Ursula de Jesus

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Ursula de Jesus (1604–1668) She was born in Lima, Peru and was the legitimate daughter of Juan Castilla and Isabel de los Rios. Isabel de los Rios was a slave leaving Ursula to inherit her mother's status. Ursula de Jesus was an African-Peruvian who rose out of slavery who became a donada (religious servant) in the [Roman Catholic Church]. She lived under her mother’s owner, Gerònima De Los Rios, until she was roughly eight years old. The daughter of slaves was her first experience with mysticism when she became the property of Luisa de Melgarejo Sotomayor, a mystic and beata, lay pious woman,(very religious women) in Lima. In 1647, she went to the Convent of Santa Clara in Lima as the servant of Ines del Pulgar, a 16-year-old novice and the niece of the woman who owned her parents. She labored as a slave for forty-three of her sixty-two years.[1]

In 1642, Ursula was known to have a reputation of vanity within the convent and liked to dress well. Ursula saw herself as self-centered, temperamental and vain. She lent a skirt to someone as a favor and they returned it to her soiled. Ursula was eager to wash the skirt as soon as she possibly could. She went to the well to wash it and the platform in which the well stood on collapsed, leavening Ursula suspended by her own grip and holding on to her life. This was a near fatal fall and she prayed to the Virgin of Carmen to rescue her. Miraculously, she was able to regain balance and enough leverage to reach safety. This was her testimonial awakening. This near death experience lead Ursula to change her materialistic views and habits; causing her to devote her life to spirituality and become a servant of God.[1]

For the remainder of her life, Ursula de Jesus sought a life of religious spirituality. In 1645, one of the nuns of the convent purchased her freedom. Although she was denied the ability to become a nun because of her race, she remained at the convent as a donada. She stated that she experienced divine visions, particularly with the souls in purgatory who sought her intercession to gain their release. Throughout her life time, she was notable for her mystical visions and her claims of communicating with the souls of those who died and went to purgatory. She felt she had the ability to do so because of her near death experience. A diary of her visions and life experiences was created between 1650 and 1661; it was first published in English in 2004. Ursula claimed that trapped nuns within the Purgatory would contact her. Some of the nuns whom she came in contact with told her that they were paying a very painful consequence for their behavior during their life and allegedly answered many of Ursula's questions by stating many of them should have paid closer attention during mass rather than participating in spreading gossip and negotiating business. These dead souls of the Purgatory are supposedly trapped there and are communicating with Ursula with high hopes that her prayers may have the ability to alleviate their suffering with in Purgatory.[1]

Throughout Ursula's personal journal she recorded complaints about the demanding nuns and how she was spat upon and ridiculed. She endures an excessive amount of work and chores when compared to the other pampered nuns. Despite the fact that Ursula de Jesus was freed slave and completely devoted herself to serving God was never able to come out of the hovering shadow of discrimination. She was still treated differently for her Afro-descent and dark completion. Often times she showed her vulnerability in her diary when she questioned God why did she have to be the one who suffered. According to her their conversations went as stated,

" Frequently I asked my God why do I have to be the one to work excessively long hours ? He reminded me of the excruciating suffering that He endured during the Passion. I stated that if it were not for Him I would not persevere in this, He responded that although the Son of God was quite well off in His kingdom of Glory, He came to suffer and travail for our sake."


Towards the end of her life, Ursula was sure she would be granted a direct and safe passage to Heaven. She was sure she would be saved because of her selfless efforts and her self-sacrificing ways. Ursula de Jesus died February 23, 1666. A nun by the name of doña Leonor Basques, a well-respected nun, declared her death to be seen as a "good death" and stated that Ursula de Jesus indeed entered Heaven by preparing her will, disposing of worldly possessions, confessed her sins, and received extreme unction.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Van Deusen, Nancy E. “The Souls of Purgatory.” University of New Mexico Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8263-2827-X
  2. ^ “The Human Tradition in Colonial Latin America” by Kenneth J. Andrien, Google Books