Ávila was the place chosen for many of the outstanding pages in the history of Hebrew, Islamic and Christian mysticism. This is confirmed by names such as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, Juan de la Cruz, Pedro de Alcántara, Mosé de León, Nissim Ben Abraham and Mancebo de Arévalo; however, Ávila is, first and foremost, the town of St Teresa of Jesus, one of the most exceptional figures in Spanish spirituality. Ávila is the town of her childhood, youth and maturity, of her years of enthusiasm and projects and the place that marks the beginning and return of her foundations.
Known in Ávila as 'La Santa', she was born on 28 March 1515 to a large family, as she says herself in the Book of her Life. Her parents were Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and Beatriz Dávila Ahumada and they came from Toledo after they had converted to Christianity.
Her life coincides with the town's 'Golden Century', which can be seen in the renovation of the town itself, the construction of new palaces in Renaissance style, the remodelling of its churches and new convent foundations, all as a result of economic and social rebirth.
She died in Alba de Tormes in 1582 and is buried there.
We invite you to walk around the streets and places where she walked and let the town's buildings remind you of this woman's life and concerns, revolutionising the society of her day with her attitude and the radical reform of the Carmelite Order.
CHURCH AND CONVENT OF ST TERESA, the place where Teresa of Jesus was born
In the later years of the 16th century, the Barefoot Carmelites came to Ávila from Duruelo. They represented the first male foundation of the Order and came with the idea of staying in the town. After overcoming various difficulties and following stays in different places, they acquired the remains of the home that had once belonged to St Teresa's family with the idea of building a church and convent there. For their task, they had the support of the Bishop Francisco Márquez de Gaceta and, later, the Duke of Olivares, to whom the prelate gave the patronage.
The church was built on the house in which Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born and is part of the Carmelite convent. Underground, there is a large vaulted burial crypt, which is currently used as the Museum of St Teresa. The work was directed by the Carmelite architect Fray Alonso de San José and began in 1629. The building was opened on 15 October 1636.
With the main altar facing northwest, it does not keep to established liturgical orientation as the presbytery was built to coincide with the room in which Teresa of Jesus was born. The entrance to the chapel of St Teresa opens up on the right arm of the transept and coincides with the area in which her family home once stood, together with the 'small garden where the saint prayed' opposite.
The plaza is also home to a room containing relics and remains and a small souvenir shop.
CHURCH OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, her baptism
On 4 April 1515, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was baptised in the Gothic font (15th century) of this Romanesque church, which was greatly reformed at the beginning of the 16th century; the font can still be seen today.
PALACE OF NÚÑEZ VELA, the saint's godfather
This 16th-century palace stands near the place where Teresa was born and was home to Blasco Núñez Vela, the first Viceroy of Peru. The Vela family was closely related to the Cepeda family to the point where Núñez Vela was the saint's godfather and her brothers set off for the Indies with said family.
LOS CUATRO POSTES, her escape to Moorish lands
At this privileged vantage point over the walled town, on the left bank of the River Adaja, a small shrine was built in 1566 and there are those who say that it was erected to remember the place where Francisco de Cepeda, the uncle of Teresa of Jesus, found the saint and her brother Rodrigo when they were escaping to be martyred in Moorish lands. However, the adventure went no further than the bridge over the Adaja.
BRIDGE OVER THE ADAJA, an unavoidable passing point
This bridge is of Roman origin and was transformed during the Middle Ages. It was the access road to the town from the west and must have been used constantly by the saint.
The now disappeared Romanesque shrine of San Lázaro stood next to the bridge and was devoted to the statue of the Madonna of La Caridad (today kept in one of the chapels in the Cathedral). According to Teresa of Ávila herself, she commended herself to this Madonna on the death of her mother Beatriz de Ahumada. That was in 1527 and Teresa was 12 years old.
CONVENT OF NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GRACIA, her involuntary stay
This convent was founded in 1509 by the Order of St Augustin, and Alonso de Cepeda sent his daughter Teresa there against her wishes in 1531 to help her mature and give her an education. Her stay was interrupted in autumn 1532 by a serious illness that led to her return to her father's house. María Briceño's care and teaching was essential for her education and her decision to become a nun. The original communion rail and confessional box from the period have been conserved.
MONASTERY OF LA ENCARNACIÓN, an essential place in the life of St Teresa
The Monastery of La Encarnación was founded inside the town's walls in 1478, and as a Carmelite convent it was moved to outside the town in the 16th century. The new monastery was built on land that had been acquired by the Council.
The unfinished monastery was opened on 4 April 1515, the date on which the saint was baptised. It is one of the essential places of the life of Teresa of Ávila and was where she lived almost continuously between 1535 and 1574. When Teresa de Cepeda entered the Carmelite Order without her father's permission, the monastery was one of the most popular in the town. It owned a great deal of property and, as in many others, convent life was not strict and there were great social differences between the nuns. In La Encarnación, she was given counsel by Francisco de Borja, Juan de la Cruz and Pedro de Alcántara, and the monastery was where preparations were made for the Reform of the Carmelite Order, including a return to austerity, poverty and enclosure.
At the end of the 16th century, the room used by Teresa of Jesus became an oratory and the idea was to build a chapel, which was not opened until 1717; this is the Chapel of La Transverberación.
The convent is also home to the museum of St Teresa. One of the most interesting pieces in the museum is a drawing of Christ on the Cross by St John of the Cross.
HOUSE OF DOÑA GUIOMAR, the saint's friends
The house of Doña Guiomar de Ulloa, one of the saint's great friends, stands near Plaza de los Jerónimos. Only the front of the building remains and shows an example of domestic architecture from the 16th century. On more than one occasion, Teresa of Jesus received her spiritual advisers here and it is most probably the place where she prepared her first foundation.
CHURCH OF SANTO TOMÉ EL VIEJO, the reprimand
On one of the days in the mid-12th century on which Teresa of Jesus was hearing mass in this church with her sister Juana and her brother-in-law Jun de Ovalle, the priest reprimanded her in his sermon for wanting to found the convent of San José. The reprimand embarrassed her sister and her brother-in-law, but she only smiled.
MONASTERY OF SAN JOSE (LAS MADRES), the first to be founded by Santa Teresa
This is the saint's first foundation. She found it very difficult to complete her project and needed the help of relatives, friends and members of the nobility and clergy of Ávila. Her sister, Juana de Ahumada and her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, acquired the houses as their usual residence and started to turn them into convent buildings. The project was financed by the remittances sent by her brother Lorenzo de Cepeda from the Indies. Doña Guiomar de Ulloa and Doña Aldonza de Guzmán applied for the licence from Pope Pius IV to found a Carmelite convent and certain Ávila prelates, such as Bishop Alvaro de Mendoza, Gaspar Daza and Pedro de Alcántara also lent their support to the Carmelite.
It was founded on 24 August 1562. Four novices took their holy orders in the new Order of the Barefoot Carmelites of San José. It caused an uproar in Ávila and the saint was forced to return to the convent of La Encarnación. After things had settled down, Teresa of Jesus lived in the Convent of San José in great austerity for 4 years.
The monastery was made up of a number of buildings that were grouped together to create an architectural unit that has been conserved today next to a small church. The church has now disappeared and was replaced between 1608 and 1615 by another that was designed by the architect Francisco de Mora. As one of the saint's devotees, he proposed the prototype of the Carmelite church.
This convent corresponds to her monastic ideal and is characterised by its simplicity and austerity. The former convent premises have been conserved so that visitors can imagine what the first convent of the reform and the spirit of the person who was responsible were like: kitchens, refectory, St Teresa's room, cloister, foundational bell and the so-called 'devil's staircase' down which Teresa fell at Christmas time in the year 1577, breaking her left arm. Several of these elements can be seen in the convent museum.
BASILICA OF SAN VICENTE, the Madonna of La Soterraña
The crypt of the Basilica of San Vicente boasts a statue of the Madonna of La Soterraña (15th century), which was venerated by St Teresa of Jesus. Tradition has it that Teresa of Ávila took off her shoes before this statue in 1563 when she was on her way to the Convent of San José from the Monastery of La Encarnación.
CATHEDRAL, Chapel of St Teresa
Also devoted to the Lord and to the Madonna of La Caridad, known earlier as La Concepción, the Chapel of St Teresa in the Cathedral of Ávila was built in Renaissance style by Pedro del Valle. It contains the Madonna of La Caridad that was previously kept in the now disappeared Church of San Lázaro, which once stood next to the bridge over the Adaja. Teresa of Ávila commended herself to this Madonna when her mother died.
The wall on the right contains a painting that remembers the vision Teresa of Ávila had in this Chapel.
MYSTICISM INTERPRETATION CENTRE
This is the only centre of its kind in Europe and its aim is to introduce visitors to the phenomenon of mysticism. It stands as a compendium of universal mysticism and a work of mystic art. It is a unique project and has been designed to show the complexity of mysticism and, at the same time its great simplicity.
It stands as a compendium of universal mysticism and a work of mystic art. The centre brings together, under mutual synergies, various artistic and technical disciplines: architecture, scenography, painting, sculptures, videos, texts, selection of materials, projections, lighting and music, all of which helps create a work that is unique, indivisible and three-dimensional. Each part has its own interpretation and observation, but its ultimate meaning becomes apparent insofar as it is part of the whole.