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St Teresa’s Avila (Virgin and Doctor of the Church)

October 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Diana von Glahn, Pilgrimage

October–my favorite month–honors some of my favorite saints. St Thérèse (Oct 1), St Francis (Oct 4), and St Teresa (Oct 15) are each associated with their hometowns: Lisieux, Assisi, and Avila. Let’s explore St Teresa’s Avila in Spain.

Teresa of AvilaDid you know that St Thérèse of Lisieux and Mother Teresa were named after St Teresa of Avila? I love St Teresa because she was a feisty Spaniard who was as holy as she was straightforward, and that reminds this feisty Mexican-American that there’s hope! Once, when she was complaining to God about the hostility she encountered, He said, “Teresa, that is how I treat my friends.” She replied, “No wonder you have so few!” She also said, “May God protect me from gloomy saints,” “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself,” and “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” Then, of course, there’s her famous prayer:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
God does not change,
Everything passes,
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.


In October 2010, my husband and I were blessed to visit the remarkable city of Avila on October 15th, the Feast of St Teresa. Not only did I drag him to all of the Catholic sites, I made him process in a parade with me in honor of St Teresa (he loved it!)! (Check out the video!). I met an amazing woman who reminded me of my own abuelita (grandmother), and who made me feel welcomed in this foreign city.

The first thing you notice as you near Avila are the huge 11th and 12th-century walls that protect the city. Walking these walls is a fun way to explore Avila from up high. St Teresa, who was born March 28, 1515, and died October 4, 1582, would have known these walls. She might have even walked them!


We started the feast day off with Mass in the 12th century Avila Cathedral, dedicated to San Salvador (Holy Savior). The cathedral is built into the walls and looks like a fortress. It’s Romanesque and Gothic styles show how tastes changed over the many years it took to build. I loved the huge, gold retablo-like piece behind the altar. There’s a LOT of gold in Spanish churches, and as a woman of Mexican heritage, it always makes me laugh and think, “So that’s what the Spaniards did with all the Aztec gold!” Ha.

After the Mass, we processed through Avila with statues of St Teresa and Our Lady. We saw the traditional mantillas and combs. Many of the women were dressed in the traditional clothing of Avila–beautifully embroidered and fringed shawls, straw hats, colorful skirts adorned with black lace, white socks with pom poms, and Mary Janes. I wanted to buy this outfit before I left, but the store that sold them was closed on our last day. Boo.

Our procession brought us to the 17th-century Convent of St Teresa, built after St Teresa’s canonization over her childhood home. The convent houses some of St Teresa’s relics–a finger from her right hand, the sole of one of her sandals, her rosary beads and a cord with which she used to flagellate herself. I loved the statue in the small garden where she played as a child.

Outside the walls, we found the Monasterio de la Encarnación (Monastery of the Incarnation), where St Teresa first entered Carmel on November 2, 1535. Back then, the convent was wealthy and its rules were relaxed. But during the 30 years St Teresa lived here, she whipped them into shape. Here, she received visits from St John of the Cross, and in a small room you can visit, she even received a visit from Jesus. (Things like this always thrill me until I remember that I can visit Jesus in the tabernacle every day.)

The Convento de San José (Convent of St Joseph) is the first monastery of Discalced Carmelites founded by St Teresa, and that’s here in Avila, too.

The food in Avila is amazing. Our favorites were the Jamón Iberico, Manchego cheese, patatas bravas, and croquetas. YUM! I did have to try the local delicacy–Yemas de Santa Teresa. They’re little sugar balls made with egg yolks. I didn’t like them (sorry, St Teresa!).

As I write this and pour over the hundreds of photos from our trip, I think how much I’d love to return to this quaint little city, imbued with the spirit of this fantastic saint. Maybe I’ll read some of her books to remind me. Maybe in a year or two, we’ll return. Of all the incredible cities Spain has to offer, Avila will always remain one of my favorites.


Art: Personal photos and video courtesy of Diana von Glahn. Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615, photographed by David Monniaux, 2005 own work; Yemas de Santa Teresa (Egg yolks of Saint Teresa), photographed by Tamorlan, 2009 own work; both CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Diana von Glahn

Diana is the co-producer (along with husband, David), writer, editor, and host of The Faithful Traveler, a series on EWTN, which explores the art, architecture, history and doctrine behind Catholic churches, shrines and places of pilgrimage throughout the world. She is also the author of "The Mini Book of Saints". She blogs, posts updates to Facebook, uploads videos and photos to her website, and sells DVDs of both seasons of The Faithful Traveler.

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  • LizEst

    Thank you for this wonderful post, Diana…a sort of virtual pilgrimage. What a wonderful way to mark the Memorial of St. Teresa of Avila.

    I ask all to pray for my friend Prudence and her husband Oscar, and their family, who are marking the anniversary of their son’s death today. In his honor, they established the Harold M. Kashala Foundation for Global Healthcare and Partnership, and the website “A Forgotten Child” in order to work with the Church to improve the lot of children and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo: I have met Maria, the beautiful and sweet natured little girl they adopted, who had been left on the streets to die. They are also establishing the “House of Kyrie” (in Swahili: The House of the Lord) to directly address the forgotten, homeless and abused orphans of Congo as their inaugural project. Thank you so much…and God bless you all.

  • 2001Sacrament

    Thank you Diana – I’ve also been drawn to this Saint and would like to know her better. This article is a lovely insight into the places where she lived out her remarkable life – although now I’m hungry after reading about the food. Where did you get that wonderful plaque with her prayer on it? I’d love to find one in English for our homeschooling room. I love to creat focal points around the house that offer reflection on where our minds and hearts should be and that prayer is one of my favorites.

    • Hi! I got the plaque in Avila, at a gift shop just across from the cathedral. But I’m sure you can go to one of those paint your own pottery stores and make one! If you’re crafty! (I’m not..)

      • 2001Sacrament

        There is a large gap between what I visualize and what I can produce, unfortunately, but I just found it online and with a little cutting and pasting and laminating made my own and for the kids! Thanks!

  • Gabrielle Renoir

    I have visited Avila several times and Spain many, many times. When I lived in Europe, I think I traveled down every road in Spain, even the ones in the tiny villages. I’ve always felt especially drawn to St. Teresa and to St. John of the Cross, so that made Avila a special place to visit for me. I was a little disappointed to hear rock music blaring from a bar across the street from the cathedral, though. Like you, the walls were the first thing I noticed, just as in Avignon.

  • Thanks for this post on St Teresa! October is full of awesome saints! Its also the month for St. Faustina.

    I don’t understand that quote “Be gentle with all but stern with yourself.” I know a lot of saints were hard on themselves. But my confessor and friends are always reminding me not to be so hard on myself. So which is it?

    So that’s were our yema came from! In the Philippines we have yema here too! But I also find it too sweet. Some of that other Spanish food also sounds familiar. 🙂

    On a side note, I recently learned that one reason why there are many desserts that use eggs here (And I guess also in Spain and other former colonies?) is because they used eggwhite as part of the “cement” for building those Old Churches.

    • LizEst

      It’s what St. Teresa said.

      The most important thing before following St. Teresa’s maxim is that you must know yourself. If you are not very self aware, you can wind up being scrupulous. And a scrupulous person should not be as tough on themselves as they think…it just fosters more scrupulosity.

      That said, if you know yourself and you are not scrupulous, and it does not endanger your health and/or cause you to sin, then you need to be stern with yourself and gentle and merciful with others.

      I came to this conclusion on my own after much prayer, reflection, study and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was before I even learned that St. Teresa said that. Other saints have said similar things. Make no mistake, I’m not comparing myself with her or them. What I am comparing this to is Scripture. Christ himself admonishes us to be merciful. At the same time, he exhorts us to enter through the narrow gate. There is no dichotomy in what he says. Christ our Lord, our Teacher, our Friend tells us to be gentle with others and stern with ourselves.

      Hope this helps. God bless you, Mary…and thanks for the primer about the yemas being in your country as well!

      ps. You should discuss this with your spiritual director/confessor. Ask him for an explanation for why he is telling you one thing and the saints and Scripture say another. Perhaps there is a good reason why he is telling you this.

      • Thank you! This helps a lot! I know I can be scrupulous sometimes. Just the same, haven’t been able to meet my SD in awhile because of school. But plan on meeting him this Sat. Will ask him then. God Bless!

  • justme

    Are there men who are Doctors of the Church and at the same time Virgins?
    Or Virginity is not required for men , in order to become Doctors of the Church?
    I am asking because I see that Saint Teresa de Avila is a Doctor and Virgin.

    • St. Augustine is a Doctor of the Church, so I can say with certainty that virginity is not a requirement for being a Doctor of the Church. 🙂

      I’m sure someone more knowledgable on this subject can elucidate, but Doctors of the Church are saints whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church. Their lives are also marked by much learning and great sanctity. They are declared Doctors by the Pope. I believe there are currently 35 now. Pope Benedict XVI recently added St. John of Avila and St Hildegard of Bingen in October 2012.

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