Saints make the best stories, not just with their own lives, but also with what they can teach about God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This saint-in-the-making, Venerable Mary of Agreda, was also known as Mary of Jesus of Agreda and the Lady in Blue, for the blue cloak that she wore. She was also the writer of an incredibly beautiful religious book, which I will mention later.
Venerable Mary was born in 1602, in Agreda, Spain, to noble parents. She was one of eleven children. As she grew, she showed special signs of grace, attained a high degree of prayer and bore a painful illness with great patience. At the age of seventeen, she entered the Franciscan convent of Poor Clares of the Immaculate Conception, in Agreda, as a novice along with her mother and last surviving sister. Incidentally, her father took the habit as well at the Order of St. Francis, where her two surviving brothers were already religious. Mary went on to become Sister Mary of Jesus. Her holy earnestness, cheerful surrender to God, humility and kindness endeared her to all, so much that she was made Abbess at the early age of twenty-five.
Her humbleness and enlightenment from the Holy Spirit of her own nothingness compared to God, meant she had a preference for the doing the most lowly and menial tasks. She would also abstain from consuming meat, milk and cheese. At night, Sister Mary would sleep for a few hours on a board and spend the rest of the night in prayer and exercises of devotion. She would pray the Way of the Cross (Stations of the Cross) every night, carrying a heavy cross of her own. She was cheerfully obedient to her superiors no matter how disagreeable they were, and was graced with such wisdom that prelates, bishops and even the King of Spain, would ask her advice. Whenever she spoke of God, she would inflame those around her with the love of God.
Sister Mary of Agreda experienced many ecstasies. In one of them, she was shown the whole Earth, the small number of souls who knew God and the vast number who did not. Of those who did not belong to the Catholic Church, God revealed the people of New Mexico and its surrounding areas were most inclined to His mercy. Her ardent desire, prayers and sacrifices for their conversion resulted in her grace to bilocate.
Between 1621 and 1631, when she was aged nineteen to twenty-nine years of age, Sister Mary of Agreda bilocated over five hundred times. It would happen while she was praying. Her body remained in the cloistered convent, but at the same time, she would find herself in the continent of North America, in an area of land stretching across East Texas, New Mexico and Western Arizona. She appeared to the Jumano Indians and other tribes by flying through the sky and proceeded to teach them about the Catholic faith. This resulted in many occasions of being tortured and left for dead, but she would return to her body in Spain, unharmed. Later, she would reappear to the same Indians who were completely dumbfounded as to how she was still alive.
Sister Mary of Agreda, who by now was Mother Mary of Agreda, specifically detailed all that had happened to her confessor: the places she had been to, the Indians she had seen and all she experienced in teaching them about God. Her confessor informed the Superior General of the Franciscan order, who bade him to send a letter to the Archbishop of Mexico City. Finally, in May 1628, the suitably impressed Archbishop sent a letter of inquiry to Father Fray Alonso de Benevides, his superior of the Franciscan missions in New Mexico (what is now an American state, at the time belonged to Spain). Without giving details, the Archbishop wanted an investigation into whether any Indians knew about the Holy Catholic faith before the arrival of missionaries and how it occurred.
Following the arrival of this letter, fifty Jumano Indians walked over five hundred miles and presented themselves to the Franciscan missionary where Father Benivedes was located. The Indians asked for priests to be sent among them, as they had been instructed by The Lady in Blue and all wished to be baptized. When the two Franciscan priests arrived, with their military escort, they were met by the whole Jumano tribe in procession behind a large, wooden cross decorated with flowers. Each person asked to be baptized; mothers asked for their infants. The priests catechized and baptized everyone. While this was happening, representatives from other tribes appeared, asking for baptism for their tribes as well. They too, had been instructed and sent by the Lady in Blue, though no one knew who she was. A total of ten thousand baptisms took place.
When the priests returned, they reported everything to Father Benivedes who wrote a lengthy report for church officials and the King of Spain. Father Benivedes carried the report to the Archbishop of Mexico City, before travelling to Spain. He visited the Superior General of the Franciscan order, who told him the identity of the Lady in Blue. Then in April 1631, Father Benivedes travelled to meet Sister Mary of Agreda and interviewed the humble nun. Under obedience, she told him all that she had experienced. She accurately described the appearance and face of the priests who had been part of the baptisms, she described Father Benevides' missionary work that she had witnessed with the Indians and told him so much more. Father Benivedes found her to be of such great virtue and wrote to Pope Urban VIII, King Felipe IV of Spain and the Franciscans back home in the New World.
These days, Mother Mary of Agreda is most known for the beautiful book, The Mystical City of God, which is two thousand, six hundred pages long. Its shortened form is called the Divine Life of the Most Holy Virgin. The book was written following enlightenment and conversations with the Blessed Virgin Mary. It details Our Lady's devotion to God, her many graces and visits to Heaven while she was alive on Earth, her marriage to St. Joseph at the age of fourteen, the birth and life of Jesus, her participation in the events of Our Lord's Passion and death, and how she became the Mother of the Church and the
Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix through which all graces are outpoured. The book tells of how Angels served the Blessed Virgin, devils warred against her, and how she kept the Holy Eucharist present within her heart, plus so much more.
The book was controversial at the time of writing. The Blessed Virgin had referred to herself as the Immaculate Conception, which did not appear in church dogma. Mother Mary of Agreda had various spiritual directors over time. Twice she was ordered to write the manuscript. Twice, when her spiritual directors changed, she was ordered to have it burned. Her final spiritual director was her most trusted and she completed the third copy of the manuscript in 1655.
Mother Mary of Agreda, so enlightened by the Holy Spirit, died that same year on Pentecost morning, May 24, 1665, at 9 o'clock, the same time the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles. Many miracles occurred at the sixty-three-year-old's grave. Her extraordinary holiness and virtue was so well known that the process of beatification was taken up almost immediately. Eight years later, she was declared Venerable by Pope Clement X. However, problems have gotten in the way of making her a saint.
The Mystical City of God was published five years after her death. Various theologians took exception to the name Immaculate Conception. The Spanish Inquisition, who investigated Mother Mary of Agreda's bilocations and virtue twice during her life, spent fourteen years investigating the book. The Spanish Inquisition found nothing wrong, yet the book over time was made censured, forbidden and then accepted as the cause of the problem was found to be a mistranslation. The term Immaculate Conception was finally made part of church dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Even so, the previous troubles impacted negatively on the cause for beatification and the attempts of every Pope ever since have failed to progress further. There have been thoughts by some that the work was excessive in its devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There have also been problems with Vatican II not making the words Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix part of their dogma, with the exception of a couple of footnotes in the Marian schema of 1962.
Amidst all this, the body of Mother Mary of Agreda has remained incorrupt all these years. Even though she died over four hundred years ago, her body has not deteriorated. Her casket was first opened in 1909 and a scientific investigation carefully made. Another investigation was made in 1989 and her body was still in the same condition as it was eighty years earlier. Her body may be found in the Church of the Conceptionists in Agreda, Spain. The fact that her body has remained unchanged since death is proof that the words written in The Mystical City of God are true. May the Venerable Mary of Agreda finally receive the recognition she deserves to officially become a saint.
Blessed Maria de Agreda, the REAL Flying Nun
Carey, Anita. 2017. Bilocating Lady in Blue on Track for Sainthood, 28 August, 2017. https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/legend-of-the-lady-in-blue-presented-to-vatican
Carrico, James A. 1959. "Lady in Blue", 1 August, 2016, extract from The Life of the Venerable Mary of Agreda. https://www.michaeljournal.org/articles/roman-catholic-church/item/lady-in-blue
Fastiggi, Robert. 2019. Pope Francis and Mary Co-Redemptrix, 27 December 2019, updated 11 April 2020. https://wherepeteris.com/pope-francis-and-mary-co-redemptrix/
Galatzin, Margaret C. 2010. Who Was Mother Mary of Agreda? 24 March, 2010. https://www.traditioninaction.org/History/B_017_Agreda_5.html
The Seraphic Order: Venerable Mary of Agreda, August 8th