By Anne Leader,

October 15 is the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic who died on 4 October 1582 and was canonized in 1622. The patron saint of Spain, Teresa founded the order of Discalced (barefoot) Carmelites, a reform female religious community that took vows of chastity and poverty. Teresa experienced many visions, including one urging her to reform the Carmelite Order. Her most famous mystical experience was represented spectacularly by Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, who transformed her written account of union with God into an ecstatic vision witnessed by members of the Coronaro family in their chapel at the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Bernini masterfully portrays the saint as if floating on a cloud as an angel pierces her heart with the love of God, as she recounted in her writings: “‘he was holding a long golden spear, and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God.’” Her limp body, relaxed head, and open mouth convey the all-consuming nature of her oneness with God.

Reference: Michael P. Mezzatesta and Rudolf Preimesberger. “Bernini.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St Teresa, marble, life-size, 1645–52, Rome: S. Maria della Vittoria, Cornaro Chapel

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