Saint Teresa of Ávila
Saint Teresa was born Teresa de Ahumada y Cepeda in Ávila in 1515 to a wealthy and socially aspirant family of Jewish origin. In 1525, aged 20, she entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation, where she was to remain for 27 years, initially in a rather frivolous way. After some 17 years or so of study and contemplation, at around 40, she achieved a 'state of mystical union with God', experiencing visions and ecstasies. A vision of Hell in 1560 prompted her to leave the Convent of the Incarnation and found a reformed Discalced Carmelite convent of Saint Joseph's in August 1562. This practised extreme poverty, strict enclosure and a truly spiritual life.
- Teresa wrote four major works, The Book of Her Life, The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle, and The Book of Her Foundations, as well as poems, meditations, instructions for monastic administrators, and some five hundred extant letters. This corpus led to her being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, she having been canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.
- A highly regarded writer on, and recorder of, mystical experiences, the importance of St Teresa lies as much in her important contribution to the 16th century Catholic Reformation (Protestants may call this the Counter-Reformation), particularly in reforming the monastic orders of the Spain of her time. She is one of the patron saints of her country, where she is still much venerated.