More than Muses

Soror Maria do Céu

Soror Maria do Céu (1658-1753)

Also known as Marina Clemência, Maria do Ceo, María del Cielo, Maria d'Eça.

An image from a work by Soror Maria do Céu

Works by Soror Maria do Céu

Miscellaneous Works by Soror Maria do Céu


In a time when many people didn’t live past forty, Soror Maria do Céu lived to be ninety-four and a half. Born in Lisbon, she became one of the most prolific women writers of the Baroque era. A poet, a playwright, and a novelist, much of her work is allegorical and religious in nature.

Personal history:

Catherina de Tavora, a noble of the highest class, gave birth to Soror Maria do Céu on the 11 of September, 1658 (Barrera y Leirado, 91). Damião de Froes Perim records her parent’s names as Antonio de Sa and Catharina de Tavora, (243) however Barbosa Machado refutes this claim affirming her parent’s names were Antonio Deça de Castro and Catherina de Tavora (Machado, 926). De Froes Perim wrote seven years earlier, whether that gives him more authority on the subject or not remains to be seen. The Livro da fundação ampliação e Sítio do Convento de N. Senhora da Peidade da Esperança, a book written in Soror Maria do Ceu’s  lifetime about the proceedings of the convent in which she lived, also records her father’s name as Antonio de Sâ e Castro (Hatherly, XV). Despite this, it is generally accepted that her father’s name was Antonio Deça, or as another spelling, Antonio d’Eça. As noted in the Livro da Fundação about her entry to the convent, Soror Maria do Céu came from a wealthy family, “nobilissima, illustre por sua antiguidade” [noble, illustrious in its antiquity] (Hatherly, XV). Her mother’s father, D. Antão de Almada, served as an Ambassador to England and held such titles as Senhor de Pombalinho and Senhor dos Lagares d'El-Rei. (Machado, 926). Catherina de Tavora gave birth to twins, Maria and her twin sister, Isabel Senhorinha da Silva, by all accounts so similar to each other both in temperament and appearance that they could be distinguished only by a difference in their voices (Perim, 242). Her parents, both devout Catholics, baptized her in the parish Senhora dos Mártires (Hatherly, XIV). Throughout life she received the education of a noble and became renowned as a poet even before she entered the convent (Perim, 243). Her sister did not enter the convent but rather married Diogo Luis Ribeiro Soares, a general of the cavalry of the court according to Machado (926), and a lieutenant general of the artillery according to de Barros (150). Isabel Senhorinha da Silva also published several literary works such as poems and short stories (Machado, 926). At the age of eighteen Soror Maria do Céu entered the Convento de Esperança de Lisboa Occidental da Ordem de S. Francisco on June 27, 1676 (Machado, 420). She died on the 28th of May, 1753 at the age of 94, still a devout and active member of the convent in which she lived (Machado, 252).

Religious life: 

She lived the rest of her long life in the Convento de Esperança, located only 1.2 kilometers from the parish church Senhora dos Mártires (the place of her baptism), roughly a 17 minute walk. Elizabete Gama indicates that Convento de Esperança had several names including Nossa Senhora da Piedade da Esperança de Lisboa, the Mosteiro da Esperança, or the Convento de Esperança. Inspiration and initiative from D. Isabel de Medanha led to its construction in 1527 and upon her death in 1532 her work continued under the direction of  D. Joana de Eça. Upon the death of the last religious tenant in 1888, the city of Lisbon received the building and surrounding land with the purpose of modernizing the area (Gama). From 1888-1900, the municipality converted the convent into the fire station that currently houses the  Sapadores Bombeiros de Lisboa 2The term sapadores used here denotes professional firefighters as opposed to a volunteer unit

The nuns living in the Convento de Esperança practiced the Order of St. Clare second order of St. Francis of Assisi, making Soror Maria do Céu a Franciscan nun as Perim and Gama note. Clare Offreduccio formed the order of St. Clare, also known as “Poor Clares,” under the direction of St. Francis beginning in 1212, however the church did not officially ratify it as an order until 1253 (Frances, 31). Traditionally their lifestyle included fasting frequently, manual labor, contemplation in silence for many hours of the day, enclosure, extreme poverty, and chastity. Their rule required that nuns of their order “live in obedience, without anything of one’s own, in chastity” (Frances, 55). Upon entering the convent they would give up their secular clothes, cut their hair, and don monastic garb (Petruzello). 3According to Veronica Bennett, traditional habits of poor Clare nuns were made of undyed coarse wool cloth, usually brown or reddish-brown in color. They wore a knotted cord in place of a belt with … Continue reading On their feet they wore only sandals to reflect their commitment to poverty.

Despite this strict tradition, many sources indicate that the Convent of Esperança was not so destitute: A. Vieira da Silva notes that the convent enjoyed an “exceptional riqueza decorativa” [exceptional richness in decoration] and Fonseca Benevides comments on the “Imensa profusão de azulejos” [immense profusion of azulejos (painted tiles)] that decorated the convent walls (Morujão, 289). Perhaps this richness in decoration can be attributed to the fact that noble families of the area would send their daughters to the convent of Esperança, as evidenced by Soror Maria do Céu’s service there. Queen Maria Francisca de Sabóia herself passed some time in the convent temporarily in the second half of the seventeenth century (Hatherly, XII). Letters written by Soror Maria do Céu to the Duchess Teresa de Medinaceli and her daughter, who also stayed in the convent for a period of time, are yet more evidence indicating a comfortable furnishing of the convent, at least comfortable enough for royalty to visit (Hatherly, XIX). Perhaps, in this convent at least, the vows of poverty and commitment to walking barefoot taken upon entry were more symbolic than practiced. 

In her years at the convent, Soror Maria do Céu served as portress, mistress of novices, and abbess on two separate occasions (Machado, 420). The author of the Livro da fundação do Convento da Esperança describes her as one with “profunda humildade e modestia” [deep humility and modesty] (Hatherly, XV). Fr. Antonio do Sacramento writes that upon her entrance to the convent she “crescia em virtudes, tendo exacto cuidado na observancia da Regra de Sua Madre Santa Clara” [grew in virtues, carefully observing the rule of her Mother St. Clare] (Hatherly, XVII). He further notes that as Abess the other nuns and religious affiliates “lhe obedeciam com alegria, a respeitavam prudente, e dotado de grande juízo” [obeyed her with joy, respected her prudence, and thought her possessed with great wisdom] (Hatherly, XVII). In the leisure time she had from the duties of monastic life, she dedicated her time to books and reading and with time became quite erudite (Machado, 420). 

Literary Works:

Over the course of 77 years she published a great deal of poetry, plays, and short stories, both in Portuguese and Spanish (Commire and Klezmer, 1225). Much of her work is allegorical and didactic in nature, intended to teach about behavior and life in the convent. During her early years as a writer she published under the pseudonym Marina Clemência, religiosa de S. Francisco do Convento da Ilha de São Miguel due to a strong desire to avoid the public eye (Perim, 243-244). A Feniz Apparecida na Vida, Morte, Sepultura, e Milagres da Gloriosa S. Catharina; A preciosa, Allegoria Moral; and A Preciosa, Obras de Misericordia were all published under this name (Hatherly, XXI). Eventually admirers of her work identified Soror Maria do Céu as the writer behind the pseudonym Marina Clemência and she began to publish her works under her own name (Hatherly, XXVI). She published her works using various printers and publishing houses including the Officina Real Deslandefiana, the Officina da Musica, Manoel Fernandes da Costa, Miguel Rodriquez, Miguel Menescal da Costa, and Antonio Isidoro da Fonseca (Machado, 420). In her time, all published materials passed through a censor who approved the work as appropriate for audiences or deemed it as unacceptable. De Barros notes that few authors could boast of such high praise as she was given by her censors in the licenses they wrote to allow the book to pass (153). De Barros writes: “Todos os censores aplaudem os gestos daquela religiosa bem intencionada” [all the censors applauded the actions of that well meaning religious woman] (153). In rough chronological order her works include: 

  • A feniz aparecida na vida, morte, sepultura, e milagres da gloriosa S. Catherina Rainha de Alexandria, virgem, e mártir com sua Novena, e peregrinação ao Sinay. 1715. 
  • A preciosa Alegorica Moral, part 1. 1731. 
  • A preciosa: Obras de Misericórdia em primorosos, e místicos Diálogos expostos. Elogios dos santos em vários cantos poéticos e históricos. 1733.
  • Obras várias e admiráveis. 1735. 
  • Aves ilustradas, e avisos para as religiosas servirem os officios de seus mosteiros. 1738.
  • Triunfo do Rosário repartido em cinco autos do mesmo, muito devotos, e divertidos pelas singulares ideias. 1740
    • Perla y Rosa
    • Rosal de Maria
    • La flor de las finezas
    • Las rosas com las espigas
    • Tres redenciones
  • Enganos do bosque, desenganos do rio. 1741

In her book about Triunfo do Rosário Ana Hatherly notes that the Tres Autos de S. Aleixo, which are mentioned by several other historians in lists of her work, were published in the 1741 version of Enganos do Bosque part 1 and 2 (8). These three plays include: 

  • Maior fineza de Amor
  • Amor e Fé
  • As lagrimas de Roma 

Diôgo Barbosa Machado lists the biography written by Soror Maria do Céu about Madre Helena da Cruz, Relação da vida, e morte da serva de deus a V. Madre Helena da Cruz religiosa do convento da Esperança desta cidade de Lisboa no ano de 1721, after Enganos do Bosque, but he does not provide a publishing date. Perim too lists the biography of Madre Helena da Cruz after the Tres Autos de S. Aleixo, but does not provide a publishing date for either of them. Ana Hatherly notes that there are two manuscript versions known of today, one with the date of 1721 and the other undated, however with indications that it was written later (XX).

Damião de Froes Perim and Diôgo Barbosa Machado attribute En la cura va la flecha, Preguntarlo a las Estrellas, and En la más oscura noche, three comedies, to her as well (Perim, 243). Neither of them, however, specify the date of publication. Perim published his catalog in 1736, so it stands to reason that they were published before that date, but their publication date is not conclusively known.

Annotated Bibliography

. vol. , . .

This article explains the legend of St. Dorothy and St. Theophilus: Theophilus asks Dorothy to bring back roses and violets from the paradise of her spouse (Cristo). After she is martyred and in paradise, she sends a four year old boy with roses and violets back to Theophilus to prove that paradise exists. Besides this explanation, this article also includes a version of the legend written by Soror Maria do Céu in castilian verse. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Augusto, Sara. "A Multiplicação Das Fábulas Na Ficção Narrativa De Soror Maria Do Céu." Forma Breve, vol. 3, p. 121-33.

Sara Augusto discusses fables in baroque literature as well as the ways that Soror Maria do Céu presents her fables (always with the fable coming first followed by a paragraph of explanation/moralization). She discusses fables in Aves Ilustradas, Obras Várias e Admiráveis (specifically “Metaphors das Flores”), as well as a few other stories and fables. Augusto argues that true to the baroque allegorical tradition, Soror Maria do Céu uses fables to teach morals to her readers⏤other nuns and inhabitants of the convent. Augusto notes that it is through presenting the story and then immediately presenting the moral or the lesson to be learned that makes the works of Soror Maria do Céu particularly good examples of baroque allegorical didactical fiction. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Augusto, Sara. "A Predestinada Peregrina: Dos Enganos Do Bosque Aos Desenganos Do Rio." Máthesis, vol. 17, p. 157-74.

Sara Augusto explains the literary style of allegories with the intent to introduce Maria do Céu’s outstanding work in Enganos do Bosque, Desenganos do Rio. The author provides a detailed antithesis between good and evil, and how these are illustrated by the Pastor and and the forest. Maria do Céu’s work represents the quest to heaven through the Peregrina who faces opposition to find the living water. (Annotation by Perla Escobar)

Augusto, Sara. "O Papagaio Ilustrado: Lição e Exemplo Na Ficção Barroca." Máthesis, vol. 14, p. 137-48.

In this article Sara Augusto argues that the use of allegory in Soror Maria do Céu's short stories and other works provide some of the best examples in Portuguese literature of the use of parables for the purpose of educating and inspiring its audience. She begins by discussing various examples of didactic fables in Soror Maria do Céu's writing and then examines the use of fables in Aves Ilustradas, more specifically “O papagaio à rodeira.” Augusto notes that the use of allegory is a characteristic of baroque literature and that by creating tales and fables with clear, didactic moral lessons, Soror Maria do Céu is contributing and dialoguing with this important aspect of baroque literature. Her fables about birds and her commentary on how they act correlate directly with how a righteous nun should live and act in the convent setting. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Barbosa Machado, Diôgo. "D. Izabel Senhorinha da Sylva." Bibliotheca Lusitana Historica, Critica, e Cronologica. Na Qual Se Comprehende a Noticia Dos Authores Portuguezes, e Das Obras, Que Compuseraõ Desde o Tempo Da Promulgação Da Ley Da Graça Até o Tempo Prezente, vol. 2, Lisbon, Ignacio Rodrigues, p. 926.

This is an entry about her sister Isabel Senhorinha da Silva, however it mentions Soror Maria do Céu and provides information about their parents: their names, and some genealogy on her mother’s side. It notes that their grandfather was an Ambassador to England and that their family was of the noble class. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Barbosa Machado, Diôgo. "Sor Maria do Céu." Bibliotheca Lusitana Historica, Critica, e Cronologica. Na Qual Se Comprehende a Noticia Dos Authores Portuguezes, e Das Obras, Que Compuseraõ Desde o Tempo Da Promulgação Da Ley Da Graça Até o Tempo Prezente, vol. 3, Lisbon, Ignacio Rodrigues, p. 420-21.

An encyclopedic entry on Soror Maria do Céu, providing her birth date, information on the similarity between herself and her identical twin sister, the age and date she entered the convent, and the responsibilities she was given while there. It also notes that she became quite erudite during her free time and that she published under a pseudonym. It also provides a list of her works as well as where and when they were published.  (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Barbosa Machado, Diôgo. "Sor Maria do Céu." Bibliotheca lusitana historica, critica, e cronologica. Na qual se comprehende a noticia dos authores portuguezes, e das obras, que compuseraõ desde o tempo da promulgação da Ley da Graça até o tempo prezente, vol. 4, Lisbon, Ignacio Rodrigues, p. 252.

Gives the date of her death as well as age at the time of death. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Barrera y Leirado, Cayetano Alberto de la. Catálogo bibliográfico y biográfico del teatro antiguo español, desde sus orígenes hasta mediados del siglo XVIII. Madrid, Gredos, .

Entry written in Spanish providing information about her birth date, the similarities between her sister and her, and the names of her parents. It gives the date she entered the convent and that she was abbess 2 times. It also notes that she published in Lisbon under a pseudonym. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Barros, Teresa Leitão de. "Maria do Céu." Escritoras de Portugal: Génio feminino revelado na Literatura Portuguesa, vol. 1, Lisbon, p. 149-62.

De Barros dedicates this section of her book to detailing some of the biographic information available about Soror Maria do Céu including information about her family. She discusses her work and inspirations. She notes as well the reaction of censors to Maria do Céu’s work. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Bennett, Veronica. "Order of St. Clare." Looking Good: A Visual Guide to the Nun's Habit, London, GraphicDesign&, p. 41.

This book details the habits of nuns from several different families. It provides visual images of what the habits likely looked like as well as descriptions of each element of the habit including descriptions of the color, the neck adornment, the belt or cord, the rosary, and the shoes used by each order discussed. It also provides some context to the order as well as interesting facts about them. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Commire, Anne, and Klezmer, Deborah. "Maria do Céu." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women through the Ages, vol. 2, no. 0, Yorkin, p. 1225.

This book provides a short entry on Soror Maria do Céu providing biographic information including variations of her name, the names of her parents, her birth date, the age she entered the convent, and a few of the works she wrote. It also notes that she often wrote in Spanish. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Ferreira, Maria do Céu de Sousa. "«Desde el Parnaso os escrivo»: Cartas de uma Monja Escritora." Edição e Análise da Correspondência Manuscrita de Soror Maria do Céu à Duquesa de Medinaceli, Porto: Universidade do Porto, p. 11-187.

This is a thesis dedicated to a series of letters written by Soror Maria do Céu to the Duquesa Medinaceli of Madrid and a few other aristocratic senhoras of that same city. It is composed first of an examination and analysis of the letters written to the Duquesa Medinaceli and followed by a section dedicated to presenting the letters and poems exchanged themselves. The author notes that the letters from the Duquesa have not been found, so only half of the conversation remains to us, the half written by Soror Maria do Céu.  (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Frances, Teresa. "4 The Rule of St. Clare." Joy in All Things: A Franciscan Companion, Norwich, Canterbury Press Norwich, p. 48-49.

This is a book about the order of St. Clare including a history of the saint herself as well as the order she founded. It includes an explanation of the rule of St. Clare that Franciscan nuns were to follow. It gives the date the order was founded and a few details of their lifestyle. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Gama, Elizabete. "Ficha De Casa Religiosa." PROJECTO LXCONVENTOS - BASE DE DADOS, Fundação Para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, .

This website provides information about the convent of Esperança including other names by which the convent was known, the history of its construction, function as a convent, and eventual use as a fire station. It also notes that it was a Franciscan convent practicing the order of St. Clare. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Halling, Anna-Lisa. "Soror Maria Do Céu's Virgin Mary and the Male Gaze." Via Spiritus, vol. 26, p. 165-83.

This article details how Soror Maria do Céu creates a female character that is capable of escaping the male gaze in her play Clavel e Rosa. Rosa, a representation of the virgin Mary, acts with authority in choosing which suitor will be her husband, examining the qualities and attributes of each. In this way Soror Maria do Céu subverts the gender norms of the age and creates a female protagonist who is not subject to the male gaze/authority but one who is of herself the authority. The example that Soror Maria do Céu provides in the character of Rosa to her companion conventual nuns is not the passive Mary seen post council of Trent, but a Mary of action, power, and authority. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Halling, Anna-Lisa. "Upending Hegemonic Masculinity in Soror Maria Do Céu’s Clavel, y Rosa." Journal of Lusophone Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 50-69.

This article explains how Soror Maria do Céu inverts gender roles typical of her time in her masculine and feminine characters in her play Clavel e Rosa. In an age where men were lauded as courageous, virtuous, and authoritative, she portrays them as arrogant, self-centered, and narcissistic. Soror Maria do Céu thus calls into question the validity of the claims of the time that men have only positive characteristics. It is the man who exemplifies women’s gender norms that eventually wins Mary’s hand, further calling into question the authority of the gender norms of the age. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Morujão, Isabel. "A César o Que é De César: Acerca Da Atribuição Ao Padre Simão Vaz De Camões, SJ, De Dois Textos Editados Em A Preciosa De Soror Maria Do Céu." Revista Da Faculdade De Letras - Línguas e Literaturas, vol. 20, no. 1, p. 297-303.

Morujão investigates the hypotheses given by Mário Sá, who argues that two heroic poems, Poemas Heróicos de Simão Vaz de Camões, were stolen by Maria do Céu. Morujão illustrates who she believes is the real author through the examination of the editing and publishing process of A Preciosa. The author declares that the defining factor of attributing the poems to Maria do Céu is the structure of the poem, having five and not seven cantos. (Annotation by Perla Escobar)

Morujão, Isabel. "O Tema Do Eremitismo Na Literatura Conventual Feminina : S. Paulo Eremita Em A Preciosa De Soror Maria Do Céu : Dos Relatos Em Prosa à Narrativa Épica." Via Spiritus : Revista De História Da Espiritualidade e Do Sentimento Religioso, vol. 9, p. 255-86.

This article analyzes the figure of S. Paulo Eremita in Maria do Céu’s epic poem, Primaz do Ermo, part of her work, A Preciosa. Obras de Misericórdia Parte II. Morujão provides a background foundation of the importance of eremitism during the 16th and 17th centuries, and an analysis of Maria’s heroic dedication to this saint. The author achieves this by contrasting hagiographic sources that enclose information about S. Paulo Eremita’s life. (Annotation by Perla Escobar)

Perim, Damião de Froes. "40 - Soror Maria do Ceo." Theatro Heroino, Abcedario Historico, e Catalogo Das Mulheres Illustres Em Armas, Letras, Acçoens Heroicas, e Artes Liberaes, vol. 2, Lisbon, Oficina Sylviana, p. 242-45.

Perim wrote an encyclopedic entry providing birth date, baptismal name and the names of Soror Maria do Céu's parents. He notes that she was born with an identical twin sister. He also gives the year she entered the Convento de Esperança, that she was abbess two times and the pseudonym she used for her early works.  This entry also gives a list of the works she published along with the date they were published. (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Petruzello, Melissa. "Poor Clare." Encyclopædia Britannica, .

An entry describing how poor clares, or nuns of the order of St. Clare were to lead their life, including manual labor, contemplation in silence for many hours of the day, and vows of poverty. It notes that the order of St. Clare is known to be one of the most austere orders for nuns.  (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)

Silva, Fabio Mario da. "A Literatura Como Instrução. Uma Leitura De Metáforas Das Flores De Soror Maria Do Céu." e-Scrita Revista Do Curso De Letras Da UNIABEU, vol. 5, no. 3, p. 126–34.

This article examines Soror Maria do Céu’s work, Metáfora das Flores. Da Silva proposes that flowers are used in this work to represent the behaviors of people and their relationships with one another. He states that Soror Maria do Céu writes in this way as a form of instruction to other nuns and conventual habitants about how they should behave in the convent. He further submits that Soror Maria do Céu uses literature to propagate and reinforce monastic teachings in the form of allegories and metaphors.  (Annotation by Chandrelyn Kraczek)


3 August 2021

Last Updated

11 May 2022


1 Superiora do convento
2 The term sapadores used here denotes professional firefighters as opposed to a volunteer unit
3 According to Veronica Bennett, traditional habits of poor Clare nuns were made of undyed coarse wool cloth, usually brown or reddish-brown in color. They wore a knotted cord in place of a belt with four knots representing their vows to poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure (41).