Jerónima de la Asunción
|Servant of God
Mother Jeronima of the Assumption
|Nun and Foundress|
May 9, 1555|
|Died||October 22, 1630
Captaincy General of the Philippines
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church and the Order of St. Clare|
Servant of God Mother Jerónima de la Asunción, P.C.C. (Spanish: Gerónima de la Asunción García Yánez y De La Fuente; May 9, 1555 – October 22, 1630) was a Catholic nun who founded the Real Monasterio de Santa Clara (Royal Monastery of Saint Clare) in Intramuros, Philippines.
For her efforts in establishing the first Catholic monastery in Manila and the Far East, the Vatican issued an apostolic decree for her beatification in 1734. This monastery was immortalized in the novel Noli Me Tángere, penned by the national hero, José Rizal.
Jerónima was born in Toledo, Spain to Pedro García e Yánez and Catalina de la Fuente, pious natives of Toledo who were both of noble lineage. Jerónima spent her childhood in Toledo, where she learned the basics of Christian life very early on. At the age of fourteen, she met the great Carmelite reformer, Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D., after which she felt the calling to monastic life. She was also influenced by a biography of Saint Clare of Assisi.
On August 15, 1570, Jerónima entered the Colettine monastery of Santa Isabel la Real de Toledo. At this monastery, she joined two of her aunts who were already professed nuns in the community. She later occasionally functioned as Mistress of Novices.
Voyage to the Far East
Sister Jerónima learned about the intention of her Order to establish a monastery in Manila in the Spanish East Indies, and volunteered to be among this pioneering community. On October 21, 1619, she received notice that her offer had been accepted. Friar José de Santa María, O.F.M., was named Procurator to arrange the necessary royal travel permits and other financial matters for the venture, while Jerónima herself was appointed as foundress and first abbess of the Philippine monastery. This monastery would be the first of its kind, both to be established in Manila as well as in the entire Far East.
Mother Jerónima's journey began in April 1620, with the initial group of six nuns; she was already 66 years old at that time. From Toledo, they travelled by river to Seville where they were joined by two more nuns, and then went on to Cádiz, from where they set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. By late September 1620, the nuns reached Mexico City in New Spain and stayed there for about six months at a monastery of the Order, and where two more nuns from that community joined the group.
On Ash Wednesday of 1621, Mother Jeronima and her group left Mexico by road to cross the mountains towards Acapulco. Once there, on April 21, 1621, the group boarded the galleon San Andrés to sail for the Philippines.
The women kept a record of their journey from Toledo to Manila. One of the nuns died during the crossing, while the ship was near the Mariana Islands. The rest of the group set foot in the Philippines in the port of Bolinao on July 24, 1621. They reached Intramuros, the colony's capital, on August 5, 1621, one year, three months and nine days after leaving Toledo.
The Repudation of Filipinas
A more sensitive issue was the admission of native applicants to the monastery. The royal foundation was specifically created for "pious Spanish women and daughters of the conquistadors who cannot marry properly" without mention of native women. Silence with regard to the latter was conveniently interpreted as prohibition. Further, it was questioned in this era whether Indios, like "Jews, Moors, Negroes, and gypsies" possessed the "purity of blood" (limpieza de sangre) necessary for admission to sublime Spanish institutions like monasteries. Despite the legalistic controversy, Indias began to knock at the convent gate begging for admission . Around 1628 Dona Maria Uray, the beata of Dapitan, tried to apply in the monastery. She was rejected because she was an "India." Undaunted, she reapplied as a slave, although she was of the native nobility being a granddaughter of Datu Pagbuaya of Dapitan to whom the Adelantado Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was beholden. "Uray" signifies a lady rajah. But no matter. She was turned down anew.
Later life and death
During the last thirty years of her life, Mother Jerónima lived in constant illness. In early September 1630, her health deteriorated. She died at dawn on October 22, 1630 at the age of 75. Mother Jerónima's remains were first buried in a niche within a wall inside the monastery, but her remains were later relocations five times. The first was in 1670 to hinder the activities of local devotees, while the second happened in 1712 due to the reconstruction work on the monastery, when the remains were placed in the lower choir. The third relocation was during the British occupation of Manila in 1763, when the coffin containing her remains was transferred to the Church of Saint Francis in Intramuros. The remains were brought back to the monastery in 1765, and later survived the aerial bombing of the city during the Second World War. In the 1950s, her bones were finally placed at the monastery's new site in Dilimán, Quezon City.
Modern-day photographs and images of Jerónima de la Asunción are replicas of the depiction by the renowned court painter, Diego Velázquez. The portrait was composed during Mother Jerónima's stopover in Seville en route to the Philippines.
The painting is described as conveying the then-sixty-six-year-old nun's "devoutness and strength of character through her stern expression and rugged countenance; her direct, outward gaze at the beholder; and her expressive accoutrements". Mother Jerónima is depicted wearing her dark religious habit while holding a book and a crucifix.
The inscriptions on the painting read "It is good to await the salvation of God in silence" (top), while the banderole that flows from her mouth reads "I shall be satisfied as long as He is glorified".
Although not born in the Philippines, Mother Jerónima became a religious inspiration for many Catholic devotees. She was described as a woman of resolute character in managing political and religious conflicts both within and outside the confines of her monastery. Steps towards her canonisation begun in 1630, but to date, they have not proceeded.
- Martha de San Bernardo, the first Filipino nun
- Ignacia del Espiritu Santo
- Religious of the Virgin Mary
- Three Fertility Saints of Obando, Bulacan, Philippines
- Colettine Poor Clares
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