Teresa of Avila


St. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun who reformed the Carmelite Order, and wrote a number books on prayer during the period of the Counter Reformation. Her writings on Prayer and Meditation are recognized as extraordinarily valuable and she was made a Doctor of the Church in 1970. She is best known, however for her work founding and reforming convents. The convents of her age had slipped into very lax practices and she symbolized desire for genuine reform with the institutions of the Catholic Church.

Teresa was brought up in a pious family in central Spain. A story is told that she ran away from home at age seven to seek Martyrdom among the Moors, so that she could "be with God". Against her families wishes, she entered a convent at the age of twenty. During her early years in the convent she became ill due to poor medical care, underwent considerable long-term suffering. During this period she dedicated herself to prayer and meditation. She came under the Dominicans, and later, the newly formed Jesuit order, and read the works of well known mystical ascetics.

In 1560 St. Teresa began her active ministry of reform. Influenced by others involved in the Counter Reformation, Teresa recognized that many converts had adopted lax standards in contrast to the monastic principles on which they were founded. In some convents women lived in relative luxury with few restrictions, and little attention to spirituality. In 1562 she succeeded in founding a new convent, dedicated to poverty, and strict adherence to monastic rules. She took up took up her residence there and spent much time in writing books for the benefit of the sisters. Five years later she received permission to continue her work fouding other houses and for the next nine years established numerous convents. Working with John of the Cross, she help also to establish monasteries also based on strict orders. This order was later referred to as the Discalced, or barefoot Carmelites.

Not surprisingly, the established order of Carmelites opposed many of these reforms and made charges against her. In 1576 she was ordered to stop founding new convents, but after appealing to King Philip II, and Pope Gregory XIII, the complaints against her were dropped, and she was allowed to continue her work. In her last four years of life, she founded six more convents, for a total of seventeen. She died en route to Salamanca.

Key events during the life of St. Teresa of Avila:

Born near Avila, Spain
Ran away from home to find martyrdom with the Moors.
Entered convent of the Incarnation in Avila.
Began working to reform the convents.
Established a reformed convent, based on absolute poverty.
Wrote The Way of Perfection.
Authorized to establish new houses
Condemned to involuntary retirement by her adversaries.
Proceedings against her dropped and she was allowed to continue ministry.
Wrote The Interior Castle.
Died on a journey from Burgos.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Theresa of Avila  in  Historic Girls  by  E. S. Brooks

Image Links

So, runaways, we have found you.' cried brother
 in Historic Girls

St. Teresa in Youth
 in  Life of St. Teresa

The apparition of the Holy Child to St. Teresa
 in  Life of St. Teresa

St. Teresa from the painting by Brother John de la Miseria
 in  Life of St. Teresa

The last communion of St. Teresa
 in  Life of St. Teresa

St. Teresa
 in History of the Church: Early Modern Times

Short Biography
John of the Cross Carmelite priest, poet and author associated with St. Teresa of Avila.
Philip II Catholic king of Spain during Netherland revolt and Anglo-Spanish Wars. Great enemy of Protestant Reformers.
St. Francis Borgia Early Jesuit priest, spiritual director of St. Teresa, and Superior General of the Jesuits.