Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 767
The Prioress, the forty-year-old spiritual leader of the Dominican sisters in an enclosed Catholic convent in Spain. Wise and loving, she permits the young novices a relaxation of the strict rules of silence as they celebrate her birthday. Her birthday takes an unusual twist when an infant is left at the convent door. She, with the aid of the old doctor, determines in the name of God to rear the abandoned infant in the convent. Eighteen years later, in the second act, she gives the child, Teresa, her blessings as the young woman leaves the convent to marry.
The Vicaress, a forty-year-old sister. She fears any relaxation of the convent’s strict rules. Stern and unbending, she is sometimes scandalized by the actions of the novices and fears that the prioress is too forgiving of their minor transgressions. She questions the propriety of taking the child of an unwed mother into the convent. Softened by her love for Teresa, she joins the others in seeking to protect their ward as she leaves for her marriage.
Sister Joanna of the Cross
Sister Joanna of the Cross (hoh-AH-nah), an eighteen-year-old novice. She is torn between her desire to remain at the convent and her great love for her younger brothers and sisters, whom she has left at home. She devotes her loving care to the infant Teresa over the years. Caring for the child fulfills a deep need in her heart. Ultimately, Teresa recognizes her as her mother.
Teresa (teh-REH-sah), a foundling left at the convent by her unwed mother. Teresa’s singing is a constant joy to the sisters. Unspoiled and loving, she becomes a unifying force within the convent as all grow to love and cherish her. Her upcoming marriage and departure from the country are a source of great stress to the sisters, who are determined to protect her.
Don Jose (hoh-SEH), a sixty-year-old doctor, the only male permitted in the convent. Pragmatic and sometimes testy, he plots to save the foundling by adopting her and leaving her with the sisters to rear. His love for Teresa equals that of the sisters. He determines that Teresa’s suitor, Antonio, is an honorable man and supports the proposed marriage. He assures the nuns that their beloved child will be treated well and respected in her marriage.
Antonio, Teresa’s suitor. His plan to take Teresa to South America for their marriage is a source of great stress to the nuns. An honorable man, he loves the young woman for her goodness and spirituality. His good humor and apparent love assuage the sisters’ fears, and they give their blessings to the union.
Sister Marcella (mahr-SEH-yah), a nineteen-year-old novice. Disposed to melancholy, she sometimes desires the freedom of the birds to leave their cage, a metaphor for the cloistered life. She is frequently in trouble as a result of her sharp tongue. As an older woman, she confesses that she has found release for her passions by catching sunbeams and flying them across the ceiling like birds.
The Poet, the speaker during the interlude between the acts. His poem spans the period between the two acts. His verse suggests that life within the cloistered nest will change as these chaste women of God are moved by the cradle song, the motherhood every woman carries in her breast. Teresa, their child from God, loves Heaven but will seek a different path.
The Mistress of Novices
The Mistress of Novices, a kindly woman who supports the young novices. She forcefully argues for keeping the foundling at the convent.
Sister Sagrario (sah-GRAH-ryoh), an eighteen-year-old novice. She is suspected of telling the Mistress of Novices of the minor infringements of rules by others.
Sister Tornera (tohr-NEH-rah), a thirty-year-old nun. Although she is scandalized by the doctor’s views on finding a husband, she is among the first of the sisters to speak in favor of keeping the child.
Sister Inez (ee-NEHS), a fifty-year-old nun. She frequently criticizes others but is reduced to tears if they make disparaging remarks about her. As Teresa prepares to leave, the sister is happily sewing fashionable clothing for her trousseau.
Sister María Jesús
Sister María Jesús (mah-REE-ah heh-SEWS), a nineteen-year-old novice. When told that she suffers from bouts of melancholy, the doctor delights in shocking the sisters with his views on the role of marriage in a woman’s life. She is immersed in the latest fashions as she helps prepare Teresa’s trousseau.