A BOOK which brings to light hitherto unknown facts concerning a third mystic of Avila was published on Monday by Peter Davies. It is "The Third Mystic," the diary of Maria Vela, a 16th century nun.
Last Friday, the CATHOLIC HERALD published a first extract front the introduction to this hook written by FRANCES PARKINSON KEYES. The second (and final) extract is presented here.
ALIME more needs to be said, in order to forestall certain questions.
For instance: Can you tell us something about Marfa Vela's last days, when she was no longer able to write? Can you tell us about her death and burial?
Above all, can you tell us why, since she was so quickly acclaimed as a Venerable, she has not been beatified—even canonized—long before this?
The village of Cardeflosa. where Marfa Vela was born and spent her early youth. has no specially distinguishing characteristics now. Its small houses. built of brick and roofed in tile, are mostly onestoried and line narrow, ill-paved streets. Its communal fountain is its most utilitarian feature, its church its dominant attraction.
A large wellordered home ON the outskirts of Cardenosa some of the farmhouses are encircled with productive fields, each neatly separated from its neighbour by a low wall carefully constructed from the rough stones in which the region abounds; and though some of these farmhouses are very humble, others hear more resemblance to the dehesas, or country seats, of the Castilian gentry and nobility.
Considering her family background, it is probable that the house in which Maria Vela grew up was one of this type. well ordered and comparatively spacious.
The Convent of Santa Ana, which Marla Vela chose as the place most suited, and most likely. to satisfy this yearning. as far as she was concerned, is situated lust outside the walls in the south-cast section of the city of Avila.
Suffering from the cold
EXCEPT for this
chapel, no part of the convent property is entered directly from the street, but by means of a rather bare courtyard, through whose great doors is admitted anyone, within reason, who chooses to come there.
Marfa Vela's greatest physical discomfort, aside from those she deliberately invited, was probably caused by cold. Nothing could be more erroneous than the general belief that if the weather is not actually torrid all over Spain, it is at least always pleasantly warm. This is true only in the southern provinces and, even there. except in summer, only in the sun; in winter, and often in the spring and autumn. it can be cold after sunset and before sunrise; and as neither private houses nor public buildings are ever adequately heated, and the beneficent sun is carefully excluded from them. it can seem chilly indoors at midday.
`City nearest heaven'
AVILA is seldom really hot; not only is its situation northerly, but it is
high—about four thousand feet above sea level.
Its designation as the **Spanish city nearest heaven " does not refer alone to its religious character, but also to its geographical elevation.
Its summers are delightful, mellow and golden; but they are short.
Snow has been known to fall there as late as June and as early as September; and though the city lakes on an almost celestial beauty when it is mantled with white. this loveliness is bought at a price of much human misery. Even the wealthy and well housed shiver as they huddle round their braziers, which can be moved at will from place to place. but which never satisfactorily heat a whole room. even a small one,
Pleurisy and pneumonia
THE nuns, vowed to lives of poverty and living in convents, have no such meagre comfort; the great stone staircases, the interminable brickpaved corridors, the small stark cells—all these are permeated with such frigidity as most of us hate never known.
True, these women have known it all their lives; but it is the only aspect of their existence of which I have ever heard them speak as if it were difficult to endure.
Marfa Vela was, from childhood, subject to respiratory diseases and died of pleurisy, after having more than once been close to death from pneumonia. She would have been less than human if she had not watched the swirling of autumnal leaves in the walled orchard with apprehension, and gazed, with tempered joy, on the " new soft-fallen mask of snow " that surrounded the frozen fountain in the central courtyard.
What did she look like ?
I AM sorry to say that, as far as I know. there is no detailed record of Maria Vela's personal appearance. We are told that she had very beautiful hands and that as she was afraid these would lead to vanity, she did her hest to keep them concealed under her scapular. but that this was not easy for her, because nearly every kind of work in, which she was most actively engaged obliged her to reveal them: making artificial Rowers. embroidering frontals, playing the organ. caring for the vestments and sacred vessels in the sa cristy We are indeed told that she earnestly requested her friend. Marfa de Avila. to draw a veil over her face if she were overcome by rapture during a service, which she always hoped would not happen. or at any other time when she might be subject to general observation.
`Very beautiful' moments
THE raptures occurred with increasing frequency as she grew older, and Maria de Avila was loath to comply because " on such occasions. Maria Vela became very beautiful ''.
From this statement we may infer that, except when trans
figured because of her mystic communion with God, she was not characterised by exceptional perfection of form or feature.
What we are. not what we pretend to be or would like to be, is unmistakably revealed by the time we reach middle age.
Maria Vela was fifty-seven when she died. Long before this, the purity and exaltation of her spirit must have been manifest in her face.
Drained away her strength
MARIA VELA nad made an almost miraculous recovery from an attack of pneumonia which gave every indication of proving fatal, and was actually well enough to assume the care of another nun who was ill. when she was suddenly smitten with a dolor de costado -a pain in the sidcwhich would appear to Have been pleurisy.
According to the custom of the times, she was bled until what remained of her strength must have been drained away from her; and since pleurisy is extremely painful. she must have suffered a great
del When the Community entered her cell in single fileagain, according to custom—she received its members with quiet courtesy and without any sign that there was only one among them whom she really wanted with her at the end.
Her last wish was fulfilled: Maria de Avila was the only person with her when she died.
Burial custom departure
THE Bishop — Don Francisco de Ciamarra — decreed that the burial should not take place in the cloister; this time, there should be a departure from custom.
Her tomb was to be at the foot of an altar in the chapel--an altar dedicated to Our Lady of the Sum. to whom Marfa Vela had always shown great devotion: moreover, her body was to be placed in a casket, which had never before been done at Santa Ana, either.
it was by order of this same Bishop that her casket was later removed to a tomb far more ornate and more loftily placed; and it was also during his tenure of office and only two years after Maria VcIa's death, that the socalled " ordinary process," for her beatification was conducted by him.
Theory of a slip-up
No lack of competent and willing witnesses appeared to testify—by actual count. no less than thirty-nine; and far more than the requisite number of miracles were recorded.
According to some authorities. the process of beatification was dispatched to Rome, but was lost in Alcala de Henares, where its bearer, the Chief Accountant of the Count of Monterey, met with an untimely death. This theory is attested by an Augustinian of Rome, who was handling the cause.
It has never• yet been reintroduced and. naturally, this has caused great disappointment in Avila.