In This Article Teresa of Avila

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Collections of Essays

Renaissance and Reformation Teresa of Avila
by
Elizabeth T. Howe
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0235

Introduction

Teresa of Avila (b. 1515–d. 1582), also known as Santa Teresa de Jesús, is arguably the foremost woman writer of 16th-century Spain. She also represented in her family background and her life’s work the currents roiling the Spain of her time and place. The child of a converso (converted Jewish) father and an “old Christian” mother, her very family name had been adjusted to obscure the paternal background. In her forties she began the reform of the Carmelite order for both men and women as part of what came to be known as the Counter-Reformation. Her written works ranged from the autobiographical Vida (Life), ostensibly penned at the request of her confessor, as well as the mystical Castillo interior o las moradas (Interior castle or the mansions); a treatise on prayer composed for her nuns called Camino de perfección (Way of perfection); an account of the convents she established, Fundaciones (Foundations); and numerous Cartas (Letters). As a mystic her writings influenced generations of other authors, both Catholic and non-Catholic through the centuries, even as it invited the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Although not published during her lifetime, her major works saw print not long after her death and were translated into most of the European languages shortly thereafter. Canonized in 1622, she was also the first woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church, in 1972. In the more than four hundred years since her death, works about her number in the thousands. They consider her life and works—both written and foundational—from a variety of perspectives. The present bibliography is by no means complete, but it offers a starting point for further research.

General Overviews

While there are hundreds of works that deal with some or all aspects of Teresa’s life and works, a few provide succinct summaries that introduce the salient points of both. Hatzfeld 1969 and the mini-series directed by Molina, et al. 2008 are excellent starting points for the undergraduate student or reader unfamiliar with the subject. Peers 1945 and. Williams 1991 explain her life in terms of her writings, providing in the process general introductions that are written in a non-academic style. Medwick 1999 draws on both Teresa’s writings and the testimony of others to tell her story. Weber 2009 collects a number of articles by Teresian scholars who suggest a variety of approaches to teaching her works as well as those of other mystics.

  • Hatzfeld, Helmut. Santa Teresa de Avila. New York: Twayne, 1969.

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    A work aimed at an undergraduate audience to introduce the life and writings of Teresa. It is succinct and very readable with footnotes and a brief bibliography.

  • Medwick, Cathleen. Teresa of Avila. Progress of a Soul. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

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    Teresa’s life with a minimum of notes. Nicely illustrated with contemporary portraits and paintings. Includes many quotations from her works as well as the testimony of others.

  • Molina, Josefina, Concha Velasco, Hector Alterio, et al., dirs. Teresa de Jesus. DVD. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008.

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    English title: St. Teresa of Avila. A mini-series filmed in Spain depicting the life of Teresa, which relies on her principal works and other testimony for the script. The narrative begins with her first illness and continues through to her death in 1582. High production values, an excellent cast, and a script that is faithful to its sources, this film series is an excellent and thorough introduction to Teresa’s story and accomplishments. In Spanish with English subtitles. Originally produced by Televisión Española (Madrid, 1984).

  • Peers, E. Allison. Mother of Carmel: A Portrait of St. Teresa of Jesus. London: SCM, 1945.

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    A lucid, non-hagiographic introduction to the life of Saint Teresa with copious references to her works in the footnotes. The final two chapters consider “Teresa, the Writer,” and “Teresa, the Saint,” respectively.

  • Weber, Alison, ed. Approaches to Teaching Teresa of Avila and the Spanish Mystics. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009.

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    In addition to pedagogical suggestions, two sections of the collected essays consider historical and theoretical perspectives concerning Teresa’s works in comparison with other mystical and religious writers of her times. Contributors represent a cross-section of disciplines and situate her among her contemporaries. Good overview of her life and times.

  • Williams, Archbishop Rowan. Teresa of Avila. London: Continuum, 1991.

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    Although Williams covers her life, he also explains her doctrine in accessible terms for the general reader, relying on her principal works. Adequately footnoted.

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