In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hispanic Mysticism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Spanish Mysticism
  • Female Mystics
  • Relevant Theory

Renaissance and Reformation Hispanic Mysticism
Hilaire Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0048


For some time now, the “canon” of Spanish mysticism has been expanding. No longer is our picture of this special brand of early modern devotional practice limited to a handful of venerable orthodox saints. Instead, we have come to recognize a wide range of “marginal” figures who we realize also qualify as practitioners of mysticism, broadly defined. Paradoxically, by taking a more inclusive approach to studying mysticism in its “marginal” manifestations, we are in effect bringing mysticism in all its complex iterations back toward its rightful place at the center of early modern Spanish culture—which was, after all, a society with a state-sponsored religion. The reasons for this revolution in the study of mysticism specifically (which reflects a more general change in our approach to early modern religious studies) are manifold. In Spain in particular, new documents have become available in the decades since the opening up of Spanish archives to scholars in the freer and more transparent post-Franco era. Previously unexplored Inquisitorial procesos have proven to be an especially rich source. But in addition to reflecting better access to more documents, this sea change in the way we do scholarship shows a greater willingness on the part of academics to consider evidence that may not always fit neatly into traditional paradigms. Nowhere is this new tolerance more important than in the area of mysticism, where intensely personal religious experiences are shared with or imparted to the mystic’s contemporaries, superiors, disciples, and/or posterity—sometimes deliberately, sometimes by historical accident. Mystical experience, it seems, is as varied as human experience.

General Overviews

A good narrative treatment of Hispanic mysticism is Andrés Martín 1994. The towering giant in this field is Peers (see Peers 1951). For those who might find his three volumes unwieldy, several short one-volume introductions to the field are available (Peñalver Gómez 1997 is more up-to-date; Fernández Leborans 1978 is organized thematically). Menéndez y Pelayo 1956 offers a traditional literary-critical perspective on mystical poetry and autos sacramentales. Andrés Martín 1994 is unique for its innovative organization, which centers around different “frames” for mystical experience, while Twomey 1997 and Peñalver Gómez 1997 are the most theoretically up-to-date, the latter being a monograph and the former offering the variety of perspectives available in an essay collection. Sáinz Rodríguez 1984 is valuable for the comparisons it offers with other mystical traditions and with art. Rousselot 1867 is an accessible study in French.

  • Andrés Martín, Melquiades. Historia de la mística de la Edad de Oro en España y América. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1994.

    Organized around different “frames” for the Spanish mystical experience, including doctrinal, geographical, historical, linguistic, ascetic, and scholastic. Offers a new chronology as opposed to the more traditional scheme of periodization. Tries to answer the question of why there was such a confluence of mystics during the Golden Age in Spain.

  • Fernández Leborans, María Jesús. Luz y oscuridad en la mística española. Madrid: Cupsa, 1978.

    Slender volume divided into three thematic parts: the first on the light/darkness opposition in Saint Teresa, and the other two on the same binary in Saint John of the Cross.

  • Menéndez y Pelayo, Marcelino. La mística española. Edited by Pedro Sainz Rodríguez. Madrid: Afrodisio Aguado, 1956.

    Covers mystical poetry as well as the autos sacramentales. Looks at influences of Raymond Lull and Saint Isidore. Enters into Platonic aesthetics. Perhaps the most useful feature of this book is the bibliographical inventory of mystical and ascetic works at the end; this guide is divided into sections according to the religious order of the author.

  • Peers, E. Allison. Studies of the Spanish Mystics. 2 ed. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1951.

    Still the primary critical study of most major mystical writers. Volume 1 covers Saint Ignatius, Luis de Granada, Francisco de Osuna, Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, Luis de León, and Juan de los Ángeles. Volume 2 contains chapters on the dawn of the Golden Age, on an exponent of “quiet” (Bernardino de Laredo), and on mysticism in the pulpit, followed by the Teresan period, Augustinian mysticism, Franciscan mysticism, and post-Teresan mysticism. Volume 3 is divided by religious orders.

  • Peñalver Gómez, Patricio. La mística española: Siglos XVI y XVII. Madrid: Akal, 1997.

    This small volume is a good, theoretically informed introduction to the field. Begins with considerations of anachronism when mysticism is juxtaposed with “modernity,” followed by a study of the politics of mysticism and the languages of the Counter-Reformation. Includes a chapter on the concepts of mysticism and renaissance. In terms of specific figures, concentrates primarily on Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross.

  • Rousselot, Paul. Les mystiques espagnols: Malon de Chaide, Jean D’Avila, Louis de Grenade, Louis de Léon, Ste Thérèse, S. Jean de la Croix et leur groupe. Paris: Didier, 1867.

    A still-useful survey of major authors. Contains chapters offering general considerations of Spanish mysticism as compared to other “flavors” within the Christian tradition. Some authors warrant more discussion than others: Fray Luis de León gets three chapters, Saint Teresa only two. The three final chapters are the ones providing broad context for the specific figures mentioned in the title.

  • Sáinz Rodríguez, Pedro. Introducción a la historia de la literatura mística en España. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1984.

    Still useful as an introduction to the field. Begins with a chapter on the historical problem of Spanish mysticism, followed by one on different concepts of mysticism. Chapter 3 traces points of contact between Spanish mysticism and other mystical traditions, including Indian and Jewish. Chapter 4 considers ascetic antecedents during the medieval period, while Chapter 5 focuses on the chronological evolution and doctrinal content of Spanish mysticism. Chapter 6 touches on art.

  • Twomey, Lesley K., ed. Faith and Fanaticism: Religious Fervour in Early Modern Spain. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1997.

    Essay collection divided into three sections: the quest for orthodoxy, the imposition of orthodoxy, and cross-cultural awareness. Represents conference proceedings from a meeting held at the University of Humberside. The essays most relevant for mysticism are on female visionaries as well as on meditation and contemplation as components of monastic spirituality.

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