Biography

Teresa of Jesus, undoubtedly the most illustrious glory of the town of Ávila, the place where she was born on 28 March 1515, is soon to celebrate her 500th anniversary. According to her father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, son of Juan Sánchez, a converted Jew from Toledo and a good tradesmen who came to Ávila to live, she was born on a Wednesday and at 5 o'clock in the morning. Her father first of all married Catalina del Peso and then, after her death, Beatriz de Ahumada. An exemplary and virtuous Christian couple, they had eight children before Teresa and, together with the three from his first marriage, as the the saint herself says, 'our family was made up of three girls and nine boys'. Teresa also said she was her father's and her brothers' favourite.

And her mother looked on her daughter as her best friend and confidante, sharing her devotions and preferences with her, including reading. Her first interest was the lives of the saints, which created in Teresa a desire to go to Moorish lands in search of martyrdom, since she believed that martyrs found the quickest route to God. And then books on knights and adventures, where she also learnt of gallantry, a concept she was soon to put into practice with her cousins when she reached adolescence.

Before her teenage years, she passed the difficult test of orphanage with the premature death of her mother, Beatriz, at the age of 33, when Teresa had just turned 13.

Her father took her to the Convent of the Augustinian Sisters of Gracia to put an end to her relations with her cousins and it was here were she started to feel the calling to religious life. Her vocation matured with her readings and reflections, which led her to run away from home when her father refused to give his consent and she entered the Carmelite Convent of La Encarnación in 1535. Her brothers set off for the recently discovered America in search of glory and fortune.

And she lived happily in her convent for 27 years and was always the centre of attention and received affection from her family, the nuns and laity, dedicating her life to virtue after her conversion in 1554.

She reached her human and spiritual maturity at the age of 47 and sought to continue her calling to the Lord and help the Church through prayer and enclosure. She founded the Convent of San José in Ávila in 1562, which was followed by another fourteen convents in and around Castile and Andalusia. She also participated directly in the founding of the first convents of the Barefoot Order, including those of Duruelo and Pastrana.

In the little time left after her activities as a founder, she wrote her books in obedience of her confessors, together with an endless number of letters through which she managed the life, problems and concerns of the convents, monks and nuns and friends that made up her family and surroundings.

On completion of the foundation of Burgos in 1582, she died in Alba de Tormes on 4 October of the same year with her body in poor condition but her spirit untouched on her way to Ávila, home to her roots and where her nuns of San José were awaiting her as the prioress. Because she was born in Ávila and because each stone in the town today evokes her memory because no one has honoured its name and history like Teresa. Indeed, it is closely connected to her existence and, rightly so, although she was given the name of Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, she is called Teresa of Ávila.