The Lady in Blue is a book that is part history, part fantasy and part mysticism set in the framework of fiction. The fiction is not all that great but this is another book that sells a chunk of history that one could easily pass over. The context is the seventeenth century and the locale shifts from Rome and the Vatican, the Rio Grande region of New Mexico and Los Angeles. The backdrop is the unusual conversion rates among certain Indian tribes in the area.
The conversions have been apparently aided by apparitions of a lady in blue – who has been appearing to the Indians and urging them to welcome the Roman Catholic missionaries when they come to their lands and has thereby been helping the work of evangelization by spreading the seed. This by itself is not new – Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an indigenous Mexican had reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 and so there was a precedent.
But the lady in blue unlike the earlier apparitions at Guadalupe had appeared to masses of people and several people had claimed to see them leading to an investigation by the Church authorities. The apparitions were largely attributed to a cloistered nun named Sister Maria Jesus de Agreda who it would seem appeared to Indians in the Southwest, but she never left her home in Spain. So how did she do it ? Enter the realm of miracles, mysticism and miracles. The nun in question had apparently the gift of bilocation – the ability to “transport” her body to great distances while still remaining within the gift of the nunnery. Apparently this was aided by a particular harmony of sound produced during a religious chant, although she had mystic abilities since birth. It would appear that “María paid more than 500 spiritual visits, sometimes two or three a day, to the Indians, she said. She instructed them in the fundamentals of the Faith, speaking to them in their own language. Her spirit carried rosaries from her cell to give to her charges. She healed the sick. She won converts. She urged them to contact Franciscan friars at the missions of the Río Grande pueblos and to solicit the construction of new missions for other tribes. If necessary, she would give her life, she said, to save a single Indian soul.
Church intrigue of the Roman Catholic variety abounds in the book, with the author recounting the rivalry between the many Catholic priestly orders to curry favor with King Philip IV of Spain so that they could obtain sole concessions in the newly discovered territories – both to harvest souls as well as to exploit natural resources and mines in the territories.
The book also shifts to the twentieth century as a bunch of Vatican scientists aided by the CIA attempt to recreate conditions in which Maria Jesus de Agreda “bilocated”, so that the techniques could be used for military purposes – similar apparitions could then be “Parachuted” into enemy lines for spying not conventionally possible. The scientists also look at techniques like “chronovision”, a method to apparently make it possible to visit the past and photograph events of past days and record sounds also from the past.
The historical bits of the novel are good – a nun by the name of Maria Jesus de Agreda did exist and it was said of her that she was the “lady in blue” who appeared to Indian tribes for several years and was in fact investigated by the church for complicity in witchcraft. But the other pieces set in modern times – with priests, scientists and the CIA trying to reproduce ancient miracles in modern times – well that bit comes through as nothing more than a lot of mumbo jumbo. The book is fit only to read as an illumination of a spot of history and no more.