Mujeres eremitas y penitentes : realidad y ficción

Maria Isabel Barbeito


The Bible displays the desert as a place of salvation or catharsis which favours
purification of the spirit, as shown by the figures of Moses, Elias, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ himself. During the early centuries of Christianity, and though it served initially as a sanctuary for those who fled bloody persecutions, the desert was soon turned into a place of choice to escape sin and to exercise spiritual perfection. That’s where hermits emerged from. With inner restlessness similar to that of men, and in spite of social restraints – specially religious – as well as those inherent to their nature, women feel attracted to that way of purification. And within the latter, although it may sound contradictory, women end up being used as an example of sainthood. Five figures are discussed here: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Egyptian, symbols of hermitism, whose lives of penance are conspicuously similar; two slandered wives: Genoveva of Bravante, a real character novelised, and Beatriz, heroine of «La perseguida triunfante» – short story by María de Zayas –; last of all, Catalina of Cardona, an hermit immersed in the Carmelite Reform, who deserves perhaps to be considered a forerunner. As we get closer to these more or less idealised figures, it is possible to single out the parts of reality and fiction, embedded in their characterizations. This suggests a question I always found seductive: what imitates what, life, literature, or literature, life? Which came first

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