Teresa De Avila Renaissance Women and How They Affected Art by Celeste Skierski

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.

-Teresa of Avila

Who is Teresa of Avila?

Saint Teresa of Ávila, also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_Ávila)

in 1535, she joined the Carmelite Order. She spent a number of relatively average years in the convent, postponed by a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, but then experienced a vision of "the sorely wounded Christ" that changed her life forever (Christian Classics Ethereal Library).

As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man’s world of her time. She was “her own woman,” entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer; a holy woman, a womanly woman. https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-teresa-of-avila/

Saint Teresa used prayer to navigate through her life. She was not always Catholic either. There are debates whether or not she was Jewish and Atheist for periods of time in her life. Then devoting herself to the Carmelite Order she spent her days in the convent praying and waiting for further spiritual enlightenment. She found this enlightenment through devotion to and love for writing and prayer.

Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.

- Saint Teresa of Avila

Teresa died in 1582 at the convent of Alba, but her body was exhumed a few months later. The total lack of decomposition indicated that she was a saint, and her body parts were given away to various convents as holy relics (Butler-Bowdon).

Artists & Saint Teresa's Inspiration

Saint Teresa inspired many artists in her time in through the Renaissance because of her visionary writings. She shared her thoughts of visions she had involving angels and saints. The visions of the Carmelites such as Teresa have been transformed into some of the Renaissance's most famous works of religious art. Below are a couple examples of the art created, in honor and inspired by Saint Teresa of Avila.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Rome, Italy) 1647-52 Marble, stucco and gilt bronze

Located above the altar of the Cornaro Chapel in Rome’s Santa Maria della Vittoria, Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Teresa represents an episode from the life of the saint as recorded in her spiritual autobiography. Teresa describes an angel carrying a fire-tipped spear with which he pierces her heart repeatedly, an act that sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. “The pain,” she writes, “was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul then content with anything but God.” Quoted by herself. (Careri, Lappin. 1995).

Bernini was religious as well as being a diverse artist. Bernini was a sculptor, architecture and an actor. This is very evident in this piece by its grand presentation. Representing a Saint being made, this is St. Teresa's canonization. After St. Teresa had written for years about her visions of angels. Bernini uses the writings of St. Teresa to create an image with dramatic heavenly imagery (Taggard. 2000).

To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience.

-Saint Teresa of Avila

Peter Paul RUBENS, St. Teresa of Avila, 1615

Modern Day Art & Worship of Saint Teresa of Avila

Celebrate Saint Teresa of Avila’s feast day in a special way this year, as part of a preparation for the 5th Centenary Celebration of her birth. The Feast Day is Tuesday, October 15, 2015 https://carmeliteinstitute.net

Today in the 21st century, people, churches and religions celebrate and honor the life of Saint Teresa of Avila. There is a day dedicated to her in October and Christians and Catholics honor her dedication and devotion to living her life the way she did.


Christian Classics Ethereal Library. St. Teresa of Avila: Spanish Carmelite Nun and Mystic. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa

Butler-Bowdon,T. 50 Spiritual Classics: 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose. (London & Boston: Nicholas Brealey) http://www.butler-bowdon.com/teresa-of-avila---interior-castle.html

Careri, G. and Lappin,L. (1995). Bernini: Flights of Love, the Art of Devotion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Taggard, M. (2000.) Picturing Intimacy in a Spanish Golden Age Convent. Vol. 23, No. 1. Oxford University Press.

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