St Teresa, Avila, Oct 15-16
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 17, 2010
What with the excitement of the fiesta, I forgot to tell you much about Avila’s St Teresa (1515-1582) – and since saints are very much in the (not entirely uncritical) news in Australia, it seems appropriate to redress the error.
She seems to have been a bit of a tearaway, but she was canonised in 1622 anyway. According to my trusty DK Eyewitness Guide, young Teresa ran away from home when she was seven hoping to be martyred by the Moors, but was promptly brought back home by her uncle. You can just imagine this, can’t you?
Teresa: ‘I’m going to run away from home and the Moors will kill me and then you’ll be sorry!’
Long suffering parent: ‘O stop being such a drama queen, get back home right now and go to bed without any supper!’
Well, as we all know, girls were not allowed to have any fun back in the C16th, and the only way to avoid being married off to some loser to improve the family fortunes was to join a convent. Teresa went for this option aged 19 but promptly rebelled and started her own order, as you do when you can’t get on with the rest of the girls. After this she rampaged around Spain founding more convents, accompanied by her ‘disciple’ St John of the Cross. (I think this looks a bit suspicious, for a professional virgin). She had visions and indulged in self-mortifications of the flesh, (otherwise known as hallucinations and self-harm). These days she would be diagnosed as a having a psychiatric disorder rather than holiness but St T is good for tourism and there are lots of convents and churches bearing her name.
A friendly matron beside us in the crowd at the fiesta explained that these days the festival was more about the ‘good fortunes of the town of Avila’ (i.e. tourism), but notwithstanding all these somewhat doubtful manifestations of sainthood, Avila was full of elderly nuns, and who could deny them a little religious tourism after a lifetime of self-denial? All the nuns I have ever known were nice people who had dedicated their lives to teaching or nursing the sick and I reckon they deserve whatever vacations they can get.
And the faithful enjoy themselves as well. They obviously go to a lot of trouble to create floral tributes (and the local authorities all make sure that they have an impressive one there with their names on it) and you can buy heaps of religious souvenirs as well if you want to. There was a rock festival in the plaza for the young people and fireworks at night so all in all, St T has done her bit for the people of Avila even if she was a bit odd.
On the subject of matters religious, when we went on the bus tour and we saw (away from the centre of the town the Real Monasterio de Santo Tomas, and there lie the tombs of Juan, the only son of Fernando and Isabel (after whom we named our pet mice when we were children) and Torquemada, head of the Inquisition…