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History & Religion

Teresa Avila

Saint Teresa of Ávila was a Spanish mystic, writer and reformer of the Carmelite order.

She was an influential and pivotal figure of her generation. She was a Spanish noblewoman who felt called to monastic life in the Catholic Church.

  • Born: 28 March 1515, Gotarrendura, Spain
  • Died: 4 October 1582, Alba de Tormes, Spain

About Saint Teresa of Ávila

St Teresa (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada) was born in Avila, Spain on 28th March 1515. Her parents were both pious Catholics and in some ways inspired their daughter to take up a life of prayer.

As a young child, Teresa showed signs of a deeply religious nature; she would often retreat into silence for prayer and would enjoy giving alms to the poor.

She was very close to her mother, who provided a warm counterbalance to the strictness of her father.

However, in her teens, Teresa’s mother passed away, leaving the young Teresa distraught at the void she felt. The young St Teresa tells of her despair and how she turned instinctively to the Virgin Mary for comfort.

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When she was a little better, she resumed her prayers with renewed vigour. However, after telling others of her visions and spiritual experiences, she was dissuaded from pursuing them. Certain clergy felt they were delusions of the devil.

As a result, for many years Teresa lost the confidence to practise her prayers, and her spiritual life was almost put on hold.

However, when Teresa was 41, she met a priest who convinced her to go back to her prayers and implore God to come back. Initially, she had some difficulty sitting through prayers. She wryly remarked the end of the hour’s prayer couldn’t come soon enough.

However, in the course of time, she became absorbed in deep contemplation in which she felt an ever-growing sense of oneness with God. At times she felt overwhelmed with divine love.

The experiences were so transforming, she at times felt the illumining grace of God would wash her soul away. She was so filled with divine contemplation it is said at times her body would spontaneously levitate.

Teresa, however, was not keen on these public displays of ‘miracles’. When she felt it happening she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away.

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Teresa was not a just a quiet, placid saint. She had an endearing, natural quality; her life energy attracted and inspired many who were close. They admired her for both her outer charm and inner serenity.

But at the same time, her religious ecstasies also caused jealousy and suspicion. Unfortunately, she was born into the period of the Spanish Inquisition, during this time any deviation from the orthodox religious experience came under strict observation and scrutiny.

On one occasion Teresa complained to God about her mistreatment from so many different people. God replied to her saying “That is how I always treat my friends.” With good humour, St Teresa replied, “That must be why You have so few friends!” St Teresa struggled because there were few who could understand or appreciate her inner ecstasies.

However, on the one hand, she felt these experiences to be more real than ordinary events.

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At the age of 43, St Teresa decided she wanted to found a new order recommitting to the values of poverty and simplicity. She wanted to move away from her present convent which made a life of prayer more difficult.

Initially, her aims were greeted with widespread opposition from within the town of Avila.

However, with the support of some priests, the opposition waned, and she was allowed to set up her first convent. St Teresa proved to be an influential leader and founder.

She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense.

Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self-denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others, she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s Love.