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In 1642, Theresa of Ávila was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, 40 years after her death. Although Theresa was a nun from Spain, at the time of her canonization she was becoming an incredibly popular figure throughout Latin America particularly for the founding of the order of the Discalced Carmelites, an order that was growing in numbers throughout the colony of New Spain. Theresa and her male counterpart (also credited as the father of the Discalced Carmelites) Saint John of the Cross were often depicted in the order’s Mexican churches. The tradition of Catholicism was in and of itself a European tradition, however when it was practiced with the backdrop of the colonial landscape, some things changed. In Mexico, Theresa of Ávila gained the same symbolic standing as John of the Cross and held the same importance within the order, unlike depictions of the two in Spain. Karen Melvin writes that the two were often depicted together and the "Mexico City church exhibited their images side by side on a specially constructed alter while the main patio featured them in a model of the shrine of Guadalupe, marching together on a pilgrimage. The use of a woman as the primary symbol of a male order created some challenges for the Carmelites since a female head of household did not fit neatly into a patriarchal family model."[1]

Although the deeply patriarchal traditions of Catholicism were transplanted into Mexico to further the agenda of colonialism, in some ways the system changed in the new landscape. In the example of Theresa of Ávila, her popularity among people in Mexico, paired with depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, created a different dynamic between what was supposed to be the traditionally white male space versus the newness and dynamism of the New World. Although the hierarchical systems were not altered entirely, were there new rules at play that changed on a symbolic scale—with images like Theresa of Ávila and the Virgin of Guadalupe—and if so, did these symbolic changes have consequences for the lives of regular nuns or of Catholic women in the New World in general?

[1] Karen Melvin. Building Colonial Cities of God: Mendicant Orders and Urban Culture in New Spain. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), p. 83.