Who Was Saint Teresa of Ávila?

When wandering through the streets of Ávila, which is also an UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, the story of Saint Teresa is present all the time. As a Carmelite nun, Saint Teresa dedicated her life to God. She joined a monastery against the will of her father and became a great visionary and founder of the order. Moreover, the scholar, writer and mystic was the first female Doctor of the church.

Saint Teresa’s Life

Even though Teresa is a famous Christian saint her grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Toledo, which was forced, like other Jews in 1485, to choose between leaving Spain and converting to the Christianity. He decided to stay in Spain and raises his son - Teresa’s father -as a Christ. The family moved from Toledo to Ávila, where many years later Teresa was born in 1515.

After a difficult childhood, where she lost her mother when she was thirteen years old, Teresa decided to join the monastery. At this time becoming a nun was the only possible life for women, who weren’t interested in marriage. Even though her father was against her decision, Teresa joined a Carmelite Monastery in Ávila in 1535. However, she didn’t feel that the convent was true to its purpose – she felt as it was putting on a show, whereas she genuinely wanted to worship. She began to write, and a number of her works would later become some of the most important mystic writings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Painting of young Teresa

Teresa as founder

Teresa had the feeling that a lax attitude had been spread in the Monastery and wished that the former stronger rules would reinstated. Therefore, Pope Pius IV give his permission to the foundation of Teresa’s own Monastery called the Convento de San José. She used the convent to help Jewish people in Spain convert to Christianity. She created many new rules and reforms, and then went on to create other convents, as well as two different houses for men who wanted to practice this devout form of Christianity.

Headwinds for Teresa

Many felt threatened by Teresa’s new efforts, and began to encourage persecution against her. In 1576, she was forbidden from creating more convents and forced to retire. Thereupon, Teresa moved back to her grandfather’s birth place, Toledo. After many years, King Philip II of Spain officially pardoned her, and charges against her were dropped. Teresa went on to found further convents, creating almost twenty during her lifetime.

World Heritage City Ávila

Death of Teresa and her becoming of a Saint

On the 4th of October 1582 Teresa died after a long time of illness in the Monastery in Alba de Tormes. 40 years after her death, she was sanctified by 40 Pope Gregor XV and in 1970 she has been declared as doctor of the church by Pope Paul VI. Her mysticism and writings still live on today and inspired many theologians of the past. The Convent of Saint Teresa in Ávila welcomes visitors, who are wishing to see interesting relics such as her rosary beads, the sole of her sandals and an actual finger from her right hand.

Monastery of San José

For all who are interested in following Saint Teresa’s story, it is nowadays possible to travel through Spain and visit all the places she has influenced. The route we at Across Spain created, covers many destinations to get the best insight in the Saints life. In Salamanca St. Teresa lived for 4 years and established her 7th convent. Another monastery founded by her, as well as her tomb can be visited in Alba de Tormes. Of course Ávila is also in the trip included, to explore the church and convent of St. Teresa among many other sights. On the map below you will find all the stops of our journey and if you are searching for more information write us a message or read our latest blog entry “wander in the footsteps of Saint Teresa of Ávila”.