Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, who would later come to be known by the name of Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz (Sor Juana for short), was a 17th-century writer who made an impact not only on the literature but also the religious establishment and feminism of New Spain, now Mexico. At the time, religious women were practically the only ones allowed to receive an education, so she joined a nunnery in her mid-teens in 1667.
Two years later she would enter Mexico City’s Convento de San Jerónimo, where she remained cloistered until her death in 1695. From this convent, she wrote a large number of poems and philosophical treatises, many of which advocated for women’s rights, which was a rarity at the time, especially for someone embedded in the patriarchy of Catholicism.
Sor Juana’s impact continues to be felt to this day, and her habit-clad face has appeared on Mexican banknotes since the 1970s. A take on this same portrait is found in the Porrúa bookstore in the city’s historic center.
Librería Porrúa was established in 1900 by the three Porrúa brothers who immigrated from Spain. Their flagship bookstore, where this mosaic is located, was opened in 1910; although the building dates to the 18th century. Their 1914 Mexican poetry compilation is considered the first modern book entirely edited and printed in the country.
Combining the heritages of Sor Juana (who was considered Criolla, or entirely of European descent) and the Porrúa Brothers, this mosaic can be seen as a tribute not only to literature in Mexico, but also to Spanish-Mexican culture. Unveiled on November 12, 2020, the mural sits on shelves 4.8 meters tall and 3.6 meters wide, and is made out of books and artists’ charcoal.
The date choice was not coincidental, as this was the 372nd anniversary of Sor Juana’s birth. November 12 was also chosen as Mexico’s National Book Day in 1980, again in honor of Sor Juana’s importance, making this tribute doubly significant.
Know Before You Go
Porrúa Matriz is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the year. During school holidays it closes on Sundays, but outside these dates it will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.