Public bodies, private parts: The virgins and Magdalens of Magdalena de San Gerónimo - PDF

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Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001 Public bodies, private parts: The virgins and Magdalens of Magdalena de San Gerónimo GEORGINA DOPICO BLACK Habiendo yo considerado y visto, con

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Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001 Public bodies, private parts: The virgins and Magdalens of Magdalena de San Gerónimo GEORGINA DOPICO BLACK Habiendo yo considerado y visto, con la experiencia de largos años, Magdalena de San Gerónimo writes to Philip III in the early months of 1608, que gran parte (si no es la mayor) del daño y estrago que hay en las costumbres en estos reinos de España, nacía de la libertad, disolución y rotura de muchas mujeres, sentía (aunque gran pecadora) un gran dolor en mi alma, así de ver a nuestro gran Dios y Señor ofendido, como de ver este nobilísimo y cristianísimo reino estragado y perdido. It is, she continues, this overwhelming sorrow that moves her to write her tratadillo to the King, proposing the establishment throughout Spain of prisons for women as a remedy against the enfermedad y dolencia that for the past twenty years have besieged the republic (cited in Barbeito 1991: 65). 1 Very little is known about the author of the Razón y forma de la galera y casa real que el Rey, Nuestro Señor, manda hacer en estos reinos para castigo de las mujeres vagantes, y ladronas, alcahuetas, hechiceras, y otras semejantes; the biographical details are sketchy at best. The woman who would come to be known as Magdalena de San Gerónimo was born roughly in the mid-sixteenth century and probably died in the early part of the seventeenth, sometime after 1615; her secular name may have been Beatriz Zamudio; whether it was or not, it is likely she belonged to the house of Zamudio. She was either a nun (possibly of the order of St Bernard) or a tertiary, and she may or may not have been a Magdalen herself (Barbeito 1991: 37). 2 Most of what is known about Magdalena de San Gerónimo is directly related to her public work with public women. By 1588 she was administrator of the institution to which she would devote most of her life: the Casa Pía de Arrepentidas de Santa María Magdalena in Valladolid, a halfway-house for converted prostitutes which she not only reformed and expanded, but for which she established a Patronato (a kind of foundation) in 1605, bequeathing to it her estate and her prized relic collection, and securing for it certain royal privileges in order to guarantee in perpetuity its financial survival. She actively corresponded with Philip II s daughter, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia and also with Luisa Carvajal y Mendoza. It may have been in the service of the Infanta if not of her father, Philip II, or after his death, her half-brother, Philip III that she travelled at different moments to Brussels, Paris and Flanders; it was, almost certainly, during these trips that she obtained the relics she would eventually donate to the city of Valladolid in favour of the Casa Pía: among them, the bodies of two of the eleven thousand virgins who accompanied St Ursula to martyrdom, as well as the heads of at least twenty more. 3 Although she worked primarily in Magdalen houses and establishing prisons for women, she also ministered to the sick and impoverished, tending especially to soldiers suffering print/ online/01/ Ó 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: / 82 Georgina Dopico Black from syphilis. The last documentary trace of Magdalena de San Gerónimo is from 1615, when she was called upon to identify the body of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, who had died in England, and to accompany her remains to Madrid, lest they run the risk appropriate fate, all in all, given Luisa s own penchant for body parts of being dispersed and pirated as relics. 4 This paper explores the relation between what are, on the surface, two very different aspects of Magdalena de San Gerónimo s public works: the Razón y forma de la galera, her only surviving text (although it is conceivable that she drafted other arbitrios on the subject of penitential reform) and her collection of and trade in martyr s relics. I use the intersection of two different kinds of public women s bodies the prostitute and the saint that are somehow circumscribed in her work as a point of departure, imagining a triple displacement that moves, roughly, from the body of the prostitute, to the body (parts) of the virgin martyrs, and then to three other sites or bodies where the prostitute and the virgin somehow meet: the body of the Golden Age actress, the body of Mary Magdalen, and, finally, the body politic. Before doing so, however, it may be helpful to summarize the principal arguments of Magdalena de San Gerónimo s treatise. The text of the Razón y forma de la galera consists of the dedication to Philip III (cited above), followed by an introduction and five chapters or puntos. The first of these, De la importancia y necesidad de esta galera, presents an inventory of the different species of malas mujeres that are, according to Magdalena, almost entirely to blame for Spain s fast deteriorating health. The second chapter, De la forma y traza de esta galera, contains painstakingly detailed guidelines for the construction, outfitting, and administration of a prison for women, from architectural specifications ( casa fuerte y bien cerrada [ ] que no tenga ventana ) to concrete recommendations on nearly every aspect of an inmate s life: physical appearance ( En entrando cualquiera mujer en esta galera ha de estar despojada de todas sus galas y vestidos, y luego la raparán el cabello a navaja como hazen a los forzados en las galeras ); diet ( su comida ha de ser un pan muy bazo y negro [...] y algún día de la semana una tajada de vaca y esa poca y mal guisada ); prescribed activities ( Nunca han de estar un solo punto ociosas ); and so on. The third punto is similarly practical in the advice it offers: Avisos para la justicia, on the one hand (calling, among other things, for a nightly curfew and the detention of any wandering woman who violates it), and para los ministros de la Galera, on the other (specifying, for example, what sorts of punishments should be meted out for particular transgressions). The fourth chapter is devoted to Los provechos que de esta Galera se sirven : saving the nation, saving money, saving bodies, and saving souls. The fifth and final chapter of the Razón y forma de la galera, En que se propone una exhortación a los jueces y gobernadores de la república, argues for rigor y más rigor as the only viable means of containing the infection that is spreading, unchecked, throughout the nation. Magdalena de San Gerónimo s text is both provoking and provocative on a number of counts, not the least of which is the way in which it might be used to question the notion of Spain s belated modernity. If, as Foucault argues in Discipline and Punish, the transition from the administration of corporal public Public bodies, private parts 83 punishment (torture or execution) to private incarceration with the goal of reform can be taken as an index or marker of modernity (a transition Foucault situates in the eighteenth century for France and England), then Magdalena de San Gerónimo s treatise, advocating the incarceration, reform, and eventual reintegration to society of delinquent women, might point to ways in which that transition or certain aspects of it, anyway may have already been anticipated in early seventeenth-century Spain. 5 Magdalena s outspoken advocacy of penitential reform for women and her pragmatic recommendations for how to institute that reform as a practice (recommendations that did not fall on deaf ears), 6 point to the importance of her work both with and for public women. This should not be taken to mean that Magdalena was a champion for the rights of delinquent women; as Mary Elizabeth Perry has rightly noted, Magdalena states with pride that her plan had won considerable attention for its severity against women (Perry 1990: 142). In her dedication to Philip III, Magdalena in fact writes: Como las demás cosas nuevas en sus principios, así ésta ha causado novedad y admiración, no sólo en la gente vulgar y común, pero aún en la principal; [...] teniendo el nombre y hechos de esta Galera por demasiado rigor y severidad, particularmente siendo inventada por mujer contra mujeres (cited in Barbeito 1991: 65-6). But what is perhaps most remarkable of the Razón y forma de la galera are the specific terms in which the censure of public women is negotiated. These unenclosed women, she argues, vagamundas y ociosas and who support themselves de mal vivir, are the source of great damage or affliction to the Republic ( daño is the word she uses) because many are damaged themselves: que como muchas están dañadas, inficionan y pegan mil enfermedades asquerosas y contagiosas a los tristes hombres, que, sin reparar ni temer esto, se juntan con ellas; y éstos, juntándose con otras o con sus mujeres, si son casados, les pegan la misma lacra; y así, una de éstas contaminada basta para contaminar mucha gente. Y cuanta verdad sea esto lo muestran bien, por nuestros pecados, el Hospital de la Resurrección y los demás, donde se toman sudores y unciones, que para cada cama hay mil hombres [...]. (cited in Barbeito 1991: 72) Her reproach of prostitutes is founded not on moral or religious grounds, as one might expect, but on a language of infection and uncontrollable circulation. This trafficking of bodies, of disease, and of currency that are the corollaries of sex work might also be used to describe the business of trading and collecting relics in early modern Spain, with only one notable difference. If the threat of the prostitute was that she could spread mil enfermedades (and particularly syphilis, better known at the time in Spain as el mal francés, el morbo gálico, el mal de Nápoles or, most commonly, bubas) throughout the republic, then the power of the relic lay in its capacity to heal any one of a thousand ills. This, and the fact that both the prostitute s contagion and the relic s cure were thought to be effected by what might be seen as a kind of bodily metonymy an intimate contact are perhaps themselves the most intimate contacts between the bodies of Magdalena de San Gerónimo s virgins and whores. 7 84 Georgina Dopico Black But there is more here. The disease that the prostitute transmits is both symbolically and discursively linked with her open body or, more precisely, with the openness of her body. This openness, characteristic of the fragmented, grotesque, and even carnivalesque body, stands in marked opposition to the closed, integral body of the virgin. The distinction, already inherently problematic, becomes almost impossible to uphold when transferred onto the bodies of Magdalena s martyrs and Magdalens. On the one hand, what the arrepentida stands for, as a kind of living emblem of the sacrament of penance (a sacrament attacked by Luther and, consequently, institutionalized as dogma at the fourteenth session of Trent), is the promise of an integrity of the soul, even (or especially) when that integrity is no longer available to the body. The spiritual intactness that penance re-confers takes precedence, then, over any claims of bodily integrity. 8 On the other hand, if the virgin is defined by the integrity of her body and this is especially the case for Magdalena s virgins: according to legend, St Ursula and her eleven thousand maids were slaughtered by Huns for refusing to surrender their virginities or to disavow their Christianity as a relic, the virgin s body is anything but intact. In fact and this is what Carlos Eire aptly terms the paradox of the relic the more fragmented the saint s body, the greater its power to effect miracles since there is literally more of the saint to go around. 9 The relic s efficacy, then, like its market value, is entirely independent of its size. But there is an even more concrete relation between Magdalena s virgins and prostitutes, one that is institutionalized in the Constituciones of the Patronato that Magdalena founds in 1605 in benefit of the Valladolid Casa de Arrepentidas. (And although she does not author this text per se, she not only figures prominently in it, but is the driving force behind it.) Y su Majestad, movido del santo celo con que quiere la conservación de obras tan pías y públicas y en que nuestro Señor es tan servido, a instancia de la dicha Madre Magdalena de San Jerónimo y de su pedimiento, ha hecho y hace la merced a la dicha casa y obra pía de que haya y cobre en la dicha casa de las comedias de esta dicha ciudad, un cuarto de cada persona que entre a oírlas. Y la dicha Madre Magdalena de San Jerónimo con su bien cuidado y diligencia y trabajos que ha sufrido, ha juntado y recogido los bienes y reliquias de que adelante se hará mención, todo lo cual quiere y tiene por bien de aplicar y aplica a dicha casa y obra pía; y de ello hará donación. Y habiendo considerado su Majestad que en la dicha obra consiste muy particularmente el bien público de esta ciudad [...] ha sido servido de ordenar y mandar que el Ayuntamiento, Justicia y Regimiento de esta dicha ciudad, se encargue de la dicha casa y obra pía [...]. (cited in Barbeito 1991: 44) There are a number of things that merit comment in this passage: the use of the word conservación, for instance, that not only exemplifies the transfer of a medical rhetoric onto a political sphere (a move consistent with the operant physiological model of the Republic as body), but which, if we believe Maravall, might be adduced as evidence of a conservative culture (or, in the very least, a culture of conservation). 10 Or the various uses to which the word public is Public bodies, private parts 85 submitted: the obras públicas (such as the Casa Pía) which the King sanctions in spirit and in fact (that is, financially) because they contribute to the bien público of the city and, more broadly, the nation (the res publica), next to the casa pública (the whorehouse) ghost in the machine of the Magdalen house, if not of the nation as well: there were more than 800 brothels in Madrid alone by the time Philip IV reached the throne. There is a notable shift at work here. The distance or tension between these two uses of the public had previously been only an apparent one; brothels had been legal in Spain since at least the Middle Ages precisely because they were considered beneficial to the public, not only physically containing and legally regulating the threats public women represented to society but also as a kind of necessary evil, tolerated to preclude graver offenses against God or nature el mal nefando (homosexuality), for example. Throughout the reigns of the three Philips, that distance becomes increasingly greater as moralists argue that casas públicas are incompatible with the bien público, regardless of any practical benefits they might afford, labelling as heresy the widely-held opinion (cited by those who frequented public houses) that, if it was paid for, fornication (that is sex between unmarried men and women) was not a sin (Tomás y Valiente et al. 1990: 57-89). What I am most interested in examining, however, are the specific mechanics of the transaction that is outlined in the Constituciones and what they might suggest about the politics of visual display and the containment of now at least three different kinds of public bodies. If not exactly in exchange for the royal privilege in favour of the Casa de Arrepentidas, then certainly in consideration of it, Magdalena promises to forfeit her relics to the city, prostituting, in a sense, the bodies of her virgins for the souls of her Magdalens. 11 But it is worth noting here that it is not a casa pública from which the proceeds benefitting the Valladolid Casa Pía were to derive, as was usually the case (and the strongest argument in favour of keeping brothels open in the early seventeenth century was, precisely, the economic one: they provided considerable income for the charitable, or public, work of both church and state), but instead from the public theatre ( teatro público, the Constituciones specify elsewhere) and its público, suggesting yet another twist in a baroque plot: the comedia as the unrepentant puta whose profits will benefit repentant ones. Magdalena de San Gerónimo s pimping, then, takes place in the back alley connecting these three public houses: the whorehouse, the theatre (perhaps the real halfway house in all of this, and certainly so in terms of the financing of contrition), and the Casa Pía. Casas de comedia were, after all, under attack by the very same moralists and theologians who attacked the casas públicas, and on almost identical grounds; that is, as breeding grounds, and quite literally so, of lasciviousness and sin. These attacks, I want to argue, had everything to do with the various sorts of public displays that the comedia allowed (public displays that we might use if we were to follow a different tack here to question a Maravallian reading of the theatre as a conservative institution) and, more specifically, with the public display of the body of the actress. The 1600 Dictamen de Fray Agustín Dávila, electo de Santo Domingo y otros teólogos de Madrid sobre la permisión de comedias, for example, sternly recommends: Que 86 Georgina Dopico Black no representasen mujeres en ninguna manera, porque en actos tan públicos provoca notablemente una mujer desenvuelta, en quien todos tienen puestos los ojos (cited in Cotarelo y Mori 1904: 208). It was, in fact, the presence of the actress s body on stage that was thought to account for the tremendous popularity of the theatre in early modern Spain, as a member of Prince Charles of Wales s 1623 entourage to Madrid is quick to remark: The Players themselves consist of Men and Women. The Men are indifferent Actors but the Women are very good, and become themselves far better than any that I ever saw act those Parts, and far handsomer than any Women I saw. To say the truth, they are the only cause their Playes are so much frequented (cited in McKendrick 1989: 203). Let me go over once more, then, the arrangement Magdalena negotiates with the King, framing it this time in terms of the display and closeting of these three bodies and their assorted, and perhaps now more explicitly interchangeable, parts: the virgin s, the prostitute s, and the actress s. The move is roughly as follows: Magdalena will donate to the public the body parts of her virgins private parts made public not only by their disinterment (necessary for their circulation as relics), but by their participation in various economies of desire, exchange, and public veneration. In exchange for this bequest, the king (whose own doubled body is clearly implicated in this trafficking) 12 decrees that a portion of the tax on the theatre a tax imposed, in part, as a levy on its public display of and commerce in bodies both on and off-stage (the actress s primarily but the theatregoer s as well) will circulate to the Magdalen house. Those cuartos will in turn support the containment and reform of women whose crime had been the commerce in and public display of their bodies and particularly of their bodies private parts, but whose status as arrepentidas was no less a function of commerce and public display: of their converted bodies, on the one hand (ostensibly made private by containment and this is what the conversion consisted of, a kind of privatizing but only qualifiedly so if we consider that the terms of the Constituciones call for turning over the Casa Pía to public authorities) and of their converted souls, private parts of a slightly different order, on the other. This tension between the public and the private can also be cast in terms of the movements of these various bodies through different kinds of public spaces: the translatio of relics over national or imperial boundaries (a translatio no longer fantasized as a furta sacra, as it had been during the Middle Ages, but understood now both as a potentially lucrative import-expor
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