Saint Teresa of Ávila

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Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was born on March 28th, 1515, in Gotarrendura, in the province of Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo, was a Marrano (Jewish convert to Christianity) and was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, bought a knighthood and successfully assimilated into Christian society. Teresa’s mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the town, having spotted the two outside the town walls.“I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.”

When Teresa was 14 her mother died; this resulted in Teresa becoming grief-stricken. This prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Along with this good resolution, however, she also developed immoderate interests in reading popular fiction, consisting, at that time, mostly of medieval tales of knighthood and caring for her own appearance. Teresa was sent for her education to the Augustinian nuns at Ávila.

Leading her to become a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of her time and the movement she initiated, later joined by Saint John of the Cross, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither she nor Saint John were alive when the two orders separated.

Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the removal of 5–14 October from the calendar. She died either before midnight of 4 October or early in the morning of 15 October which is celebrated as her feast day. According to liturgy as then in use, she died on the 15th in any case, counted from the sunset of the preceding day; 4 October, as it were, is occupied precisely on that rationale by the feast of St. Francis, who died on the evening of the 3rd. 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.”

In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV, and on 27 September 1970 was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Her books, which include her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) and her seminal work El Castillo Interior (trans.: The Interior Castle), are an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature as well as Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practices. She also wrote Camino de Perfección (trans.: The Way of Perfection).

After her death, Saint Teresa’s cult was known in Spain during the 1620s, and for a time she was considered a candidate to become a national patron saint. A Santero image of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo, said to have been sent with one of her brothers to Nicaragua by the saint, is now venerated as the country’s national patroness at the Shrine of El Viejo. Pious Catholic beliefs also associate Saint Teresa with the esteemed religious image called Infant Jesus of Prague with claims of former ownership and devotion.

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