Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Avila 2010’ Category

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!’  

Teresa of Avila by Rubens (WIkipedia Commons)

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

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Avila’s medieval walls 15.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 16, 2010

Walls, in general are not particularly interesting, right?   Avila’s are magnificent.  It is awe-inspiring to wander around them, the best preserved complete fortifications in Europe and imagine the citizens inside them fending off their enemies with boiling oil and other defensive apparatus!   They were started in 1090 and finished off by the C14th, and now UNESCO has declared them and the rest of Avila a World Heritage site. 

Here they are:

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Off to Madrid tomorrow!

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Fiesta Santa Teresa, Avila, 15.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 16, 2010


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I have always thought that Tim and I have been remarkably lucky on our travels, and today’s events proved it again.  We caught the morning train to Avila and stumbled into the Fiesta Santa Teresa…

Right across the plaza from our hotel (so cunningly selected by my own personal travel agent Tim) is the cathedral.  No sooner had we settled into our room than there was a blast of trumpets (well, ancient bugles actually) and a drum roll and lo! there was the municipal band and a bunch of (somewhat disorderly) soldiers and a whole lot of pilgrims all eagerly anticipating the start of the parade.

Fortunately most of the people of Avila are not very tall so even though we were at the back of the crowd, we saw it all.  Enjoy the photos!

And afterwards we walked into the first restaurant we saw, (Las Cancelas, which does Castellian cuisine) which looked just like all those Spanish cantinas you’ve seen in American westerns.  I asked nicely in my best Spanish if there was a table for 2, and even though they were obviously booked solid because this is such an important day in Avila, they found room for us and we had a scrumptious lunch.

We’re off to see the medieval walls next, watch this space!

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