The 500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Teresa of Jesus, one of the most prominent figures of the Spanish Golden Age, was celebrated on 28 March 2015. A remarkable humanitarian and mystic, Saint Teresa of Jesus, also known as Saint Teresa of Ávila, played an active role in the reform of the Carmelite Order. Saint Teresa of Jesus founded convents and restored the original Rule, which dated back to the 13th century, without the mitigations that had been introduced over time. Her written work provides an insight into her fascinating human and spiritual journey.
Despite her “great reluctance” to become a nun when the time came to choose between marriage and religious life, Saint Teresa of Jesus decided to follow the latter path. Against her father’s wishes, the Saint fled home at the age of 20 and presented herself at the door to the Convent of the Incarnation, asking to be admitted. Despite acting with unflinching determination, as she always did when called upon to make the most important decisions in her life, it was very difficult for Saint Teresa of Jesus to take this step. Nevertheless, it was with great joy that she took her vows. Although confinement was not required, the Rule was strict and monastic life hard. Three years later, the Saint was struck by a serious illness and fell into a deep coma, after failing to find a cure. Saint Teresa of Jesus eventually came out of her coma, but would suffer from ill health for the rest of her life.
A period of personal prayer was followed by a lessening and then an abandonment of the faith. However, Saint Teresa of Jesus would come out of her spiritual crisis after coming upon an image of Christ “covered in wounds”, an intense experience that she would recognise as the beginning of her conversion. Saint Teresa of Jesus found comfort in Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”, a work publi- shed in 1554. Having immersed herself in the contemplation of Christ’s humanity, Saint Teresa of Jesus experienced a series of mystical phenomena (rapture, ecstasy, visions, voices, piercing of the heart – transverberation), which she attempted to understand with the help of confessors, theologians and individuals well-versed in spiritual matters, particularly Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans, namely Francisco de Borja, Peter of Alcantara and John of Ávila. Dissatisfied with life in the convent,
Saint Teresa of Jesus aspired to greater solitude and wished for a return to the original Carmelite Rule. In 1562, Saint Teresa of Jesus founded the Carmelite Convent of St. Joseph, in Ávila, which represents the first milestone in the Teresian Reform.
Visited by the Carmelite general in 1567, at a time no effort was being spared to implement the reform required by the Council of Trent, Saint Teresa of Jesus was given permission to establish new houses of her Order. It was at this time that the Saint fully revealed herself as a woman who knew how to reconcile contemplation and action. Having immediately left for Medina del Campo, Saint Teresa of Jesus met Friar John of the Cross, whom she persuaded to reform the male branch of the Order. Having travelled across Castile, La Mancha and Andalusia, Saint Teresa of Jesus founded 17 convents, the last of which in Burgos. Called by her superior to Alba de Tormes, Saint Teresa of Jesus died on 4 October 1582, aged 67. Through her last words, the Saint reaffirmed her faith in the Church – “Gracias, Señor, al fin muero hija de la Iglesia” (“After all I die as a child of the Church”) – and her devotion to Christ – “Ya es hora, Esposo mio, de que nos veamos” (“O my Lord and Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another”). Thus ended 20 years of reforming activity by a woman to whom Filipe Sega, the papal nuncio of Spain, had once referred to as a “restless, gadabout nun”.
As well as the convents she founded, Saint Teresa of Jesus left us yet another legacy: a vast work where the Saint, a very talented writer, recounted her life and experience as a nun. Her works include her autobiography, “The Book of My Life” (1565); “The Way of Perfection” (1566), a source of practical instruction for Carmelite sisters; “The Book of Her Foundations” (1573-1582), a work requested by her superiors; and “Relationships”, a work requested by her confessors. Of the approximately 20,000 letters Saint Teresa of Jesus is believed to have written, only 486 are left. Fortunately, “The Mansions” or “The Interior Castle” (1577), her most sublime work, written at the height of her spiritual and mystical maturity, survived into our time. Canonised in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, Saint Teresa of Jesus was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, in recognition of her universal teachings.
Issue Date: 11.09.2015 Designer: ATELIER Folk Design Printer: Bpost Process: Offset Colours: 4 Colours Size: Stamp: 30,6 x 40 mm, Souvenir sheet: 125 x 95 mm Values: €0,45