Manuscripts of California Mission Saint Uncovered
The Confessions of Inés might still languish in the library of the Mission Santa Barbara today were it not for the efforts of Stewart Buettner, a researcher from Portland, Oregon. In this work of fiction, Buettner tells the story of Inés María de la Encarnación Verdugo Villalba, one of the most controversial, spiritual figures in 19th-century California. Born into wealth in the early 1800s in Alta California, Inés matures from a romantic and devout Catholic teenager to a wise and strong-minded woman of the spirit, by way of many changes involving powerful teachers, the forces of history, and her own developing love for a high desert valley east of Pueblo de Los Angeles and for the people who inhabit that valley.
The Confessions of Inés is an adventure story, with a strong woman protagonist. Leaving the security of her home and family, she builds a home in the desert with her own hands, suffers illness and hunger, is imprisoned at Mission Santa Barbara and subjected to mental torture, bears a child alone in the middle of a freezing storm, and stands up to the gunfire of enemy soldiers who come to seize her land. But she also experiences her share of joy, from the thrill of unrequited first love, to the satisfaction of learning the healing arts, to the ecstasy of physical love with the love of her life (a Shoshone shaman), to the great rewards of building a community, to the serenity of meditative gardening.
Most important, this is the story of a womans philosophical and spiritual development, from fervent Catholicism, to Shoshone shamanism, to Buddhism. Inés adopts and blends all three into a path that is right for her and for those who follow her. In the end, she is a martyr, remembered as St. Inés by those who knew and loved her as a healer and a visionarya woman true to herself and to her friends and to that common spirit uniting the three philosophies that so profoundly affected her life.
Though Inés story is set over hundred and fifty years ago, the history, philosophy, and spiritualism it illuminates is vital and could serve as a guide to a more enlightened world in the twenty-first century.
Stewart Buettner is professor of art history at Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of two books on art history and one previous novel, Bombers B-52.