False prophets in XVI century Spain, Lucrecia de Leon. By Yoel Benhabib

Book review: “Lucrecia’s dreams” by Richard Kagan.

By: Yoel Benhabib

 

In the book, Lucrecia’s Dreams, Richard Kagan examines the accounts surrounding the Inquisitorial trial of Lucrecia de Leon, a young Christian girl from Madrid, and her prophetic career as a recipient of mystical dreams. Since a young age, she started having such dreams that at the beginning were kept only within the family realm and strongly opposed by Lucrecia’s father, Alonso Franco. With time relatives and friends started getting attracted by the apocalyptic content of the dreams such as the destruction of the Spanish Armada, the fall of Phillip II’s kingdom, the conquest of Spain by the Muslims and her liberation by Lucrecia and the prophet Miguel leading to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth with the reconquest of Jerusalem by the Christians. Two very important ecclesiastical people heard about these dreams, Alonso de Mendoza and Fray Lucas de Allende, and started to transcribe them and circulate its content among the royal court and the city of Madrid.

The dreams included harsh criticism to the monarchy, specially the king, Philip II, but also against churchmen, royal officials, and the political and social situation at the time in Spain. Such kind of message resulted in Lucrecia being arrested and tried by the Inquisition ending with her prophetic career later on. Though not stated, the book’s argument is how the political, economic, and social turmoil of 16th century Spain aroused the phenomenon of street prophets, male and female, denouncing the ills of the kingdom and how women took advantage of this as a way to achieve political power, influence, and prestige at a time when they usually couldn’t do so. The author uses Lucrecia’s example to exemplify for us such phenomenon. Although the argument is persuasive it fails to clarify if these were real dreams or were suggested to Lucrecia by Mendoza, Allende, and others or simply the invention of Mendoza as the main editor and how could this have impacted the credibility of the whole story.

For example, Mendoza admitted that though the language of Lucrecia’s dreams was different from her ordinary speech, “in this regard he was provably correct when he attributed some of Lucrecia’s diction and expressions to those she had heard at mass, in sermons, and at other church services.” (Kagan, page 60). Although Mendoza knew this, the book tells us that he believed firmly these dreams came from God and trusted Lucrecia as a true prophet. At the same time, it seems that he was manipulating the situation because “in masterminding Lucrecia’s prophetic career, he contributed to her knowledge of the arts of dream interpretation and divination and other aspects of the occult.” (Kagan, page 28). This implies that he was responsible for attributing meaning to dreams that though strange, could have passed unnoticed had not he poisoned Lucrecia’s mind making her conscious of this opportunity to reveal herself as God’s instrument and channel of divine revelation.

We also know that she took images from prophetic books such as 2 Esdras, the Book of Revelation, Daniel, and from conversations with people. “At the trial Guillen de Casaos described a conversation he had with Lucrecia comparing the eagles in Esdras and the eagles on the Habsburg armorial shield. After that talk, he said, “she began to dream about (eagles) without stopping.” (Kagan, page 61). It is very suspicious that after this conversation she dreamed about this specific topic as if it was so convenient and in fact dreaming about what her followers or little community of believers wanted to hear. Many of her dreams had to do with the flaws of the monarchy and the political and social situation in Spain something appealing to the people at the time who wanted a voice but were afraid to denounce such illnesses. Immediately she became a prophet of the poor and rich equally.

In conclusion, all of these implies that it is not clear if all the more than four hundred recorded dreams were real, suggested to Lucrecia, or simply edited by Mendoza adding many fantastic scenes and meaning to its content. Perhaps some of the dreams were real but most of them worked more on Mendoza’s agenda, as a way to boast his career and popularity, than to Lucrecia’s ultimate benefit. At the end she was the one that got arrested and tried by the Inquisition, accused of treason to the king, rejected by her family, and after being banished from Madrid, ultimately disappeared from history. It is clear that she was just manipulated, an instrument in the hands of Allende and Mendoza.

 

 

 

 

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