A Saint I Can Relate To!
St. Teresa of Avila was born 500 years ago today, on March 28, 1515. She was a mystic, writer, reformer, and the founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Her feast day is celebrated on October 15, the anniversary of her death. In 1970, she was one of the first women to be named a Doctor of the Church.
In 1577 St. Teresa’s guide for spiritual development, The Interior Castle (in Spanish, El Castillo Interior) was published. In the book, she envisioned the soul as a crystal globe in the shape of a castle containing seven mansions, each representing one stage in the journey of faith. The final stage, the seventh castle, is union with God.
Teresa’s life was not an easy one. She fell ill with malaria, then suffered a seizure which left her incapacitated for four days. When she awoke, she found that those surrounding her were so certain she was dead that they had already dug a grave for her beside the house. What followed were three years of paralysis, then a lifetime of continued illness which made it difficult for her to pray.
Because of the maladies which befell her, St. Teresa of Avila is called the patron of headache-sufferers. Because her autobiographical and spiritual writings have led so many to greater sanctity, she has been named patron of Spanish Catholic writers.
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One interesting aside on the life of this great saint: St. Teresa of Avila died in 1582, during one of the most unusual seasons in history, the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar which is in use today.
Just a few years earlier, between 1578 and 1580, the Vatican—seeking to advance scientific inquiry in order to grow in knowledge of God—had constructed an observatory, named the Tower of the Winds. I visited the Tower of the Winds in 2003 and saw its walls covered in dramatic frescoes depicting “weather scenes” from the Scriptures.
Once the Tower was completed, Vatican astronomers reported that sunlight shining through a pinpoint-sized hole in the wall on the equinox did not reach a medallion on the floor, as expected; and they realized that the Julian Calendar which was in use at the time was wrong, by about three days every four centuries. The result was that in 1582, Pope Gregory III issued a papal bull adjusting the calendar. As part of the change to the Gregorian Calendar, ten days were simply “skipped”—and people throughout the world went to bed on October 4 and awoke on October 15. It was during this mysterious night—sometime on October 4 or October 15—that St. Teresa of Avila died.
Image: TERESA OF AVILA BY Peter Paul Rubens [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons