Juana de Maldonado y Paz and a Glimpse of Isis

Copyright 2001. John Major Jenkins

The portada chapter, for me, was symbolic of my desire to explore more deeply the metaphysical or spiritual implications of the galactic alignment. Unfortunately, the more personal and philosophical voice in this chapter was branded inconsistent with the more academic style of the rest of the book. As a result, this chapter was severely chopped up and I had to revise and restore a great deal of the cuts in order to preserve as much as I did. Three important areas suffered from the reducing and cutting. First, one area that I could not develop far enough to provide an appropriate context for my synergistic interpretation was Coomaraswamy's insight into universal symbolism. A second area involved my brief mention of an important woman in history associated with La Concepcion. This excised paragraph occurred in the middle of page 228 in the published version:

"At this point we should recognize another historical figure connected with La Concepcion. As many as one hundred and ninety nuns lived in the convent at one time, which was well funded by dowries from New Spain's richest families. Living an austere existence behind stone walls, these women were devoted to the Mother of God, and rarely ventured outside. In fact, the famous archway that still spans one of the streets leading away from the Central Park was built as a passageway. It contains a staircase leading up and over the street, allowing nuns to travel between different areas of their church property without having to go into the street. Such a life must have felt cold and brutal, in a hostile foreign land. Apparently not all of the nuns lived lives of quiet devotion. La Concepcion contains a deluxe cloister within a cloister, built especially for the daughter of a wealthy judge in the Royal Court. History remembers Juana de Maldonado y Paz as a beautiful and talented poetess and musician. She was a controversial figure who died at age forty in 1638, so she preceded the building of the façade. With her father's wealth she was able to retire into the spacious rooms of her extensive private cloister, which included a private chapel, kitchen, laundry, servant's quarters, and a sumptuous hot water bath. One begins to want to pass through the portal of La Concepcion to explore what's inside, however ruinous it might be."

The bolded passage above provided a set-up for a later section at the end of the chapter that I had to abridge, a truncation that I believe eliminated a more prosaic and experiential voice from the book. In fact, a passage preserved in the Introduction ("And in all of this, the uniting thread that reemerges at various points, like the full moon from behind clouds, is the archetype of the Great Mother: Isis") was intended to provide a metaphor that would have been reiterated nicely had this section been preserved as originally conceived (bolded below). The excised passage begins immediately following the bulleted section on page 235 in the published version:

"Gazing at the façade from the street level, with all the bustle of modern Antigua threatening your epiphany, the impression arises that no one has noticed the message for hundreds of years. The stonework is browned with pollution, chipped in places, and the lotus boy looks like he's getting a little tired. Yet the Mother of God still stands strong, teaching all humanity with eternal patience, offering the Divine Word to all who seek to pass through her portal.

It takes thirty minutes to walk around the entire block that contains the ruins of La Concepion. Where the walls are crumbling, broken shards of glass bottles are cemented on top to prevent access. On the corner near the Jades S.A. factory, the insides of the main cloister can be seen but a chained gate bars entry. Here and there, in the far back near piles of uncleared building stones, only a flimsy wire fence remains. To get into the inner convent you would need to hop the fence and crawl over stone walls thrown down by the centuries.

Antigua is a mysterious place. One might return late at night to find the portada magically opened. Passing through, able to see by moonlight, you enter an extensive labyrinth of rubble. The dwelling place of the Mother of God is huge. Passageways lead here and there, most are exposed to the night sky but some archways are still intact. Ornate designs, cracked and broken, adorn every vaulted corner. Angels peer down from niches in broken ceilings. A flashlight helps to make out the darkened features in shadowy, partially enclosed rooms. You move from room to room, thinking you might stumble across the luxurious cloister of Juana de Maldonado y Paz. Further inside, a shattered stairways leads up and around, along a ledge and down again to a huge vaulted hallway with its ceilings perfectly preserved. This must have been the inner chapel where prayerful worship occurred every day for a hundred years. But the altar is gone, and all images of the Great Mother have long since disappeared. Yet she feels near.

Your eyes are searching for something, a final message perhaps, when you realize that the huge vaulted room is somewhat dome shaped. Of course, according to traditional symbolism the four walls of a church's domed chamber culminate at the apex, symbol of the center of the cosmos, the eye of God, the heart of wisdom, the North Gate of Heaven, the Hypercosmic Sun, the seventh chakra that releases the Soma of vision . . . the Galactic Center. Or, we might say, the abode of Isis. Tracing your flashlight up the corner arches, you gaze further up and make out the dim outlines of something carved in stone, right in the center of the ceiling overhead. The full moon jumps out from behind a scuttling cloud, splashing through a high window . . . a cock crows in the distance.

Img21-7. Isis at La Concepcion [this image does appear in the book]"

A brief note: It might initially seem absurd that a cock would crow in the middle of the night; however, the seeming paradox actually has been known to occur. Cocks sometimes confuse the bright full moon with the dawning sun when it appears suddenly, as for example it does when emerging suddenly from behind a cloud. The inner meaning, apparently too obscure for inclusion in the book, is that at galactic midnight the return of higher consciousness, reflected though it be, makes a brief re-appearance as a reminder of its existence. (Visualize the yin-yang symbol wherein the seed of the opposite principle appears when one pole has reached maximum expression).

Finally, someone should write a Master's thesis on the life of Juana de Maldonado y Paz, who seems to have been a blend of Hildegard von Bingen and Eleanor of Aquitaine. An interesting story would no doubt emerge if seriously investigated.