Lieutenant Nun

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 24, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

“Four centuries ago, on the night of March 18, 1596, in the Basque region between France and Spain, dona Catalina de Erauso of San Sebastian stole the keys to the convent of Dominican nuns where she had lived since she was four and where she was to take her vows the following day, took scissors, needle, thread and “some of the pieces of eight that were lying there,” and, opening and closing the doors behind her, “shook off my veil and went out into a street I had never seen, without any idea which way to turn, or where I might be going.”

After cutting her hair and altering her presentation so that not even her parents recognized her when they met, eventually she turned to the New World, and became a soldier of fortune in the region we have come to call Peru. She became adept with sword, knife, and pistol, and killed many men in battle and in duels. She became a brawler and a gambler, making her way through life by her wits, winning enough at cards and in sharp deals to keep body and soul together on the Spanish Catholic frontier. At least two matrons tried to marry their daughters to her.

After some 20 years she told her whole story to the bishop of Guamanga, friar don Augustn de Carvajal, who had given her refuge when her life was in peril, and was found upon an examination she herself offered under the auspices of local women to be female-bodied and an “intact virgin.” She returned to Spain where she secured a pension for life from the king, went to Rome to receive permission from the Pope to wear men’s clothing for the rest of her life. She moved to Mexico where she continued to live as a man, Antonio de Erauso, until her death sometime around 1650.

A 1639 account of her family, written nearly a decade after she went to Mexico, refers to her as Antonio de Erauso, a brother (hermano). The writer Pedro del Valle, who met her in Rome, said that, “Tall and powerfully built, and with a masculine air, she has no more breasts than a girl. She told me that she had used some sort of remedy to make them disappear…. She dresses as a man, in the Spanish style. She carries her sword as bravely as she does her life.”

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