Saint Teresa of Avila her life and legacy
Within our Private Tour to Avila and Segovia one of the most interesting topics to talk about is the life, work, mysticism and legacy of Santa Teresa de Ávila. Santa Teresa´s writing are among the most remarkable in the mystical literture. She´s also one of the most celebrated prose writers of the Spanish literature.
It is a quite interesting approach following the footsteps of Santa Teresa of Avila tour our Private Tour to Avila and Segovia. In the city of Avila there is to be found the convent of San José (the primitive church of the order of Santa Teresa), the convent of Santa Teresa and her relics, the museum of Santa Teresa and the Monastery of La Encarnación where Saint Teresa began her monastic life and lived for 27 years.
We dedicate this post to the life of Santa Teresa and her legacy.
Santa Teresa of Avila: her life and legacy
Santa Teresa of Avila was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, Ávila. Her paternal grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo, was a converse (marrano), condemned by Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, brought a kighthood and succesfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa’s mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, was especially keen to raise ger dauhter as a pious Christian.
As a child, Teresa was fascinated by the lives of saints and knights and at the age of six, ran away from home with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the town, having spottet the two outside the town walls of Ávila. The death of her mother at age 14, prompted Teresa to embrace a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary. At this time, Teresa developed a romantic interest for one of ther cousins. This relationship was not well seen by her father, who sent Teresa to continue her education with the Agustinian nuns at Ávila.
Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila on November 2, 1535. The year after she bécame very seriously ill, and underwent a prolonged cure that left her health permanently impared. During her convalescence, she bagan the practice of mental prayer (oratio mentalis); during which she experienced periods of religious ecstasy after practicing examinations of consciousness, inner contemplation, as well as the Spiritual Excercises described by St. Ignatious of Loyola. God began to bestow on her visions and locutions, where words and images were directly impressed upon her mind; giving her strength in her trials and consoling her in trouble.
She went from devotion to silence to devotions of ecstasy, which she described as the perfect unión with God. She became aware of her own inability to confront sin, and the necessity of absolute subjection (surrendering control) to God. She later described these experiences as stages in the Ascent of the Soul on Its way to God.
After a period of self-questioning and intense scrutiny from members of the Church who believed her experiences were produced by evil spirits; Teresa became convinced that Jesus Christ presented himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. Her visions lasted and locutions lasted uninterrupted more than two years. In a particularly poignant visión, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing her an indescribable spiritual-bodily pain.
“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God.
The pain was so great, that it made me moan, and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”
This visión was the inspiration for one of Bernini´s most famous Works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
Teresa found herself disagreeing with the permissive atmosphere of the Carmelite Monastery: the observance of cloister was lax, leading to frivolous conversations that impeded the practice of contemplative prayer. She resolved to found a reformed Carmelite convent where detachment of worldly concerns in favor of inner examination was strictly folowed. A friend of wealth, Guimara de Ulloa supplied the funds for the new monastery of San José (St. Joseph) established in 1562. In March 1563 when Teresa moved to the new convent, she received papal sanction to her prime principle of absolutely poverty and renunciation of property, represented by the discalceation of the nuns. Teresa remained in pious seclusion for the next five years, engaged in writing.
In 1567, at the age of 52, she met the 24 year old St. John of the Cross, and convinced to found the first male convent of the new, reformed order in Duruelo. The deep mysticism of St. John of the Cross, and his power as a teacher and preacher, helped to promote the inner life of the Reformed Carmelites.
In 1576 a series of persecutions began on the part of the Carmelite order that followed the old rules, forbade her to fund more convents, and ordered her to voluntarily retire to one of her institutions. She obeyed, retiring to St. Joseph at Toledo, while the Inquisition started procedures against her. After several years of written pleadings to King Phillip II and Pope Gregory XIII, she was afforded protection and allowed to continue with her reform work.
Teresa died during one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Torres in 1582, at the time when the Catholic world was switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of the days from October 5 to 14. She died either before midnight of October 4 or early in the morning of October 15, when her feast day is celebrated. Her last words were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
She was canonized in 1622, and named Doctor of the Church on 27 September 1970. Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer.
The Ascent of the Soul
Teresa described the ascent of the Soul through prayer of four stages:
–The first one is the devotion of the Heart: withdrawal fo the Soul from the world, penitence and contemplation of the passion of Christ. This contemplative state is also known as mental prayer
–The second one is the devotion of Peace: where one´s will is surrendered of God´s Will.
–The third one is the devotion of Union, or absorption to God. This is an ecstatic state, a blissful peace, or a conscious rapture in the love of God.
–The fourth one is the devotion of Ecstasy, where the consciousness of being the body disappears. All the senses and the lower levels are absorbed in God in a state of intoxication that Teresa described as a joyful pain, and a ecstatic flight where the body is lifted into space. (Teresa was known to levítate during her prayers). This state is followed by a relaxation of the body, and negation of all the factulties in the unión with God: the climax of the mystical expeirence.
All of Teresa’s mystical writing deal with her personal experiences. She wrote: “Contemplative prayer (oración mental) in my opinión is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know love us.”
Teresa´s writings and legacy
Among her Works are:
-Autobiography or the Book of Life (Libro de la Vida) 1567
-Way of Perfection (Camino de Perfección) 1567
-Meditations on the Song of Songs (Meditación sobre los cantares) 1567
-The Mansions or The Interior Castle (Las Moradas o El Castillo Interior), 1577
-Concepts of Love (Conceptos de Amor)
Nada te turbe (Let nothing to disturb you)
Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Gains all things
If you have God
You will want for nothing
God alone suffices.
Christ has not body but yours
Christ has not body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do the good,
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes you are his body.
Christ has not body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes, with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body no won earth but yours.
In addition to offering our Private Tour in Avila and Segovia, we have designed a thematic trip focused on mysticism and ancient wisdom in which Santa Teresa is part. You can have information on the following here.