“Las Horas de Belén–A Book of Hours”

Mabou Mines

In a chapel at the heart of Mexico City, a portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the proto-feminist seventeenth-century poet known as the “Tenth Muse,” hangs high on a plain white wall. Just outside, in the adjoining churchyard, a low maze of ruins is all that remains of the cloister where Sor Juana (1651–95) once lived. Throughout this beautiful but moldering city, Juana’s image is a constant presence, curiously at odds with the country’s entrenched tradition of machismo; her discerning gaze adorns banknotes, decorates cafés, and looks out from murals chronicling Mexican colonial history. At the age of forty-two, Sor Juana sold off her 4,000-volume library and distributed her money among the poor. Signing a blood oath, she renounced all worldly contact; two years later, while caring for her plague-ridden sister nuns, she died.

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