Catalina de Erauso was not your typical 17th-century nun. She was a gambling conquistador who disguised herself as a man, romanced women, and accidentally murdered her own brother. After escaping from a convent as a teenager, Catalina fled to the New World, where she made frequent stops in churches to claim sanctuary after killing people.
Catalina became known as la monja alférez, “the Lieutenant Nun,” and she stabbed anyone who crossed her. When she wasn’t on the run for murder, she tricked women into engagements to fleece their families.
How does a 17th-century cross-dressing nun, guilty of dozens of murders, convince the pope to pardon her? Only a show-off with as much swagger as Catalina de Erauso could pull off that con.
Catalina’s family placed her in a convent at the age of four, but she was not destined for a life of religious devotion. The nuns were supposed to educate Catalina, and once she was grown, she would become a nun or leave the convent to marry, a common arrangement in Catholic Europe. But Catalina had different plans.
In the early 1600s, when she was 15, Catalina stole money from her aunt and chopped off her hair, disguising herself as a boy. It took three days to transform her habit into trousers and a shirt, but soon Catalina was off to the New World, calling herself Francisco Loyola.
Catalina didn't board just any ship to the New World, however; the captain of the ship was a relation of her mother's and he miraculously never recognized her during the voyage. Regardless of the blood between them things took an ugly turn when they landed in Nombre de Dios.
As the sailors were boarding cargo on the ship Catalina took the opportunity to shoot her uncle - the first in a long string of murders - and steal 500 pesos off his body. She then informed the unknowing sailors that their captain was sending her on an errand and off she went. An hour later the ship left for Europe without her and she started her adventures in the New World.
Caterina’s fiery temper got her into a lot of trouble. One time, she was in a theater when a man named Reyes sat in front of her, blocking her view. She politely asked him to move, but he threatened to slash her face. Since she only had a dagger, Caterina left—but she didn’t forget the slight.
The next morning, Caterina saw Reyes on the street and grabbed her knife. She took it to a barber to sharpen it like a saw. Then she snuck up behind Reyes and shouted, “This is the face that’s getting slashed!” and sliced open his face.
After slashing a man’s face, Catalina was in trouble. Her boss, Juan de Urquiza, tried to straighten things out by arranging a marriage between Catalina and Beatriz de Cárdenas, whose niece was married to Reyes. And Juan was already having an affair with Beatriz, so the sham marriage would allow him to keep his mistress.
Beatriz tried to entice Catalina into marriage by caressing her, and she even locked Catalina in her room overnight. Beatriz gripped Catalina and “declared that in spite of the Devil [Catalina] had to bed her.” Catalina fled, in spite of Juan’s promise of mountains of gold if she would go through with the marriage.