chapter  1
17 Pages

1 Community,Conflict,andLocalAuthority:TheBasqueSeroras

ByAmanda L. Scott

After quietly biding his time for years, in 1611 Don Sebastián de Ruiz de Orellana decided the time for action was finally ripe. As prior of Velate in northern Navarre, Don Sebastián was intimately familiar with the small world of religious men and women among whom he lived and worked.1 Most of these individuals moved about their daily routines without incident and, more important, without drawing the attention of Don Sebastián. However, the five seroras of Velate had long rankled Don Sebastián’s conscience. “Underfed and failing to maintain clausura,” in Don Sebastián’s mind, these lay religious women “offended God our Lord” and posed a constant threat to the religious well-being of Velate.2 Thus, in 1611 Don Sebastián launched the first stages of his attack. He carefully gathered together a list of complaints concerning the seroras and travelled to the diocesan seat of Pamplona to make his objections known. He stated his first goals clearly-that “their titles be revoked” and that the women be “immediately removed from their house” and hospital-but was slightly more reticent about his other motivations, which included diverting the women’s incomes toward his own church.3 Of course, as is usually the case, there are two sides to this story. Eager to prove their respectability and demonstrate their contributions to society, the seroras María de Sarrate, María Martín de Elso, Catalina de Urrasun, Graciana de Berrueta, and Catalina de Alcoz hired a lawyer, crafted their own defense, and prepared to meet Don Sebastián in court.4