Nuns in New Spain were celebrated with music and elaborate rituals when they took the habit and professed in a convent. These grandiose profession ceremonies drew in a host of urban citizens to the convent churches. Indeed, “more girls are smitten by the ceremony, than anything else,” remarked Fanny Calderón, wife of a Spanish ambassador who lived in Mexico City in the early 1840s, confirming that the iconic festivity endured well into the nineteenth century after Mexico's independence.
This article on nuns’ professions is framed within the Order of the Immaculate Conception (Conceptionists). One of the largest extant collections of Novohispanic convent music comes from the Conceptionist community of the Santísima Trinidad, founded in seventeenth-century Puebla. The manuscripts are preserved at Centro Nacional de Investigación, Documentación e Información Musical “Carlos Chávez” in Mexico City, and they contain profession villancicos. My research on Conceptionist ritual books and biographies of noteworthy nuns allows me to place the villancicos within the wider context of Conceptionist devotion, convent race relations, and artistic patronage. The texts for the villancicos present women as the main subject of the compositions, which adorned a spectacular ritual also centered on women. The profession ceremony is, therefore, a valuable source to begin understanding Novohispanic women's contribution to music making.