus, allegory for Christ), was published.

                 SJIC's major theological essay, "Carta atenagórica", was published without her knowledge. This is a critical essay of SJIC's in which she comments on a published sermon. The Carta atenagórica was printed with a prologue by a certain Sor Filotea de la Cruz, which was, in fact, the pseudonym (pen name) of Fr. Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, who was the bishop of Puebla (a major city SE of Mexico City) and who belonged to the male branch of Sor Juana's religious order, the Orden de San Jerónimo. Bishop Fernández had not obtained Sor Juana's permission to publish her essay (the Carta); furthermore, the bishop chose the title for the publication. In her essay, Sor Juana attacks a sermon by the highly respected and influential Portuguese Jesuit theologian Vieyra from early in the seventeenth century. Within a couple of years, the controversy caused by Sor Juana's Carta caused her to become disgraced, censured, and ordered to cease all humanistic activities including, even, just reading.

Bishop Fernández de Santa Cruz

                 To read this essay in Spanish, click following URL: => Carta atenagórica.

                 The Bishop of Puebla prefaces the Carta with a letter, which he styles as "friendly advice" to Sor Juana by lightly threatening her for the mistakes she makes in the content of her essay; he also threatens her by saying that her ideas put her eternal salvation in grave danger; and he adds that she should apply herself only to religious and spiritual matters—not scholarship, which, for him, is reserved exclusively for men. He signs his "letter" as Sor Filotea de la Cruz, pretending to be a nun (Sister Lover of God of the Cross).

1691         SJIC writes her response to Sor Filotea's prologue: "La respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz" (Answer to Sor Filotea…). This essay is both a major autobiography and a brilliant legal brief, as it were, in defense of her right as a woman to think, study, write, and publish her thoughts.

                 (November 25) SJIC's last villancicos (Christmas carols) are in the Cathedral of Oaxaca (southern Mexico). They are titled "Villancicos de Santa Catarina de Alejandría".

                 To read this essay in Spanish, click following URL: => La respuesta.

                 For homework/study questions on the "Answer"/"La respuesta", see: => "The Answer" Study Questions.

1692         The first edition of Volume II of SJIC's works is published in Sevilla, Spain, with a new title: Obras (Works). (Notice that Sor Juana is becoming famous, popular, and, for her, dangerously well known.)

                 SJIC's "Primero Sueño" is published (see 1685 above).

                 The Bishop of Puebla (of the San Jerónimo order), who is opposed to the Archbishop's fanatical Jesuit confessor, Fr. Núñez de Miranda (see: 1690 above), orders SJIC's response essay, "La respuesta…", published, thereby sealing the condemnation of Sor Juana by higher religious authorities.

1693         Fr. Núñez de Miranda continues having powerful influence throughout the Viceroy's court in Mexico City. Fr. Núñez attacks SJIC and orders his successor as her confessor to force her to make a confesión general (general confession of her entire life and lifelong sins). SJIC follows his order and make a confesión general of all her sins.

                 Fr. Núñez de Miranda orders her confessor to have everything SJIC had in her convent cell removed (library, scientific instruments, musical instruments, music scores, manuscripts, writing implements, art works, etc.) and he then gives all of it to Archbishop Aguiar y Seijas, who uses and stores all of it.

1694         SJIC signs a declaration of faith with her own blood; she repents about everything she had done and accomplished in her life; and she discontinued studying theology and every non-religious activity.

1695         (April 17) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz dies at 4:00 a.m. during an epidemic of undetermined nature that was ravaging Mexico City that winter and spring.

1700         The posthumous publication of Volume III or SJIC's works was published: Fama y Obras pósthumas including the first publication in Madrid of her Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz.


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is probably the foremost woman writer in the history of Latin American humanities, and she is justly renowned as one of the finest writers in the history of humanistic letters. She wrote entirely in the baroque manner, and her works continue to have universal appeal. In addition, she is one of the world's first feminists more or less in the sense that this term and liberation movement came to be known and styled in the late twentieth century. The breadth and depth of her talents were extraordinary. She excelled in literature (especially the prose essay, poetry and drama), music (singing, composition, and performer on several instruments), philosophy, science, languages, metaphysics, and theology. Sor Juana's life gives witness both to immense success and terrible tragedy. Her achievements in many fields of the humanities are lasting contributions to the patrimony of humankind's great productions throughout the ages. Her woman's voice, crying out for the right of self-expression and self-realization, remains an elegant call for truth and justice and human right for women, and, indeed, therefore, for all humans. The social forces that silenced her at the end of her life and that, no doubt, contributed to her relatively premature death, are nothing less than tragic. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was almost without a doubt the most intelligent and most accomplished person (man or woman) of the entire Colonial period in the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

To sum up, Sor Juana lived during the Latin American Colonial period of the Spanish Viceroyalty (el virreinato) of New Spain (Nueva España). Her cultural period is the Baroque (el barroco) with culture, humanities, and especially literature imported, for the most part, from Spain. The dominant religion in which she lived and died is that of the Counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church with special influence of the Order of the Jesuits. Her philosophical approach and content is circumscribed by Scholasticism (authority of the Christian Church Fathers of the early centuries of the C.E.). The clearest evidence of her scholastic approach to thought and religion is seen in her Carta atenagórica. Her close friend was Carlos Sigüenza y Góngora, who was a relative of the great Spanish Baroque poet (died, 1627). The latter man of letters and science was the second most important intellectual in Mexico during the Colonial period. Both Sor Juana and Sigüenza y Góngora lived in a world that was closed to change, to foreign (i.e., non-Spanish) influences, innovation, tolerance. It is notable and telling, perhaps, that Sor Juana, even in such an society, wrote relatively few religious poems. By contrast, her masterpiece is the long poem, "El primero sueño" (First Dream). This poem concentrates on the material, phenomenal world, not religion or the spiritual world. Her language in this poem is so symbolic that it is virtually hieroglyphic; indeed, elements she used in the composition of this poem include Egyptian mythology, Hermeticism, magic, and the works of the Jesuit thinker Athanasius Kircher (ca 1601 – ca. 1666). The result she achieves is that of humanistic syncretism (i.e., European and indigenous American cultures) along with universal Christian symbolism.

(Note on Fr. Athanasius Kircher: he was a 17th century German Jesuit intellectual who has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci for the breadth and inventiveness of his scholarly persuits. He worked famously in fields as varied as Asian culture, geology, medicine (microbes, diseases, etc.), Egyptian hierioglyphics. He published more than 40 books. He is less known than he should be because his fame was eclipsed by the French rationalist René Descartes.)

To read and study one of the most famous of Sor Juana's sonnets, click on the following image or on the sonnet link button below: