Immaculate Sounds: The Musical Lives of Nuns in New Spain


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Susan McClary and Robert Walser Fellow named award


The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was a Catholic teaching that exempted Mary from original sin to manufacture her into a co-redeemer—the mother of Christ. Praise for this complicated doctrine would resound in the Americas with the founding of the first convent in Mexico City under the Order of the Immaculate Conception in 1540. All other orders of nuns branched out from here. Through musical devotions and liturgies penned by male clerics, women were also elevated to the status of co-redeemers when they became cloistered nuns. In this first book-length study on women’s music in colonial Latin America, I argue that the sounds of the cloisters were “Immaculate Sounds,” and thus essential for the salvation of early modern society. I examine music sources from 17th- and 18th-century New Spain together with the rulebooks, devotional literature, and nuns’ biographies that regulated convent life. This gendered narrative of salvation bridges religious and women’s studies, history, and the arts by shining light on the musical lives of nuns and locating women’s agency within a hierarchical society that silenced certain women and required others to sing.