“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it.”
This is an excerpt from the spiritual autobiography of Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582), the feast of whom is celebrated today on 15 October by Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans, that facilitated the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini to depict St. Teresa in his famous work, at the altar of the Cornaro Chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.
Saint Teresa of Ávila, born as Teresa Ali Fatim Corella Sanchez de Capeda y Ahumada in Ávila, Spain, joined the Carmelites order at the age of twenty. Leading a religious and spiritual life, she later founded the order Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites and became the author of several mystical theological works, all proved be the Roman Catholic church, among them an Autobiography, El Camino de Perfección (The Way of Perfection) and El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle).
She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, and in 1970 was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI as one of the Doctors of the Church for her theological writing and teaching.
Saint Teresa of Ávila is primarily depicted in the habit of the Discalced Carmelites, holding a book and quill, in the presence of a dove, or with an arrow-pierced heart. The first of her portraits was painted by a Spanish Carmelite monk Juan de la Miseria, while she was still alive – it now only exists in a copy.
Take a closer look at Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa on YouTube by Smarthistory.
You might also be interested in watching the procession of her statue from the Carmelite monastery to the Cathedral of Ávila on her feast day in 2015.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52, Marble, Cornaro Chapel, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.
Copy of Juan de la Miseria’s Teresa von Ávila in Carmelite Convent, Sevilla.
Peter Paul Rubens, Teresa of Ávila, c. 1615, oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.