I don’t know how I managed to live a huge chunk of my life in Texas, and manage to never hear the story of the Lady in Blue. I’ve made the obligatory annual pilgrimages with my children to take photographs in the bluebonnets, and yet never knew the legendary and distinctly Catholic reason behind their bonnet-like shape.
In and around the 1620s, a young woman wearing the blue habit of the Poor Clares appeared to the Jumano tribes in what is now West Texas. She spoke to them in their own dialects, and taught them extensively about Jesus Christ and the faith of the Catholic Church.
When Spanish traders and missionaries crossed paths with these nomadic people, the Jumanos spoke lovingly of their Blue Lady, and asked Fray Alonzo de Benavides, father-custodian of New Mexico (he was in charge of the Church for the entire territory of New Spain that stretched from Texas to California) to set up a mission and send them a priest.
The Jumanos described with great detail the habit of a Poor Clare nun. The only problem with that was that the nearest convent belonging to the cloistered order was back in Spain. Who, then, was this mysterious woman who was wandering around the American Southwest evangelizing the native peoples with such success?
The more Fray Benavides looked into the mystery, the larger it grew. Not only was The Blue Lady appearing to people in West Texas, she was visiting native peoples across a huge territory – from East Texas forests to the Rio Grande Valley and all the way out to what is now New Mexico. Not only was she covering an insane amount of territory, but she was crossing rivers and harsh terrain alone, and speaking to every tribe she encountered in their native tongues. How was such a thing possible? Yet, as the reports came in of over 500 separate accounts of personal encounters with this Poor Clare, Fray Benavides became convinced that as unlikely as it was, there must be something to it all.
Fray Benavides began blanketing Spain with letters asking for any information that could lead him to the Lady in Blue. At last, one of his letters reached a priest near the Spanish town of Agreda. The good father went to the local convent and asked if anyone knew of the nun who was bringing the Good News of Christ to the American Southwest. The Mother Superior, Sor Maria de Jesus, said calmly “Yes. I’m the one.”
In 1631, Fray Benavides heard about Sor Maria and traveled to Spain to question her. She accurately described to him the people and terrain of his territory with astonishing accuracy and detail. This cloistered nun, who had never left the convent in Agreda, Spain since taking her vows in 1619, had somehow also been teaching and preaching all over Texas.
The story of Sor Maria is one of bilocation, the ability to be in two places at the same time. The most well known bilocator is Saint Padre Pio, but the people of West Texas and the Poor Clares of Spain are certain that this gift was also granted to Sor Maria de Jesus de Agreda in the 17th century, and her writings back it up. She knew things about the people literally on the other side of the world that she simply could not have known unless she had seen them herself.
The Jumano people who are still around San Angelo, Texas say that the bluebonnet was a consolation given to the people of Texas at the time of The Blue Lady’s death. The bluebonnet’s distinctive hat shape and vivid blue color look very much like the one Maria de Jesus de Agreda wore as a part of her habit, and serves as a reminder of the woman who led over 2,000 of their ancestors to Baptism in the Catholic Church.
If you make it over to Spain, Sr Maria de Jesus’s incorrupt remains are in the chapel of her convent in Agreda
“Bluebonnets” By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Texas bluebonnetsUploaded by Dolovis) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Maria” via Pinterest
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