4 HistoricizingtheBeatas:TheFiguresbehindReformation andCounter-ReformationConflicts
The beatas-women who chose many forms of secular life in order to serve God-offer new perspectives on the religious and social conflicts of the history of early modern Spain. Their lives bring to light less visible but no less crucial turning points in the history of the period. In general, beatas followed two lifestyles: beatas seorsum lived alone or with their families; beatas collegialiter lived in communal houses, or beaterios.1 This study will treat the former. The participation of Spanish beatas in the spiritual and material needs of ordinary people made them sensitive barometers of the political and social climates in which they were immersed. In order to grasp the full vitality of laywomen between the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, it is necessary to bring into focus the social profile of these workers for the faith, who participated in the quotidian spiritual and material needs of ordinary people. The aim of this essay is to reveal the pars costruens behind the history of the beatas: to treat them not simply as disruptive or marginal figures but rather as catalysts for the diverse social and religious conflicts during the Reformation and Counter Reformation. I concentrate on four distinct groups: beatas associated with the reform of the religious orders in the first decades of the sixteenth century; the visionary beatas who, during the same period, were instrumental in the implementation of anti-converso policies; the Franciscan tertiaries who led a movement of spiritual renewal known as alumbradismo in the 1520s and 1530s; and finally, the beatas of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries whose spiritual and visionary experiences became the focus of the church’s efforts to control the attribution of holiness and mystical phenomena. This essay proposes reading the history of the beatas over the longue durée in order to appreciate the full spectrum of their religious beliefs, behaviors, and relations with institutions of power.