Texan Hipsters and a Flying Nun

I had read a few things about Marfa, the tiny south-western Texas town inhabited by artsy hipsters from Brooklyn, and so while I was in the area I decided to drop by and check it out.

It’s about 70 miles from Van Horn to Marfa on highway 90. As I drove through the sandy scrubland I began to worry about gas. I had enough to get me there but not enough to get back. Surely there would be a gas station. But do hipsters drive? In New York they probably ride the subway or a bike. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. I ran out of gas in the desert a few years ago but that’s another story. I didn’t want to turn back so I rationalised. Most Brooklyn hipsters aren’t born and raised there. They are usually chased out of small towns in the midwest by art hating bullies. They took drivers ed in high school. Of course they drive. Of course there will be gas.

As I got closer I tuned into the local NPR station. They were playing the Etta James version of “Take it to the Limit” and then I flashed by a storefront that said “Texas Prada”.

I found gas but no hipsters. Most of the people at the gas station were Mexican-Americans. I’ve always thought this border nonsense is weird. The majority of the population in the southwest is Mexican-American because it used to be Mexico. There would be even more Mexican-Americans if the U.S. government hadn’t deported U.S. born Mexican-Americans during the Great Depression. I don’t know what the border inspection people are looking for.  This time when they asked if I was a citizen I could truthfully reply yes. The last time I couldn’t and they were quite embarrassed because I’m an old white guy.

Marfa is a nice little place with a domed city hall and a wide main street with angled parking. It has a lot of churches which are still used for prayer and not studio space as you would expect. I saw German speaking tourists in skinny jeans with expensive Japanese cameras taking pictures of designer renovated adobes. It is altogether a nice little place.

On the way out of town there is a viewing station for the Marfa lights. These are unexplained lights that have been seen for hundreds of years. A group of students from the University of Texas correlated the lights with car headlamps on U.S. Highway 67 but there were no cars or highways hundreds of years ago. I was there in the middle of the day so I can’t really give an objective opinion but while I was looking I started to talk to a Native American woman. She told me that one side of her family was from the Jumano tribe and that she was visiting their homeland. She said that they were a peaceful people who had been so reduced by wars with the Apaches that the tribe was considered extinct in 1750. Today there is a push for recognition as a tribe again and things are looking up. She told me that they had been recognised by the Vatican. The Vatican? The pope? Yes. And the she told me the strangest story. This is where the flying nun comes in.

For six years, in the 1620s, groups of Jumanos had arrived at a mission near present day Alburquerque and asked for a priest to go with them and baptize their people. They claimed that a white lady dressed in blue had taught them about Catholicism and sent them to the mission. They said the woman had spoken to them in their own language.  In the mission there was a portrait of a Franciscan nun and they said she looked like her but younger and more beautiful.

In Spain a young nun, Maria de Agreda, claimed to her confessor that she had been visiting indian villages while in a trancelike state and teaching the Catholic faith. A witness said she levitated while entranced. Although this type of activity is miraculous it is common enough that we have a word for it, bi-location. I think it’s a bit different than astral projection because she was physically in two places. She even brought rosary beads to give to the indians. Her confessor asked a priest who was going to New Spain to check out her story and there you have it.

Interesting story I thought then I googled it and it is true.

Maria de Agreda was born into a down on its luck noble family. She was a difficult child given to “ecstacies and visions”. She was also precocious. She took a vow of chastity at age eight. At twelve she decided to become a nun and convinced her parents to give away all their possessions and to turn their house into a convent. On the day she took the veil her mother and sister also became nuns and her father became a Franciscan monk joining her two brothers. She became notorious when news of her visions and bi-location spread and she was investigated and exonerated twice by the inquisition. She wrote a book, “The Mystical City of God” which she said was dictated to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary Holy Mother of God. In fact she wrote it three times. She had to burn it twice because of the inquisition. It is 2,793 pages long and is available on Amazon. She also was an advisor to King Philip IV.

A cynic might say that the Jumanos wanted the Spanish to protect them from the Apaches and that Spain might have used religion as an aid to colonization and that Maria was crazy but they would be wrong. In 1909 there was a push to make her a saint so they dug up her corpse and it was incorrupt. That is one of the signs of a saint. Her body was put on display in the convent chapel of Agreda and in 1989 it was checked again and once again it was incorrupt.

In August 2017 Father Stephano M. Cecchin was sent by the Vatican to Texas to investigate. He is quoted as saying “There is a lot of proof that the Lady in Blue appeared to the Jumano tribe”.

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