It’s the birthday of St. Teresa of Ávila (books by this author), born in Gotarrendura, Spain (1515). She grew up in a wealthy household in a walled city. She was fascinated by the spiritual life even as a young girl, particularly the martyred saints. At the age of seven, she ran away from home with her younger brother, hoping to find wherever it was that the Moors lived and be martyred. Their uncle found them just outside the city and dragged them home.
Teresa was also a beautiful and social girl. She loved perfume, jewelry, and elegant clothes. Her mother died when Teresa was 14, and she was heartbroken. Her father felt that it was inappropriate for his beautiful daughter to be without a female companion, so he sent her off to a convent school, which would teach her the necessary skills to become a good wife and mother. Instead, she decided to become a nun. A couple of years later, she suffered from malaria and almost died. She survived, but her legs were paralyzed for three years. During her illness, she had mystical visions, falling into trances or levitating during times of intense rapture.
Although she stayed at the convent for 20 years, it was not the sacred place she wanted it to be. Each nun had a set of private rooms, and sometimes a personal maid. They were allowed to wear jewelry, leave the convent, and entertain daily visitors, both women and men. Teresa eventually broke away and founded the Discalced Carmelite Order (the word “discalced” means “shoeless”). In this new reform order, the nuns lived in poverty and simplicity, devoting their time to prayer, according to ancient traditions. After establishing her own monastery, Teresa traveled around Spain on a donkey, setting up 16 new monasteries for women. She also wrote several books, including The Way of Perfection (1566) and The Interior Castle (1580).