Canonized in 1622, St. Teresa of Avila fought illness most of her life, but had a will strong enough to reform the Carmelite order despite substantial op­position. She was a mystic, a prolific writer, and an important figure in the Counter-Reformation.
Born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada in Avila, Spain, St. Teresa showed her characteristic trait of fusing spirituality and activism at an early age. At seven, inspired by her reading of saints' lives, she ran away from home in order to become a martyr among the infidels. She was educated in the Augustinian con­vent in Avila, which she left, inspired by St. Augustine's Confessions and advice given by a nun and her uncle, to enter the convent of the Carmelites at the age of twenty.
The severely ascetic exercises she underwent drained her health and brought her to the brink of death. Had it not been for her father's intervention, she would have been buried alive. Although she regained her health to an extent, she always retained symptoms of her illness in the form of fever, headaches, and insomnia. Alternating between spiritual doubts and mystical highs, Teresa en­countered the moment of inner illumination, vividly described in the autobio­graphical Book of Her Life.
One of her visions of hell led her to reform her order toward a basic, austere severity and purity. Thus began her long phase of great activity, for which she would suffer and be punished by those who felt that her method of mystical ecstasy posed a threat to church authority. In 1562 she founded the first convent of the Discalced Carmelites in Avila. The old Order of Carmelites did not take her reforms well and denounced the Book of Her Life to the Inquisition. The denunciation was processed, perhaps due in part to her Jewish ancestry; St. Teresa's father, Alonso, was the son of Juan Sanchez, a converted Jew. Her detractors tried to have her deported to America but ended up confining her to the city of Toledo in order to impede her from founding more convents. But among her supporters were also the famous Fray Luis de Leon*; her brother of the same order, Fray Juan de la Cruz*; and most important, the Jesuits, who saw her as a powerful ally against the Protestant Reformation. Eventually, her ally in the court of Philip II,* Count of Tendilla, used his powerful influence to get the pope to establish a separate province for the Discalced Carmelites.
Teresa founded seventeen new convents in Castilla and Andalucia. On a trip from Burgos to Avila at the end of September 1582, she stopped at the Convent of Alba de Tormes, where she died in early October.
All her books are autobiographical, even the most doctrinal, such as The Way of Perfection or The Interior Castle. Her first book, the Book of Her Life (c. 1562), is mostly a detailed description of mystical experiences, which she sees as a result of personal experience. Like St. Augustine, St. Teresa uses an intro­spective, intimate voice of address. Book of the Foundations (c. 1573-82) and Letters (c. 1560-79) are continuations of her religious activities begun in the Book of Her Life. Of particular interest in Book of the Foundations (c. 1573­82) are the numerous portraits of secular and religious people she knew over the course of her industrious life. Her Letters gather together epistles directed to various confessors who inspired and advised her work. The Interior Castle, also known as The Dwelling Places, is a treatise on the soul and its relationship to God. St. Teresa also wrote several religious poems, the most famous of which begins: "I live without living in me / and so high a life do I await / that I die because I do not die."
St. Teresa was among the first Spanish women to be published in print. Her life and her work inspired countless biographies and at least one important sculpture, Gianlorenzo Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645-52). This full-figure sculpture depicts her at the moment when she, pierced by an angel's arrow, receives a vision of the Holy Spirit. The order is still strong in and outside of Europe. Currently, at the close of the twentieth century, the Discalced Car­melites—men and women—have 30 convents across Africa, 2 missions in Latin America, 103 convents across Asia and Oceania, and 1 mission in the Middle East.
T. Bielecki, Teresa of AAvila: An Introduction to Her Life and Writings, 1994.
J. Bilinkoff, The AAvila of Saint Teresa, 1989.
Ana Kothe

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Teresa von Ávila — (Peter Paul Rubens) Teresa von Ávila – geboren als Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (* 28. März 1515 in Ávila, Kastilien, Spanien; † 4. Oktober 1582 in Alba de Tormes, bei Salamanca) – war …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Teresa von Avila — Teresa von Ávila (Peter Paul Rubens) Theresa von Ávila – eigentlich Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (* 28. März 1515 in Ávila, Kastilien, Spanien; † 4. Oktober 1582 in Alba de Tormes, bei Salamanca) – war …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Teresa of Ávila — Infobox Saint name=Saint Teresa of Ávila birth date=28 March 1515 death date=death date and age|1582|10|4|1515|03|28 [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… …   Wikipedia

  • Teresa of Avila — (1515–82)    Saint, Mystic, Devotional Writer and Monastic Reformer.    Teresa was of part Jewish descent and she was born in Avila, Spain. She entered a Carmelite monastery at the age of twenty, but another twenty years were to pass before she… …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • Teresa of Avila — (1515 1582)    Baptized as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada; also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus. A Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic who experienced * ecstatic, * trance like states, * out of body experiences, visions, and *verbal auditory… …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

  • Teresa of Avila — noun Spanish mystic and religious reformer; author of religious classics and a Christian saint (1515 1582) • Syn: ↑Saint Teresa of Avila • Instance Hypernyms: ↑saint …   Useful english dictionary

  • Teresa de Ávila — Terẹsa de Ạ́vila,   spanische Karmelitin und Mystikerin, Theresia, T. von Ávila …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Teresa of Avila — biographical name Saint 1515 1582 Spanish Carmelite & mystic …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • TERESA OF ÁVILA — (1515 1582)    Italian ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, religious reformer and MYSTIC whose works The Way of Perfection, Book of Foundations, The Interior Castle and her autobiographical Life are considered among the great classics of MYSTICAL writings …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Teresa of Avila, Saint — • Carmelite reformer and founder, mystic, author, d. 1582 Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

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