Today is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila! A very well-known saint and a Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa is perhaps most famous as one of the co-founders of the Discalced Carmelites, along with Saint John of the Cross and her many books, including The Interior Castle. However, she was alive during a very tumultuous period of history, and had a much more colorful life than many realize:
– Born in 1515 in Avila, Spain, she ran away from home at the age of seven with her brother, Rodrigo. They were fascinated with the lives of the saints, and were seeking martyrdom among the Moors in Spain. Their uncle spotted them just outside the walls of their town and stopped them.
– Her mother died when she was 14, and though she deepened her devotion to the Virgin Mary, Teresa also developed many habits familiar to teens today: obsession with vanity, her appearance, and popular culture—which, at the time, mostly consisted of romantic novels of knighthood.
– After being sent for her education to the Augustinian nuns in Avila, Teresa became ill and, through her studies during this time, experienced many profound moments of enlightenment and ecstasy through God. She came to understand the natures of venial sins, mortal sins, and the inherent foundation of Original Sin.
– Saint Teresa had several visions, including one famously depicted in a painting by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, wherein a seraph pierced her with a flaming spear, giving her a deeper understanding of Christ’s devotion and suffering.
– Disgruntled with the invasion of the cloister by high-ranking socialites and nobles, Saint Teresa pushed a reform in the religious life, culminating in a patent from the Carmelite general in 1567. This allowed her to establish new houses for her order, for both men and women. With Saint John of the Cross and Anthony of Jesus, she established the first convent of the Discalced Carmelites in November of 1568.
– Saint Teresa spent the final twenty years of her life pushing reforms in the religious life, helping to found 17 convents and as many cloister houses for men before she fell ill and died in October of 1582.