Saint Teresa of Jesus
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Saint Teresa of Jesus

One Spanish literary movement that is required studying is mystic literature and especially its poetry from the 16th century. It’s about religious rhapsody and Saint Teresa of Jesus is one of its main representatives.

Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda Dávila y Ahumada was born to a noble family in Avila (Castile and Leon) in 1515. From a young age she showed great interest in literature, especially chivalric literature and writing on the lives of saints. At just 16 years old, she was placed in the Augustine convent Santa María de Gracia. Later, she became sick and returned home. Her religious calling however was stronger than her illness and she was able to enter the convent of Encarnación, without her father’s consent.

Saint Teresa

She would suffer from her illness throughout her life and many scholars have suggested that fragile health was one of her main motives for writing about mystical experiences: the desire to get better, to overcome adversity and strengthen her soul to compensate for her weak health. She also had something of a revolutionary spirit, which inspired her to attempt to change her religious order even in the face of opposition from the Spanish Inquisition.

Mysticism and reform are two reoccurring themes in her educational and artistic work. Her writing offered recommendations on following religious vocation in works such as Camino de perfección (Way of Perfection) and Castillo interior (The Interior Castle), and offered beautiful spiritual expressions in the form of about 30 poems, most notably Vivo sin vivir en mí (I live without living in myself).

Saint Teresa of Jesus passed away in 1582, but her artistic work continues to live on, particularly her poetry. She was canonized in 1970 and given the title of Doctor of the Church. She is still a figure of great importance from Spain’s literary history.

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