The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1647-52) in Santa Maria della Vittore, Rome
Today is the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, born in Gottarrendura, Spain in 1515. After a rather normal girlhood, Teresa lost her mother, plunging the 14 year old girl into profound sadness. She developed a strengthened devotion to Mary but also took solace in “frivolous” books about knights, battles and other medieval fiction.
Not long afterwards, she joined the Carmelites, determined to live the contemplative life of a cloistered nun. But the serenity she sought was disturbed by the constant parade of wealthy and important socialites coming and going from the convent. So Teresa founded a new, reformed Carmelite cloister, and developed a “constitution” requiring absolute poverty and the renunciation of possessions.
Teresa also began suffering greatly from serious illness, a condition leading her to “devotions of ecstasy”—the physical experience of great pain—which brought her to a mystical state (and, she believed, a perfect union with God). Her writings on the matter contributed greatly to the theology of the Roman Catholic Church—so much so that she was named a Doctor of the Church. This designation is a rare one, reserved for those few holy intellectuals who have had a profound impact on the theology and doctrine of the Church. Teresa was the first woman to be so distinguished (and still one of only four women to be named Doctors). Teresa died in 1582 and was canonized in 1622.
The sculpture pictured above, by Italian Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was executed between 1647 and 1652. It can be found in Rome’s Santa Maria della Vittore. Bernini is one of my three favorite sculptors (between Michelangelo and Carpeaux) and this work is one of my ten favorite sculptures.
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