Life of St. Teresa - F. A. Forbes


For my part, I think that the rule of being able to bear much or little is that of love."

The time had come when Teresa was to leave the sweet solitude of St. Joseph's, the life of prayer and silence that she loved so much. The work of the foundations lay before her, with its long journeys, its weary correspondence, its complicated business affairs, its trials and its troubles. There is a belief abroad in the world that a life of prayer and contemplation tends to make people vague and unpractical: the last ten years of St. Teresa's life are a standing proof to the contrary. Hers was a wisdom, an insight, and a power wholly unknown to those who live only in the world of matter; in everything she undertook she succeeded.

About twenty miles distant from Avila lay the little town of Medina del Campo, chosen by Teresa for many reasons as the site of her second foundation. The Jesuits were already established there, and their rector, Father Baltasar Alvarez, Teresa's old friend, had promised to support the undertaking. The Prior of the Carmelites of the Mitigated Rule, Father Antonio de Heredia, was also strongly in their favour, and had promised to find them a house. The one that he bought, however, was in such ill repair that it was impossible to go into it; Father Julian of Avila was therefore sent to Medina to hire a lodging in which the nuns could live until it was ready.

In the middle of August Teresa set out, accompanied by her niece Maria de Ocampo, now Sister Maria Bautista, and Sister Anne of the Angels, both from the Convent of St. Joseph's, and four nuns of the Incarnation who wished to join the Reform. They were half-way on their journey and close to the little town of Arevalo, where they were to spend the night, when they were met by a messenger from Father Julian. The proprietor of the little house he had hired, which was close to the Augustinian Convent in Medina, declared that the Augustinians objected to the Carmelites as neighbours, and that he could not hold to his bargain.

Here was indeed a calamity. What was to be done? To return to Avila, they all decided, was out of the question. While her daughters slept Teresa prayed, and in the morning came the solution. Father Antonio de Heredia, who, eager to welcome the Saint, had come to Arevalo to escort her on her way, suggested that they should go direct to the house which he had bought. It was out of repair, it is true, but not too far gone to afford them shelter: they could call on the way at his own monastery of St. Anne's for all they required for the chapel; Mass could then be said and the convent founded at once.

The plan sounded possible; the little company set out for Medina. It was near midnight when they reached St. Anne's, stopped to collect the furniture for the chapel, and, reinforced by two of Father Antonio's friars, set off again on foot through the town, looking, as Father Julian merrily remarked, exactly like a caravan of gipsies who had robbed a church. Luckily, they met few people, and proceeded unnoticed until they reached a tumble-down old house facing on to the street. This was their future convent. Father Antonio must have been suffering from temporary blindness, thought St. Teresa, when he had judged it fit for habitation. Nevertheless, there they were, and the chapel had to be got ready. Father Antonio and the two friars set to work with a will. The rubbish was cleared out, the palace swept, hangings fixed; everybody did their best, and by daybreak all was ready. A tiny bell rang for the first Mass, and the people, greatly astonished to find that a new convent had been founded during the night, came flocking into the little chapel. The nuns assisted from behind the staircase door, for there was no grille and the place was crowded. Teresa's soul was flooded with joy at the thought that her Divine Master had another sanctuary on earth, and all trials were forgotten.

But when the Mass was over and their new abode appeared in the searching light of day, the Saint saw what the darkness of the night had mercifully hidden. The chapel was on the street, and seeing the state of dilapidation of the whole building, anyone might have got in; the house seemed to be tottering to its ruin. But the sight of the poverty of the new foundation only served to increase the devotion of the people, who continued to flock to the little chapel to pray. Teresa set men to watch by night, for fear of thieves, and watched herself, lest the men should sleep. A week later a rich merchant of Medina kindly offered the upper floor of his house to the nuns while the necessary repairs were carried out.

Father Antonio de Heredia, the Prior of St. Anne's, continued to befriend the convent, and when Teresa mentioned her intention of founding a house of the Primitive Rule for men, immediately offered himself as her first subject. A few days later the Saint received a visit from a holy old friar who had also heard of the project. He came to recommend to her notice a young religious who, not content with the Mitigated Rule, had resolved to join the Carthusians. The next day, Father John of St. Matthias, as the young friar was called, made his appearance in person. Teresa was delighted with him; his modesty, wisdom and piety, added to his diminutive stature, gave him something of the air of an angelic child. "I had a religious and a half," Teresa would say, laughing, when she told the story in later years, "wherewith to start the Reform." But the "half-religious," known to history as St. John of the Cross, was to be the very prop and stay of the whole undertaking. The Saint bade him continue his theological studies for a year, until the time should be ripe for the foundation.

In the meantime, Don Bernardino de Mendoza, younger brother of the Bishop of Avila, had offered Teresa a house and garden if she would found a convent at Valladolid. Scarcely had she accepted his offer when her old friend Dona Luisa de la Cerda carne to Medina to beg the Saint to make a foundation on her property at Malagon. This Teresa did not see her way to do, and refused. She then set out for Alcala, whither she had been entreated to go by a lady of the Court of Philip II., who had helped Mother Mary of Jesus to found there her new Convent of the Reform. The foundation was not prospering owing to the excessive austerities of the foundress, who wrote herself begging Teresa to come and teach her the true spirit of the Order.

Such a humble plea could not be refused. The Master's interests were at stake; the Saint set out at once. Mother Mary received Teresa as an angel sent from heaven, gave her full authority, and begged her to explain how she had succeeded so wonderfully in producing the perfect life they had dreamed of together, when she herself had failed.

St. Teresa


Teresa's teaching was eagerly listened to; the austerities were diminished; the spirit of love and joy entered into the hearts of the community, and when their visitor left them two months later, all were happy and contented.

Dona Luisa was still begging for her foundation at Malagon, and, induced thereto by Father Banez' advice, Teresa decided to grant her wish. Having set all in order at Medina, she went to Toledo, taking with her four nuns from Avila. Here they were joined by an old friend, Maria de Salazar, who was the first religious to be professed at the new convent. Having remained two months at Malagon to put all in order, Teresa resolved to go to Valladolid.

But Valladolid was sixty miles away, and, worn out with hard work and travelling, the Saint fell sick at Toledo, where she was obliged to remain for rest and treatment. She was scarcely well when she set forth again, only to be attacked once more at Avila by an illness which obliged her to stay at St. Joseph's for another month, to the great delight of her daughters. While she was there, a Spanish gentleman, having heard that she proposed to found a Monastery of barefooted Carmelites for men, offered her a tiny house at Durvelo, a little village near Medina. Teresa gratefully accepted the gift and visited her new property on the way to Valladolid. It was indeed very small, and exceedingly dirty; Father Julian declared that nothing could ever make it fit for a monastery, but Teresa thought otherwise, and described it to Father John and Father Antonio when they came to see her at Medina. They were ready, they declared, for the love of God, to take up their abode in a stable; the sooner the better.

But Father Antonio had first to resign his office of Prior and put things in order at St. Anne's, and it was decided that while he did so Father John of the Cross should go to Valladolid with Teresa to be instructed in the Rule of the Reform. The foundation in that town was successfully carried through, but for Durvelo the consent of the Provincial was necessary, and Teresa had not much to hope for from Father Angel de Salasar. Consent was, however, obtained by means of an influential friend, and Father John of the Cross, armed with Teresa's blessing, and the coarse habit that she had made for him with her own hands, set out accompanied by a carpenter, who was to make the necessary alterations in the tiny building. Father Antonio arrived soon after with a brother from St. Anne's, and when Teresa visited them three months later she found the foundation in full swing. The cells, it is true, were so narrow that no one could turn round in them; the beds were of straw with a stone for a pillow; the whole furniture consisted of a skull and two sticks in the form of a cross; but the fervour of the three Fathers made up for everything.

The Primitive Rule was now planted in the heart of the Order of Carmel. There were troubles and sorrows ahead, but the grain of mustard seed had been sown; it was growing rapidly, and in the time to come its branches were to reach to the ends of the earth.