At the heart of Edward Wright-Rios’s second book lies the unstable image of Madre Matiana, a legendary seer whose visions shook Mexico’s political and religious establishment during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Matiana, who also figured in Wright-Rios’s previous book (Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism: Reform and Revelation in Oaxaca 1887–1934), today remains unknown to many or, at most, is seen as a symbol of the persistence of popular superstition. This new book argues for the relevance of bringing together the multiple strands that constitute the complicated narrative surrounding this enigmatic figure in order to approach entangled issues of gender, popular culture, religious belief, and politics in modern Mexican history.

Throughout the book Wright-Rios traces the at times contradictory appropriations and adaptations of the life and prophecies of Madre Matiana. Little is known about the “real life” of the prophetess—in fact,...

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