Teresa of Ávila

Teresa of Ávila, born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus (28 March 1515  4 or 15 October 1582[lower-alpha 1]), was a Spanish noblewoman who felt called to convent life in the Catholic Church. A Carmelite nun, prominent Spanish mystic, religious reformer, author, theologian of the contemplative life and of mental prayer, she earned the rare distinction of being declared a Doctor of the Church, but not until over four centuries after her death.[lower-alpha 2] Active during the Catholic Reformation, she reformed the Carmelite Orders of both women and men.[4] The movement she initiated was later joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. A formal papal decree adopting the split from the old order was issued in 1580.[5]

Teresa of Ávila

Saint Teresa of Ávila by Peter Paul Rubens
Teresa of Jesus, Reverend Mother, Prioress, Doctor of the Church
BornTeresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada
28 March 1515
Ávila, Crown of Castile (today Spain)
Died4 or 15 October 1582(1582-10-15) (aged 67)[lower-alpha 1]
Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Crown of Castile (today Spain)
Theology career
Notable work
Camino de Perfección
El Castillo Interior
Theological work
EraCatholic Reformation
Tradition or movementChristian mysticism
Main interestsTheology
Notable ideasMental prayer, Prayer of Quiet
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion[1][2]
Beatified24 April 1614, Rome by Pope Paul V
Canonized12 March 1622, Rome by Pope Gregory XV
Major shrineConvent of the Annunciation, Alba de Tormes, Spain
Feast15 October
Attributesof Spanish-Jewish parentage, contemplative, mystic, ecstatic, writer on mental prayer, religious reformer, administrator, prolific correspondent possibly temporal lobe epilepsy sufferer
PatronageSpain, sick people, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, lacemakers, Požega, Croatia, Talisay City, Cebu, Philippines
ControversyHer reforms met with determined opposition and interest from the Spanish Inquisition, but no charges were laid against her. Her order split as a result.

Teresa, who had been a social celebrity in her home province, was dogged by early family losses and ill health. In her mature years, she became the central figure of a movement of spiritual and monastic renewal borne out of an inner conviction and honed by ascetic practice. She was also at the center of deep ecclesiastical controversy as she took on the pervasive laxity in her order against the background of the Protestant reformation sweeping over Europe and the Spanish Inquisition asserting church discipline in her home country. The consequences were to last well beyond her life. One papal legate described her as a "restless wanderer, disobedient, and stubborn femina who, under the title of devotion, invented bad doctrines, moving outside the cloister against the rules of the Council of Trent and her prelates; teaching as a master against Saint Paul's orders that women should not teach."[6]

Her written contributions, which include her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus and her seminal work The Interior Castle, are today an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature. Together with The Way of Perfection, her works form part of the literary canon of Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practice, and continue to attract interest from people both within and outside the Catholic Church.

Other associations with Teresa beyond her writings continue to exert a wide influence. A Santero image of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo, said to have been sent by her with a brother emigrating to Peru, was canonically crowned by Pope John Paul II on 28 December 1989 at the Shrine of El Viejo in Nicaragua.[7] Another Catholic tradition holds that Saint Teresa is personally associated with devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague, a statue she may have owned.[8] Since her death, her reputation has grown, leading to multiple portrayals. She continues to be widely noted as an inspiration to philosophers, theologians, historians, neurologists, fiction writers and artists, as well as to countless ordinary people interested in Christian spirituality and mysticism.

Forty years after her death, in 1622, Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. At the time she was considered a candidate for national patron saint of Spain, but this designation was awarded to St. James the Apostle. She has since become one of the patron saints of Spain. However, not until 27 September 1970 did Pope Paul VI proclaim Teresa the first female Doctor of the Church in recognition of her centuries-long spiritual legacy to Catholicism.[9][10]

Early life

Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Ávila, Spain. Her paternal grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo, was a marrano or Converso, a Jew forced to convert to Christianity or emigrate. When Teresa's father was a child, Juan was condemned by the Spanish Inquisition for allegedly returning to the Jewish faith, but he was later able to assume a Catholic identity.[11] Her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, was a successful wool merchant and one of the wealthiest men in Ávila. He bought a knighthood and assimilated successfully into Christian society.

Teresa of Ávila elopes to travel to Africa by Arnold van Westerhout

Previously married to Catalina del Peso y Henao, with whom he had three children, in 1509, Sánchez de Cepeda married Teresa's mother, Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, in Gotarrendura.[12]

Teresa's mother brought her up as a dedicated Christian. Fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, she ran away from home at age seven, with her brother Rodrigo, to seek martyrdom in the fight against the Moors. Her uncle brought them home, when he spotted them just outside the town walls.[13]

When Teresa was eleven years old, her mother died, leaving her grief-stricken. This prompted her to embrace a deeper devotion to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother. Teresa was also enamored of popular fiction, which at the time consisted primarily of medieval tales of knighthood and works about fashion, gardens and flowers.[14][15] Teresa was sent to the Augustinian nuns' school at Ávila.[16]

Entry into religious life

After completing her education, she initially resisted the idea of a religious vocation, but after a stay with her uncle and other relatives, she relented. In 1536, aged 20,[17] much to the disappointment of her pious and austere father, she decided to enter the local easy-going Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation, significantly built on top of land that had been used previously as a burial ground for Jews. She took up religious reading on contemplative prayer, especially Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet (1527). Her zeal for mortification caused her to become ill again and she spent almost a year in bed, causing huge worry to her community and family. She nearly died but she recovered, attributing her recovery to the miraculous intercession of St. Joseph. She began to experience bouts of religious ecstasy.[12]

Foundations of spirituality

Her reading of the medieval mystics, consisted of guides to examination of conscience and spiritual exercises and inner contemplation known in mystical terms as oratio recollectionis or oratio mentalis. She also dipped into other mystical ascetical works such as the Tractatus de oratione et meditatione of Peter of Alcantara.

She reported that, during her illness, she had progressed from the lowest stage of "recollection", to the "devotions of silence" and even to the "devotions of ecstasy", which was one of perceived "perfect union with God" (see § Mysticism). During this final stage, she said she frequently experienced the rich "blessing of tears". As the Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sin became clear to her, she came to understand the awful horror of sin and the inherent nature of original sin. She also became conscious of her own natural impotence in confronting sin and the need for absolute surrender to God.

Around the same time, she received a copy of the full Spanish translation of St. Augustine's autobiographical work Confessions, which helped her resolve and to tend to her own bouts of religious scruples. The text helped her realize that holiness was indeed possible and she found solace in the idea that such a great saint was once an inveterate sinner. In her autobiography, she wrote that she 'was very fond of St. Augustine ... for he was a sinner too.'[18]

Around 1556, friends suggested that her newfound knowledge could be of diabolical and not of divine origin. She had begun to inflict mortifications of the flesh upon herself. But her confessor, the Jesuit Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. On St. Peter's Day in 1559, Teresa became firmly convinced that Jesus Christ had presented Himself to her in bodily form, though invisible. These visions lasted almost uninterruptedly for more than two years. In another vision, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing her an ineffable spiritual and 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 ...[lower-alpha 3]

The account of this vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini's most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Although based in part on Teresa's description of her mystical transverberation in her autobiography, Bernini's depiction of the event is considered by some to be highly eroticized, especially when compared to the entire preceding artistic Teresian tradition.[19]

The memory of this episode served as an inspiration throughout the rest of her life, and motivated her lifelong imitation of the life and suffering of Jesus, epitomized in the adage often associated with her: "Lord, either let me suffer or let me die."

Embarrassment of raptures

Teresa, who became a celebrity in her town dispensing wisdom from behind the convent grille, was also known for her raptures, which sometimes involved levitation. It was a source of embarrassment to her and she bade her sisters hold her down when this occurred. Subsequently, historians, neurologists and psychiatrists like Peter Fenwick and Javier Alvarez-Rodriguez, among others, have taken an interest in her symptomatology. The fact that she wrote down virtually everything that happened to her during her religious life means that an invaluable and exceedingly rare medical record from the 16th century has been preserved. Examination of this record has led to the speculative conclusion that she may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy.[20][21]

Monastic reformer

Over time, Teresa found herself increasingly at odds with the spiritual malaise prevailing in her convent of the Incarnation. Among the 150 nuns living there, the observance of cloister, designed to protect and strengthen spiritual practice and prayer, became so lax that it appeared to lose its purpose. The daily invasion of visitors, many of high social and political rank, disturbed the atmosphere with frivolous concerns and vacuous conversation. Such intrusions in the solitude essential to develop and sustain contemplative prayer so grieved Teresa that she longed to intervene.[22]

The incentive to take the practical steps inspired by her inward motivation was supported by the Franciscan priest, Peter of Alcantara, who met her early in 1560 and became her spiritual adviser. She resolved to found a "reformed" Carmelite convent, correcting the laxity which she had found at the Incarnation convent and elsewhere besides. Guimara de Ulloa, a woman of wealth and a friend, supplied the funds for the project.

The abject poverty of the new convent, established in 1562 and named St. Joseph's (San José), at first caused a scandal among the citizens and authorities of Ávila, and the small house with its chapel was in peril of suppression. However, powerful patrons, including the local bishop, coupled with the impression of well ordered subsistence and purpose, turned animosity into approval.

In March 1563, after Teresa had moved to the new convent house, she received papal sanction for her primary principles of absolute poverty and renunciation of ownership of property, which she proceeded to formulate into a "constitution". Her plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter monastic rules, supplemented by new regulations including the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the Divine Office every week, and the discalceation of the religious. For the first five years, Teresa remained in seclusion, mostly engaged in prayer and writing.

Church window at the Convent of St Teresa

Extended travels

In 1567, Teresa received a patent from the Carmelite General, Rubeo de Ravenna, to establish further houses of the new order. This process required many visitations and long journeys across nearly all the provinces of Spain. She left a record of the arduous project in her Libro de las Fundaciones. Between 1567 and 1571, reformed convents were established at Medina del Campo, Malagón, Valladolid, Toledo, Pastrana, Salamanca, and Alba de Tormes.

As part of the original patent, Teresa was given permission to set up two houses for men who wished to adopt the reforms. She convinced two Carmelite friars, John of the Cross and Father Anthony of Jesus to help with this. They founded the first monastery of Discalced Carmelite brothers in November 1568 at Duruelo. Another friend of Teresa, Jerónimo Gracián, the Carmelite visitator of the older observance of Andalusia and apostolic commissioner, and later provincial of the Teresian order, gave her powerful support in founding monasteries at Segovia (1571), Beas de Segura (1574), Seville (1575), and Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia, 1576). Meanwhile, John of the Cross promoted the inner life of the movement through his power as a teacher and preacher.[23]

Opposition to reforms

In 1576, unreformed members of the Carmelite order began to persecute Teresa, her supporters and her reforms. Following a number of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the governing body of the order forbade all further founding of reformed convents. The general chapter instructed her to go into "voluntary" retirement at one of her institutions.[23] She obeyed and chose St. Joseph's at Toledo. Meanwhile, her friends and associates were subjected to further attacks.[23]

Several years later, her appeals by letter to King Philip II of Spain secured relief. As a result, in 1579, the cases before the inquisition against her, Father Gracian and others, were dropped.[23] This allowed the reform to resume. An edict from Pope Gregory XIII allowed the appointment of a special provincial for the newer branch of the Carmelite religious, and a royal decree created a "protective" board of four assessors for the reform.[23]

During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded convents at Villanueva de la Jara in northern Andalusia (1580), Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Burgos, and Granada (1582). In total, seventeen convents, all but one founded by her, and as many men's monasteries, were owed to her reforms over twenty years.[24]

Last days

Her final illness overtook her on one of her journeys from Burgos to Alba de Tormes. She died in 1582, just as Catholic Europe was making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the excision of the dates 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 the liturgical calendar then in use, she died on the 15th in any case. 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."[25]

Avila, Saint Theresa's statue

Holy relics

She was buried at the Convento de la Anunciación in Alba de Tormes. Nine months after her death the coffin was opened and her body was found to be intact but the clothing had rotted. Before the body was re-interred one of her hands was cut off, wrapped in a scarf and sent to Ávila. Father Gracián cut the little finger off the hand and – according to his own account – kept it with him until it was taken by the occupying Ottoman Turks, from whom he had to redeem it with a few rings and 20 reales. The body was exhumed again on 25 November 1585 to be moved to Ávila and found to be incorrupt. An arm was removed and left in Alba de Tormes at the nuns' request, to compensate for losing the main relic of Teresa, but the rest of the body was reburied in the Discalced Carmelite chapter house in Ávila. The removal was done without the approval of the Duke of Alba de Tormes and he brought the body back in 1586, with Pope Sixtus V ordering that it remain in Alba de Tormes on pain of excommunication. A grander tomb on the original site was raised in 1598 and the body was moved to a new chapel in 1616.

The body still remains there, except for the following parts:

  • Rome – right foot and part of the upper jaw
  • Lisbon – left hand
  • Ronda, Spain – left eye and right hand (the latter was kept by Francisco Franco until his death after Francoist troops captured it from Republican troops during the Spanish Civil War)
  • Museum of the Church of the Annunciation, Alba de Tormes – left arm and heart
  • Church of Our Lady of Loreto, Paris, France – one finger
  • Sanlúcar de Barrameda – one finger
The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome


In 1622, forty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. The Cortes exalted her to patroness of Spain in 1627. The University of Salamanca had granted her the title Doctor ecclesiae (Latin for "Doctor of the Church") with a diploma in her lifetime, but that title is distinct from the papal honour of Doctor of the Church, which is always conferred posthumously. The latter was finally bestowed upon her by Pope Paul VI on 27 September 1970,[9] along with Saint Catherine of Siena,[26] making them the first women to be awarded the distinction. Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Prayer. The mysticism in her works exerted a formative influence upon many theologians of the following centuries, such as Francis of Sales, Fénelon, and the Port-Royalists. In 1670, her coffin was plated in silver.

Teresa of Avila is remembered in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on 15 October.[27]

Statue of Saint Teresa of Ávila in Mafra National Palace, Mafra


The ultimate preoccupation of Teresa's mystical thought, as consistently reflected in her writings, is the ascent of the soul to God in four stages (see: The Autobiography Chs. 10–22):

  • The first, Devotion of the Heart, consists of mental prayer and contemplation. It means the withdrawal of the soul from without, penitence and especially the devout meditation on the passion of Christ (Autobiography 11.20).
  • The second, Devotion of Peace, is where human will is surrendered to God. This occurs by virtue of an uplifted awareness granted by God, while other faculties, such as memory, reason, and imagination, are not yet safe from worldly distraction. Although a partial distraction can happen, due to outer activity such as repetition of prayers or writing down spiritual things, the prevailing state is one of quietude (Autobiography 14.1).
  • The third, Devotion of Union, concerns the absorption-in-God. It is not only a heightened, but essentially, an ecstatic state. At this level, reason is also surrendered to God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, that is a consciousness of being enraptured by the love of God.
  • The fourth, Devotion of Ecstasy, is where the consciousness of being in the body disappears. Sensory faculties cease to operate. Memory and imagination also become absorbed in God, as though intoxicated. Body and spirit dwell in the throes of exquisite pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, in complete unconscious helplessness, and periods of apparent strangulation. Sometimes such ecstatic transports literally cause the body to be lifted into space.[28] This state may last as long as half an hour and tends to be followed by relaxation of a few hours of swoon-like weakness, attended by the absence of all faculties while in union with God. The subject awakens from this trance state in tears. It may be regarded as the culmination of mystical experience. Indeed, Teresa was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion.[28]

Teresa is regarded as one of the foremost writers on mental prayer, and her position among writers on mystical theology as unique. Her writings on this theme stem from her personal experiences, thereby manifesting considerable insight and analytical gifts. Her definitions have been used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Teresa states: "Contemplative prayer (oración mental), in my opinion is nothing other than a close sharing between friends. It means frequently taking time to be alone with Him whom we know loves us."[29] Throughout her writings, Teresa returns to the image of watering one's garden as a metaphor for mystical prayer.


This is the one portrait of Teresa that is probably the most true to her appearance. It is a copy of an original 1576 painting of her when she was 61.

Teresa's writings are regarded as among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church. They include:

  • Teresa of Avila; Lewis, David (1870). The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus ... Written by Herself. Translated from the Spanish by D. Lewis. London: Burns, Oates, & Co.
  • Teresa, of Avila (1957). Cohen, J.M. (ed.). The Life Of Saint Teresa Of Avila By Herself. Penguin Classics.
  • Teresa of Avila; Zimmerman, Benedict (1997). Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. Tan Books. ISBN 978-0-89555-603-5.
  • The Complete Works of St Teresa of Jesus, in five volumes, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers, including 2 volumes of correspondence. London: Sheed and Ward, 1982.
  • The Interior Castle. Edited by E. Allison Peers, Doubleday, 1972. ISBN 978-0-385-03643-6
  • The Way of Perfection. Translated and Edited by E. Allison Peers, Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-06539-9
  • The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of Teresa of Avila. Translated by E. Allison Peers, Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-01109-9
  • "Works of St. Teresa of Avila (Online)". Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
  • The Interior Castle – The Mansions, TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-604-2
  • The Way of Perfection, TAN Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-89555-602-8
  • Way of Perfection, London, 2012. limovia.net ISBN 978-1-78336-025-3
  • The Book of Her Life, translated, with Notes, by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD. Introduction by Jodi Bilinkoff. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-87220-907-7
  • Teresa of Avila; Starr, Mirabai (2008). Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-1-59030-573-7.
  • The Complete Poetry of St. Teresa of Avila. A Bilingual Edition - Edición y traducción de Eric W. Vogt. New Orleans University Press of the South, 1996. Second edition, 2015. xl, 116 p. ISBN 978-1-937030-52-0
  • The Autobiography, written before 1567, under the direction of her confessor, Fr. Pedro Ibáñez.[30]
  • El Camino de Perfección (The Way of Perfection), written also before 1567, at the direction of her confessor.
  • "Meditations on Song of Songs", 1567, written nominally for her daughters at the convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
  • El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), written in 1577.[lower-alpha 4][lower-alpha 5][31]
  • Relaciones (Relationships), an extension of the autobiography giving her inner and outer experiences in epistolary form.
  • Two smaller works are the Conceptos del Amor ("Concepts of Love") and Exclamaciones. In addition, there are Las Cartas (Saragossa, 1671), or her correspondence, of which there are 342 extant letters and 87 fragments of others. St Teresa's prose is marked by an unaffected grace, an ornate neatness, and charming power of expression, together placing her in the front rank of Spanish prose writers. The first edition of Teresa's letters was published in 1658 with the comment of Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Roman Catholic bishop of Osma and an opponent to the Company of Jesus.[32]
  • Her rare poems ("Todas las poesías", Munster, 1854) are distinguished for tenderness of feeling and rhythm of thought.

Philosophical works

Christia Mercer, Columbia University philosophy professor, claims that the seventeenth-century Frenchman René Descartes lifted some of his most influential ideas from Teresa of Ávila, who, fifty years before Descartes, wrote popular books about the role of philosophical reflection in intellectual growth.[33] She describes a number of striking similarities between Descartes' seminal work Meditations on First Philosophy and Teresa's Interior Castle.[31]


Teresa, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary, was a strong believer in the efficacy of holy water, claiming to have used it with success to repel evil spirits and temptations. She wrote: "I know from frequent experience that there is nothing which puts devils to flight better than holy water."[34]

The prayer Nada te turbe (Let nothing disturb you) is attributed to Teresa, having been found within her breviary:[35]

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

A modern prayer Christ has no body but yours, though widely attributed to Teresa,[36][37] is not found in her writings.[38]

Legacy regarding the Infant Jesus of Prague

The Spanish nuns who established Carmel in France brought a devotion to the Infant Jesus with them, and it became widespread in France.[39][40]

Though there are no written historical accounts establishing that Teresa of Ávila ever owned the famous Infant Jesus of Prague statue, according to tradition, such a statue is said to have been in her possession and Teresa is reputed to have given it to a noblewoman travelling to Prague.[41][42][43][44] The age of the statue dates to approximately the same time as Teresa. It has been thought that Teresa carried a portable statue of the Child Jesus wherever she went; the idea circulated by the early 1700s.[45]

"It is love alone that gives worth to all things."

Patron saint

In 1626, at the request of Philip IV of Spain, the Castilian parliament[lower-alpha 6] elected Teresa "without lacking one vote" as copatron saint of Castile.[46] This status was affirmed by Pope Urban VIII in a brief issued on 21 July 1627 in which he stated:

For these reasons [the king's and Cortes's elections] and for the great devotion which they have for Teresa, they elected her for patron and advocate of these kingdoms in the last Cortes of the aforementioned kingdoms .... And because ... the representatives in the Cortes desired it so greatly that their vote be firm and perpetual, we grant it our patronage and the approval of the Holy Apostolic See.

Rowe 2011, pp. 77–78

More broadly, the 1620s, the entirety of Spain (Castile and beyond) debated who should be the country's patron saint; the choices were either the current patron, Saint James Matamoros, or a pairing of him and the newly canonised Saint Teresa of Ávila. Teresa's promoters said Spain faced newer challenges, especially the threat of Protestantism and societal decline at home, thus needing a more contemporary patron who understood those issues and could guide the Spanish nation. Santiago's supporters (Santiaguistas) fought back and eventually won the argument, but Teresa of Ávila remained far more popular at the local level.[47] Saint James the Greater kept the title of patron saint for the Spanish people, and the most Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Immaculate Conception as the sole patroness for the entire Spanish Kingdom.


Portrayals of Teresa include the following:

Detail of St. Theresa, 1827, by French painter François Gérard
Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Thérèse in La Vierge d'Avila by Catulle Mendès (1906)


  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed two motets for the feast of Saint Teresa: Flores, flores o Gallia for two voices, two flutes and continuo (H.374), c. 1680 and the other, for three voices and continuo (H.342), in 1686–87.
  • She is a principal character of the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by the composer Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein.[48][49]
  • Saint Teresa is the subject of the song "Theresa's Sound-World" by Sonic Youth off the 1992 album Dirty, lyrics by Thurston Moore.[50]
  • Saint Teresa is a track on Joan Osborne's Relish album, nominated for a Grammy Award in 1996.[51]

Painting and sculpture

  • Saint Teresa was the inspiration for one of Bernini's most famous sculptures, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.[52][53]
  • Teresa was the subject of a portrait by the Flemish master, Sir Pieter Paul Rubens (1615) now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.[54]
  • St. Teresa was painted in 1819–20 by François Gérard, a French neoclassical painter.[55]


  • Simone de Beauvoir singles out Teresa as a woman who lived the human condition (perhaps the only woman to do so) in her book The Second Sex.[56]
  • She is mentioned prominently in Kathryn Harrison's novel Poison.[57] The main character, Francisca De Luarca, is fascinated by her life.
  • Don DeLillo in End Zone Teresa is depicted as a saint who eats from a human skull to remind herself of final things.
  • R. A. Lafferty was strongly inspired by El Castillo Interior when he wrote his novel Fourth Mansions. Quotations from St. Teresa's work are frequently used as chapter headings.[58]
  • Pierre Klossowski prominently features Saint Teresa of Ávila in his metaphysical novel The Baphomet.[59]
  • George Eliot compared Dorothea Brooke to St. Teresa in Middlemarch (1871–1872) and wrote briefly about the life and works of St. Teresa in the "Prelude" to the novel.[60]
  • Thomas Hardy took Saint Teresa as the inspiration for much of the characterisation of the heroine Tess (Teresa) Durbeyfield, in Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), most notably the scene in which she lies in a field and senses her soul ecstatically above her.[61]
  • The contemporary poet Jorie Graham features Saint Teresa in the poem Breakdancing in her volume The End of Beauty.[62]
  • Barbara Mujica's novel Sister Teresa, while not strictly hagiographical, is based upon Teresa's life.[63]
  • Timothy Findley's 1999 novel Pilgrim features Saint Teresa as a minor character.[64]
  • Vita Sackville-West wrote a double biography contrasting the two Carmelite Theresas, The Eagle and the Dove, re-issued in 2018.[65]
  • Zepeda, Reginald (2012). From Spain to Texas: A Cepeda y Ahumada Family Journey. Xlibris. ISBN 9781479770083.

Drama and film

  • Performance artist Linda Montano has cited Teresa of Ávila as one of the most important influences on her work and since her return to Catholicism in the 2000s has done performances of her life.[66]
  • Teresa de Jesús (1984), directed by Josefina Molina and starring Concha Velasco, is a Spanish made-for-TV mini-series. In it Teresa is portrayed as the determined foundress of new carmelite houses while protecting the infant Jesus statue on her many arduous journeys. The devotion to the Child Jesus spread quickly in Spain, possibly due to her mystical reputation, and then to other places, including France.[67]
  • Nigel Wingrove's 1989 short film Visions of Ecstasy was based on Teresa of Ávila. The film features phantasied sexualised scenes of Teresa with the body of Jesus on the cross. It is the only work to be refused certification by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) on the grounds of blasphemy.[68]
  • Dževad Karahasan. The Delighted Angel drama about Teresa of Ávila and Rabija al-Adavija, Vienna-Salzburg-Klagenfurt, ARBOS 1995.
  • Paz Vega stars as Teresa in Teresa, el cuerpo de Cristo, a 2007 Spanish biopic directed by Ray Loriga.
  • Marian Álvarez plays the saint in Teresa, a 2015 Spanish television film directed by Jorge Dorado and made for the 500th anniversary of her birth.[69]
  • St. Teresa also features prominently in the 2009 Ron Howard film, Angels and Demons, where the Bernini sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, is an important clue in helping Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) find an anti-matter bomb that is hidden in and set to destroy the Vatican.

See also

  • Asín on mystical analogies in Saint Teresa of Avila and Islam
  • Book of the First Monks
  • Byzantine Discalced Carmelites
  • Carmelite Rule of St. Albert
  • Constitutions of the Carmelite Order
  • Mount Carmel#Carmelites
  • Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites
  • Saints and levitation
  • Saint Teresa of Ávila, patron saint archive
  • Spanish Renaissance literature
  • Teresa de Jesús, 1984 Spanish language mini-series
  • St. Teresa's Church (Hong Kong)



  1. At some hour of the night between 4 October and 15 October 1582, the night of the transition in Spain from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
  2. As of 2019, there are 36 "Doctors of the Church", of whom only four are women.
  3. Teresa wrote that it must be a cherub (Deben ser los que llaman cherubines), but Fr. Domingo Báñez wrote in the margin that it seemed more like a seraph (mas parece de los que se llaman seraphis), an identification that most editors have followed. Santa Teresa de Ávila. "Libro de su vida". Escritos de Santa Teresa.
  4. Comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the Seven Heavens.
  5. It may have influenced René Descartes, especially his Meditations on First Philosophy
  6. Rowe 2011, p. 47 refers to the Castilian Cortes as the "Castilian parliament"


  1. "Holy Days". The Church of England. Archived from the original on 1 March 2016.
  2. The Episcopal Church 2010, p. 639.
  3. "Saints of the Week!". resurrectionpeople.org.
  4. Lehfeldt 2017, p. 217.
  5. "Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)". Encyclopedia of European Social History. Archived from the original on 13 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  6. Hsia 2004, p. 240.
  7. "Nuestra Señora de Concepción". Siervas de los Corazones Traspasados de Jesús y María. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  8. Jansen 2018, p. 248.
  9. Pope Paul VI 1970a.
  10. "First female Doctor of the Church to be honored this week". Catholic News Agency. 11 October 2009.
  11. Foa 2015.
  12. Clissold 1982.
  13. Medwick 1999, Expeditions.
  14. Teresa of Avila & Lewis 1870.
  15. "St. Teresa of Avila". Catholic News Agency.
  16. Zimmerman 1912.
  17. Pirlo 1997, p. 241.
  18. Teresa of Avila & Zimmerman 1997.
  19. For the creation of the work and an analysis of its transgression of religious decorum, see Franco Mormando's article, Did Bernini's 'Ecstasy of St. Teresa' Cross a 17th-century Line of Decorum?).
  20. Barton 1982.
  21. Rodriguez 2007.
  22. "Discalced Carmelite History". OCD General House. 2 July 2003. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  23. Kavanaugh & Rodgriguez 1991, pp. 9-27.
  24. Salamony 2017.
  25. Counsell 2011, p. 207.
  26. Pope Paul VI 1970b.
  27. "The Calendar". The Church of England. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  28. Clissold 1982, pp. 63-64.
  29. "Catechism of the Catholic Church". vatican.va. 1997.
  30. Ibáñez 1882.
  31. "She Thinks, Therefore I Am". Columbia Magazine. Fall 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  32. Garriga Espino 2015, pp. 35–53.
  33. Mercer 2017, pp. 2539-2555.
  34. Teresa of Avila & Starr 2008, pp. 238–241.
  35. "Nada te turbe". Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Retrieved 26 January 2021.
  36. Howell 2009, p. 151.
  37. "The Journey with Jesus: Poems and Prayers". Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  38. Knowles 2009, p. 684.
  39. Darricau n.d.
  40. "Saint Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face". Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  41. Wong n.d.
  42. "History of the Infant Jesus of Prague". Archived from the original on 21 November 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  43. "Infant of Prague". Devotions & Prayers. 29 September 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  44. "Infant Jesus of Prague". CatholicSaints.Info. 14 February 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  45. Santini 1995.
  46. Rowe 2011, p. 77.
  47. Rowe 2011.
  48. Park 2009, pp. 28–44.
  49. Tommasini 1998.
  50. Hontiveros 2016.
  51. "Joan Osborne Relish". austriancharts.at. Hung Media.
  52. Jordanova 2012, p. 79–94.
  53. "Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa". History and Appreciation of Art II. Lumen. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  54. "St. Therese of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens". Museum of Art History.
  55. "St. Teresa of Avila – On Love". The Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art. 15 October 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
  56. de Beauvoir 2011, p. 729.
  57. Harrison 1995.
  58. Lafferty 1999.
  59. Klossowski 1998.
  60. Maynard 2009, p. 77–80.
  61. Moore 1990, p. 25.
  62. Graham 1999.
  63. "Bárbara Mujica". Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
  64. Findley 1999.
  65. Sackville-West 2011.
  66. Knowles et al. 2002, pp. 18-34.
  67. Teresa de Jesús at IMDb
  68. "Visions of Ecstasy gets UK rating after 23 year ban". BBC News. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  69. "Teresa". San Sebastian Film Festival. 2015. Retrieved 30 January 2020.


This article was originally based on the text in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.

Further reading

  • Carolyn A. Greene. Castles in the Sand fiction with cited sources about Teresa of Avila Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9791315-4-7
  • Jean Abiven. 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Teresa of Avila, New City Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-56548-366-8
  • Gould Levine, Linda; Engelson Marson, Ellen; Feiman Waldman, Gloria, eds. (1993). Spanish Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-31326-823-6.
  • Bárbara Mujica, Teresa de Ávila: Lettered Woman, (Nashville, Vanderbilt University Press, 2009).
  • E. Rhodes, "Teresa de Jesus's Book and the Reform of the Religious Man in Sixteenth Century Spain," in Laurence Lux-Sterritt and Carmen Mangion (eds), Gender, Catholicism and Spirituality: Women and the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and Europe, 1200–1900 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011),
  • John Thomas, "Ecstasy, art & the body. St. Teresa of Avila's 'Transverberation', and its depiction in the sculpture of Gianlorenzo Bernini" in John Thomas, Happiness, Truth & Holy Images. Essays of Popular Theology and Religion & Art (Wolverhampton, Twin Books, 2019), pp. 12–16.
  • John Thomas, "Architectural image and via mystica. St. Teresa's Las Moradas", in John Thomas, Happiness, Truth & Holy Images. Essays of Popular Theology and Religion & Art (Wolverhampton, Twin Books, 2019), pp. 39–48.
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