St Teresa and the Visionary Nuns

Stephen Clissold describes how, after twenty years of life as a nun, St Teresa began to experience visions and ecstasies which led her to found, in Avila, a reformed Carmelite convent.

Spain’s golden age, ushered in by the reign of one remarkable woman - Queen Isabella the Catholic - has no greater or more attractive figure than that of another - the nun Teresa of Jesus, born Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada and known to posterity as St Teresa of Avila.

Foundress and organizer, a woman of unusual warmth and charm, a religious genius who combined humble sanctity with the most exalted mystical experiences which she recorded with the vivid force of the born writer, she impressed her contemporaries - in the words of one of them - as ‘a very great woman in the affairs of this world, and in those of the next, greater still.’

It is her life on the lowlier, mundane plane -though she saw it as indissolubly linked with the higher - that concerns us here. Even in that century of outstanding achievement there are few Spanish women to whom the epithet ‘great’ can confidently be applied. War and exploration, the business of church and state, scholarship, literature and the arts, were all seen as male preserves; it was the function of women, as wives, lovers and mothers, to inspire and nurture greatness in their menfolk.

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