St Teresa is strongly associated with Avila and it is impossible not to think about her life and her achievements. I fear another book will be added to shelves.
A brief history
Teresa of Avila (1515-82), as she became known, was born into a wealthy family – her father was a wool merchant. She was born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda Dávila y Ahumada into a family which had converted from Judaisim to Christianity but elected to join the church and became known as a mystic and the reformer of the Carmelite Order of Nuns. The first reformed convent was that of San Jose in Avila and a Papal Decree of 1580 recognised the split from the original order.
Teresa was finally buries in Alba de Tormes and canonised in 1622.
Church of St Teresa
There seems to be some uncertainty about where she was born and one suggestion is that it was in a house which used to stand on the site of today’s Church of St Teresa. The church is on the tourist trail and a noisy group disturbed the peace, and an old lady sitting quietly. It wasn’t pleasant. Yes, I took a photograph – from the back of the church and away from anyone else – does that make it better?
Museum of St Teresa
In the crypt of the church is a museum dedicated to St Teresa. It is interesting and it was mercifully quiet.
Convent of the Incarnacion
The Convent of the Incarnacion was founded inside the walls in 1478 and moved to this building, outside the walls, in the 16th century. The land was previously a Jewish cemetery, apparently. Today it is a closed convent and there is only access to a small museum.
Teresa entered the Carmelite Convent in 1534 when she was just twenty. Life here was quite pleasant and included visits from family and friends and spacious accommodation. As Teresa developed her spiritual ideas the easy way of life in the Convent disturbed her and by 1560 she was considering how to make changes to the order.
Convent of San Jose
The Convent was built in 1562 and it was the first convent in the new order of Discalced Carmelites created by St Teresa. She wanted to revive earlier, stricter rules of a more austere monastic life than she experienced in the Convent of the Incarnation. Flagellation and sandals rather than shoes were part of the new rules. Teresa herself apparently remained here for five years in seclusion. Today it is a closed order and access even to the church is tricky – we did not succeed.
From 1567 Teresa was authorised by the Carmelite General to establish further Discalced houses in Spain.1 She then convinced two Carmelites friars to join here in her mission, one of these was St John of the Cross. The Convent of San Carmen in Soria was one of those founded by St Teresa.
St Teresa of Avila permeates the air in Avila; it is not possible to visit the town and not be aware of her presence. However, that is very different from understanding her thoughts. More work in the months ahead.