80 years of St. Josemaria Escriva's 'Abbess of Las Huelgas

It is 80 years since the publication of "The Abbess of Las Huelgas" by St. Josemaría Escrivá, a scholarly research that still echoes today and reflects the intellectual legacy of the author.

Eliana Fucili-April 5, 2024-Reading time: 3 minutes

St. Josemaría Escrivá is recognized, principally, for the founding of Opus Dei. Hence the uniqueness of The Abbess of Las Huelgas'.in the trajectory of the Aragonese saint.

Published in 1944, this book carries out a historical-canonical analysis of the jurisdiction exercised, for centuries, by the abbess of the monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos.

In the opinion of those who conducted the critical-historical editionThis research probably responds to two purposes. One is its desire to convey the central message of the Opus Dei -He was also a great admirer of intellectual and university work. Another is his great appreciation for intellectual and university work.

La Abadesa de las Huelgas' examines theological, juridical and historical issues. Even today it is a reference work in academic studies and its reading shows the author's sincere esteem for religious life.

Intellectual legacy

St. Josemaría Escrivá began his research on the Abbess of Las Huelgas when he arrived in Burgos in January 1938, after crossing the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War. In Madrid he lost all the material he had collected over several years for his doctoral thesis. However, in Burgos he found a new subject and the monastery archives to prepare this new thesis.

In December 1939, Escrivá presented his thesis at the Central University of Madrid, receiving an outstanding grade that awarded him the degree of doctor of law.

This doctoral work served as the basis and inspiration for a more detailed study of the figure of the Abbess of Las Huelgas and her particular jurisdiction. For this purpose, between 1940 and 1943, St. Josemaría traveled to Burgos on several occasions to consult the monastery's archives.

The figure of the Abbess of Las Huelgas

The monastery of Las Huelgas is a particular episode in the history of the Church in Spain. Since its foundation in the 12th century, it welcomed the daughters of nobles. Those who entered it brought dowries that included lands and benefits granted by royalty.

Over the centuries, these donations contributed to the increase of the monastery's territory and the jurisdiction of the abbess.

Three different powers were condensed in it: the civil power, the canonical power as superior of a religious community, and a power to control a religious community. quasi-episcopal (except, of course, in all matters relating to sacred order).

The Abbess exercised this power over the Christian faithful living within the limits of her territory, located between Toledo and present-day Cantabria.

Thus, for example, he granted licenses to priests to celebrate mass, to preach in churches and parishes, to hear confessions of his religious, religious and faithful of the territory. In his territory, he also presided and personally received the religious profession in his monastery and in others.

He also imposed ecclesiastical and civil penalties through judges who dispensed justice in his name.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá

Contributions of Escrivá's book

St. Josemaría Escrivá studied jurisdiction quasi-episcopal The centuries-long rule of the Abbess of Las Huelgas, which came to an end in 1874 by papal bull Quae diversa.

His historical-canonical analysis highlights the relevance and impact of custom as a source of canon law, underlining how continued use by a community can influence the formulation of the ecclesiastical norm, unless it is explicitly overruled by the legislator.

La Abadesa de las Huelgas had two editions while Escrivá was still alive: the first in 1944 and the second in 1974. Later, in 1988, it was republished.

Since its first publication, it has become a reference in the field of canon law. It is still cited in canonical literature, as well as in studies on the history of women, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world.

In 2016 the St. Josemaría Escrivá Historical Institute published the critical-historical edition of La Abadesa de las Huelgasby Professors María Blanco and María del Mar Martín. The authors present an exhaustive critical and legal-historical analysis of the original text.

In the prologue to the critical-historical edition, Bishop Javier Echevarría affirmed that St. Josemaría's research on the Abbess of Las Huelgas not only highlighted the role of women in the Church and society in times past, but can also contribute to new reflections on the place of women in contemporary society and the Church.

The authorEliana Fucili

Center for Josemaría Escrivá Studies (CEJE) 
University of Navarra

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