They were on the road from Burgos to Alba de Tormes when she fell ill. The men who escort her were careful not to mutter where she could hear; they knew she would chide them for it. She had suffered worse than the rain which poured down on them unceasing, worse than an archbishop who summoned an old woman miles across Spain and then turned her away. She had endured excommunication, the Inquisition, and sixty-seven years of life. This was merely the latest and least of her trials.
But they did mutter where she could not hear. They were not as holy as she, not as generous of spirit. They resented her ill treatment when it was merely an insult; when her brow heated and she began to cough, they did more than resent it. In low voices they blamed the archbishop and the noblewoman who called for the most revered of nuns to attend her in childbed. The infant was already born when they arrived; once again, she had been brought all this way for nothing.
Not for nothing: that was what she would have said, if she knew of their complaints. God brought her here for a purpose.
God brought her here to die.
She was too ill to be moved, burning up with fever. By the night of October 4th, they knew her end was near. Her last words, whispered to her confessor, were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
She was dead come the following morning: October 15th, anno Domini 1582.
The night of her death lasted for ten days.
Not since the great illness of her youth has she known such suffering.
Fever permeates her body like a stain, seeping into every fiber of her being. She cannot move her limbs without pain, cannot swallow without agony, cannot even draw breath without that gentle movement jarring her head and making her vision swim. Lying prostrate in her narrow bed, she floats on a sea of fire. The recollection comes to her dimly of a holy man she had admired very much—she cannot recollect his name through the haze—whose response to great cold was to take off his cloak and open the door and window of his tiny cell. He did this, he told her, so that his body might enjoy the meagre increase of warmth when he closed the portals once more. She would emulate him if she could, but she cannot think how she might increase the heat from which she suffers. Perhaps there is a fireplace in the room?
It is foolish of her to lie in bed thus, and so to neglect her duties to God. Has she not learned again and again the futility of giving comfort to her body? She has never fared better than when she ignored her physical wellbeing and turned her thoughts only to the Sacred Humanity, whose suffering was so much greater than her own…
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