Teresa of Ávila

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Teresa of Ávila.

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) was a Spanish saint.

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, Spain. Teresa's mother, Beatriz, was especially keen to raise her daughter as a pious Christian. Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her elder brother Rodrigo with the intention to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the city and spotted the two outside the city walls. Teresa and Rodrigo were brought back to their parents, who gave them each a good birching for running away.

As a child, Teresa was educated in an Augustinian convent in the town. At the age of 20, Teresa left her father's home secretly to enter the convent of the Incarnation of the Carmelites outside Ávila. As a nun in this convent, she experienced ecstatic visions during prayer and entered into mystic states of trance. She loved to mortify her flesh, and her chief delight was flagellation, both the giving and the receiving.

Teresa remained there 27 years, when dissatisfied with the laxity of this and other convents, she had set her mind on founding her own reformed Carmelite convent. She was given papal permission to do so. Her convent, named St. Joseph's, had the prime principle of absolute poverty and renunciation of property. Theresa's plan was the revival of the earlier, stricter rules, supplemented by new regulations such as the three disciplines of ceremonial flagellation prescribed for the divine service every week, and the discalceation (shoelessness, i.e. walking barefoot) of the nun. The barefoot sisters of her convent were to subject themselves to said flagellations, to sleep on straw, to eat no meat, to be strictly confined to the cloister, and to live on alms without regular endowment.

In the next two decades, Theresa was given permission to found other houses of Carmelitas Descalzos, for men as well as women. In total, sixteen convents and fourteen monasteries were founded by her by the time she died in 1582. She was beatified in 1614 and canonized in 1622. On September 18, 1965, Pope Paul VI named her “Principle Patron of Spanish Catholic Writers of Spain.” The same Pope declared her the first woman Doctor of the Church on September 27, 1970.

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