Justina Dances El Camino: Uncovering the Pilgrimage of The Spanish Jilt

Francisco López de Úbeda’s La pícara justina [The Spanish Jilt] (1605) narrates the perils and tribulations of a woman living in the margins of Spanish society. In the second part of the story, as the eponymous character embarks on a journey to El Camino de Santiago, she begins to narrate her own experiences to the reader. Yet, again and again, an omniscient narrator interrupts this first-person narrative with a series of moral judgments on her behavior, thus working to tame and control her agency. This coercion, I argue, is essential to understand Justina’s reasons for embarking on her pilgrimage. She believes, indeed, that to wander is to dance, for both activities provide women with a sense of freedom. For her, pilgrimage entails the possibility of movement, an opportunity to gain a sensory experience of the world, a chance to dance metaphorically. Justina decides to become a romera [pilgrim], hoping to reach the independence denied by a society that labels her as ramera [prostitute]. This presentation focuses on how, in the novel, the institutionalized practice of pilgrimage becomes a choreography that allows Justina to gain agency. She takes advantage of the pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostela as a liminal space where social structures become less rigid, making a case for the marginal position women occupied in seventeenth-century Spain. Focusing on Justina’s bodily engagement as vehicle of devotional participation, this presentation sheds new light on the ways in which people have historically understood religious experiences through and with their body.

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