Avila – Home of St Teresa – Spanish saint born in Avila

Catedral de Ávila, Plaza de la Catedral, Ávila, Španija

Website of the Sanctuary

+34 920 211 030

Avila cathedral: From Monday to Friday: 10,00 to 17.00

Avila was the place chosen for many of the outstanding pages in the history of Hebrew, Islamic and Christian mysticism. This is confirmed by names such as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, Juan de la Cruz, Pedro de Alcántara, Mosé de León, Nissim Ben Abraham and Mancebo de Arévalo; however.

Avila is, first and foremost, the town of St Teresa of Avila, one of the most exceptional figures in Spanish spirituality. Avila is the town of her childhood, youth and maturity, of her years of enthusiasm and projects and the place that marks the beginning and return of her foundations.

Known in Avila as ‘La Santa’, St Teresa of Avila was born on 28 March 1515 to a large family, as she says herself in the Book of her Life. Her parents were Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and Beatriz Dávila Ahumada and they came from Toledo after they had converted to Christianity.

Avila - Home of St Teresa - Spanish saint born in Avila

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Her life coincides with the town’s ‘Golden Century’, which can be seen in the renovation of the town itself, the construction of new palaces in Renaissance style, the remodelling of its churches and new convent foundations, all as a result of economic and social rebirth. She died in Alba de Tormes in 1582 and is buried there.

Walk around the streets and places where she walked and let the town’s buildings remind you of this woman’s life and concerns, revolutionising the society of her day with her attitude and the radical reform of the Carmelite Order.

Avila is the town for heritage, history, art, gastronomy, festival, mysticism, culture and nature. Avila is the mediaeval town of the three cultures, a World Heritage Site and a town on the Jewish Quarter Network. 

Avila is a contemporary town that combines modernity and tourist quality with establishments that bring together comfort and the avant-garde for accessible, social tourism.

Avila - Home of St Teresa - Spanish saint born in Avila

Walls, houses, palaces, churches and convents make up the town’s artistic heritage as a result of its rich history, which was protagonised by the cultures that lived here. The image of the mediaeval town comes from its walls, which are much more than a mere symbol in Avila; they are the monument that explains the town and how it is structured. See more Catholic shrines and Basilicas in Spain.

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Avila reached its maximum splendour in the 16th century as the town of mysticism and spirituality and its main example is Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada. If we follow the Teresian route, we will travel from the Gothic style to the Renaissance, from mannerism to Baroque through the life and works of our most universal saint, who lived halfway between both periods.

TERESA OF JESUS – St Teresa of Avila (1515- 1582)

I live without living in me and I look for such an exalted life that I am dying because I am not dead.

There is hardly need for introduction for the woman who, for many, is the most outstanding Spanish writer or, at least, the most important mystic writer. Founder of the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites, with almost twenty convents, Ávila is deeply impregnated with the figure of this nun. So much so that she is referred to as La Santa and is the patron saint of the town; her feast day is celebrated on 15 October.

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born to a wealthy family in the town. Much has been written about the fact that her family was one of converted Jews and it is possibly true. This caused problems for Teresa during the persecution of those who were not old Christians.

Her childhood in the town marked the two intertwined roads her life was to follow. On the one hand, her religious side appeared at an early age and she had no doubt that she would dedicate her life to worshipping God. On the other, her interest in literature, as an untiring reader of the adventure books that fell into her hands and, later, as a writer herself.

Avila - Home of St Teresa - Spanish saint born in Avila

What to see in Avila Spain:

  • CHURCH AND CONVENT OF ST TERESA, the place where Teresa of Jesus was born
  • CHURCH OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, her baptism On 4 April 1515, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was baptised in the Gothic font (15th century) of this Romanesque church, which was greatly reformed at the beginning of the 16th century; the font can still be seen today.
  • PALACE OF NÚÑEZ VELA, the saint’s godfather. This 16th-century palace stands near the place where Teresa was born and was home to Blasco Núñez Vela, the first Viceroy of Peru. The Vela family was closely related to the Cepeda family to the point where Núñez Vela was the saint’s godfather and her brothers set off for the Indies with said family.
  • LOS CUATRO POSTES, the saint’s escape to Moorish lands. At this privileged vantage point over the walled town, on the left bank of the River Adaja, a small shrine was built in 1566 and there are those who say that it was erected to remember the place where Francisco de Cepeda, the uncle of Teresa of Jesus, found the saint and her brother Rodrigo when they were escaping to be martyred in Moorish lands. However, the adventure went no further than the bridge over the Adaja.
  • BRIDGE OVER THE ADAJA, an unavoidable passing point. This bridge is of Roman origin and was transformed during the Middle Ages. It was the access road to the town from the west and must have been used constantly by the saint. The now disappeared Romanesque shrine of San Lázaro stood next to the bridge and was devoted to the statue of the Madonna of La Caridad (today kept in one of the chapels in the Cathedral). According to Teresa of Avila herself, she commended herself to this Madonna on the death of her mother Beatriz de Ahumada. That was in 1527 and Teresa was 12 years old.
  • WALLS OF ÁVILA. The walls are the image that is unmistakably associated with the town of Avila and they were the main reason, together with the Romanesque churches, why the UNESCO included the town on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1985. This impressive defence construction has a perimeter of 2516 m, 87 turrets and 9 gates and the walls of Ávila are the best-conserved example of their kind in the world. Tourists should not leave the town without going up to the allure of the walls or walking around its perimeter. Visitors can today walk along 1700 m of the allure and there are four entrance points, one of which is suitable for the disabled.
  • CONVENT OF NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GRACIA, Teresa’s involuntary stay. This convent was founded in 1509 by the Order of St Augustin, and Alonso de Cepeda sent his daughter Teresa there against her wishes in 1531 to help her mature and give her an education. Her stay was interrupted in autumn 1532 by a serious illness that led to her return to her father’s house. María Briceño’s care and teaching was essential for her education and her decision to become a nun. The original communion rail and confessional box from the period have been conserved.
  • MONASTERY OF LA ENCARNACIÓN, an essential place in the life of St Teresa. The Monastery of La Encarnación was founded inside the town’s walls in 1478, and as a Carmelite convent it was moved to outside the town in the 16th century. The new monastery was built on land that had been acquired by the Council.
  • HOUSE OF DOÑA GUIOMAR, the saint’s friends. The house of Doña Guiomar de Ulloa, one of the saint’s great friends, stands near Plaza de los Jerónimos. Only the front of the building remains and shows an example of domestic architecture from the 16th century. On more than one occasion, Teresa of Jesus received her spiritual advisers here and it is most probably the place where she prepared her first foundation.
  • CHURCH OF SANTO TOMÉ EL VIEJO, the reprimand. On one of the days in the mid-12th century on which Teresa of Jesus was hearing mass in this church with her sister Juana and her brother-in-law Jun de Ovalle, the priest reprimanded her in his sermon for wanting to found the convent of San José. The reprimand embarrassed her sister and her brother-in-law, but she only smiled.
  • MONASTERY OF SAN JOSE (LAS MADRES), the first to be founded by Santa Teresa. This is the saint’s first foundation. She found it very difficult to complete her project and needed the help of relatives, friends and members of the nobility and clergy of Avila. Her sister, Juana de Ahumada and her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, acquired the houses as their usual residence and started to turn them into convent buildings. The project was financed by the remittances sent by her brother Lorenzo de Cepeda from the Indies.
  • BASILICA OF SAN VICENTE, the Madonna of La Soterraña. The crypt of the Basilica of San Vicente boasts a statue of the Madonna of La Soterraña (15th century), which was venerated by St Teresa of Jesus. Tradition has it that Teresa of Ávila took off her shoes before this statue in 1563 when she was on her way to the Convent of San José from the Monastery of La Encarnación.
  • CATHEDRAL, Chapel of St Teresa. Also devoted to the Lord and to the Madonna of La Caridad, known earlier as La Concepción, the Chapel of St Teresa in the Cathedral of Ávila was built in Renaissance style by Pedro del Valle. It contains the Madonna of La Caridad that was previously kept in the now disappeared Church of San Lázaro, which once stood next to the bridge over the Adaja. Teresa of Ávila commended herself to this Madonna when her mother died. The wall on the right contains a painting that remembers the vision Teresa of Ávila had in this Chapel.
  • MYSTICISM INTERPRETATION CENTRE This is the only centre of its kind in Europe and its aim is to introduce visitors to the phenomenon of mysticism. It stands as a compendium of universal mysticism and a work of mystic art. It is a unique project and has been designed to show the complexity of mysticism and, at the same time its great simplicity.

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TERESA OF JESUS – (1515- 1582)

I live without living in me and I look for such an exalted life that I am dying because I am not dead.
There is hardly need for introduction for the woman who, for many, is the most outstanding Spanish writer or, at least, the most important mystic writer. Founder of the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites, with almost twenty convents, Ávila is deeply impregnated with the figure of this nun. So much so that she is referred to as La Santa and is the patron saint of the town; her feast day is celebrated on 15 October.

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born to a wealthy family in the town. Much has been written about the fact that her family was one of converted Jews and it is possibly true. This caused problems for Teresa during the persecution of those who were not old Christians.

Her childhood in the town marked the two intertwined roads her life was to follow. On the one hand, her religious side appeared at an early age and she had no doubt that she would dedicate her life to worshipping God. On the other, her interest in literature, as an untiring reader of the adventure books that fell into her hands and, later, as a writer herself.

In view of her father’s opposition, she ran away from home and joined the Convent of La Encarnación in 1534. Bad health and realising that monastic life was not what she thought made her reconsider her decision, but she finally chose to continue. What actually drove her on was the idea of founding a convent in which the precepts of asceticism would be observed, such as the obligation to poverty, solitude and silence. She collected funds and, in 1562, opened the Convent of San José (which continues her mission today). However, in 1567, it was not acknowledged and her doctrines of reform received much opposition.

From then on, supported by John of the Cross, who did the same by founding the Order of the Barefoot Carmelite Monks, her order and the precepts of austerity, fasting and prayer spread across the peninsula and clashed with the wealth and political protagonism of the Church.

Until her death in Alba de Tormes, the rest of her life was an array of journeys to found convents and monasteries that usually took her back to her beloved Avila. It is here where she wrote some of her most important works. Her writings have made her a poetess, thanks to her religious-lyrical poetry, and they have been studied and assessed in many ways. However, they have always stood out because they are not transcriptions or adaptations of sacred texts, which was the most common form of writing at the time, but rather original texts, with their own style, laden with spontaneity and feeling rather than literary archetypes.

  1. CHURCH AND CONVENT OF ST TERESA, the place where Teresa of Jesus was born
  2. CHURCH OF SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, her baptism On 4 April 1515, Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was baptised in the Gothic font (15th century) of this Romanesque church, which was greatly reformed at the beginning of the 16th century; the font can still be seen today.
  3. PALACE OF NÚÑEZ VELA, the saint’s godfather. This 16th-century palace stands near the place where Teresa was born and was home to Blasco Núñez Vela, the first Viceroy of Peru. The Vela family was closely related to the Cepeda family to the point where Núñez Vela was the saint’s godfather and her brothers set off for the Indies with said family.
  4. LOS CUATRO POSTES, the saint’s escape to Moorish lands. At this privileged vantage point over the walled town, on the left bank of the River Adaja, a small shrine was built in 1566 and there are those who say that it was erected to remember the place where Francisco de Cepeda, the uncle of Teresa of Jesus, found the saint and her brother Rodrigo when they were escaping to be martyred in Moorish lands. However, the adventure went no further than the bridge over the Adaja.
  5. BRIDGE OVER THE ADAJA, an unavoidable passing point. This bridge is of Roman origin and was transformed during the Middle Ages. It was the access road to the town from the west and must have been used constantly by the saint. The now disappeared Romanesque shrine of San Lázaro stood next to the bridge and was devoted to the statue of the Madonna of La Caridad (today kept in one of the chapels in the Cathedral). According to Teresa of Avila herself, she commended herself to this Madonna on the death of her mother Beatriz de Ahumada. That was in 1527 and Teresa was 12 years old.
  6. WALLS OF ÁVILA. The walls are the image that is unmistakably associated with the town of Avila and they were the main reason, together with the Romanesque churches, why the UNESCO included the town on its list of World Heritage Sites in 1985. This impressive defence construction has a perimeter of 2516 m, 87 turrets and 9 gates and the walls of Ávila are the best-conserved example of their kind in the world. Tourists should not leave the town without going up to the allure of the walls or walking around its perimeter. Visitors can today walk along 1700 m of the allure and there are four entrance points, one of which is suitable for the disabled.
  7. CONVENT OF NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GRACIA, Teresa’s involuntary stay. This convent was founded in 1509 by the Order of St Augustin, and Alonso de Cepeda sent his daughter Teresa there against her wishes in 1531 to help her mature and give her an education. Her stay was interrupted in autumn 1532 by a serious illness that led to her return to her father’s house. María Briceño’s care and teaching was essential for her education and her decision to become a nun. The original communion rail and confessional box from the period have been conserved.
  8. MONASTERY OF LA ENCARNACIÓN, an essential place in the life of St Teresa. The Monastery of La Encarnación was founded inside the town’s walls in 1478, and as a Carmelite convent it was moved to outside the town in the 16th century. The new monastery was built on land that had been acquired by the Council.
  9. HOUSE OF DOÑA GUIOMAR, the saint’s friends. The house of Doña Guiomar de Ulloa, one of the saint’s great friends, stands near Plaza de los Jerónimos. Only the front of the building remains and shows an example of domestic architecture from the 16th century. On more than one occasion, Teresa of Jesus received her spiritual advisers here and it is most probably the place where she prepared her first foundation.
  10. CHURCH OF SANTO TOMÉ EL VIEJO, the reprimand. On one of the days in the mid-12th century on which Teresa of Jesus was hearing mass in this church with her sister Juana and her brother-in-law Jun de Ovalle, the priest reprimanded her in his sermon for wanting to found the convent of San José. The reprimand embarrassed her sister and her brother-in-law, but she only smiled.
  11. MONASTERY OF SAN JOSE (LAS MADRES), the first to be founded by Santa Teresa. This is the saint’s first foundation. She found it very difficult to complete her project and needed the help of relatives, friends and members of the nobility and clergy of Avila. Her sister, Juana de Ahumada and her brother-in-law, Juan de Ovalle, acquired the houses as their usual residence and started to turn them into convent buildings. The project was financed by the remittances sent by her brother Lorenzo de Cepeda from the Indies.
  12. BASILICA OF SAN VICENTE, the Madonna of La Soterraña. The crypt of the Basilica of San Vicente boasts a statue of the Madonna of La Soterraña (15th century), which was venerated by St Teresa of Jesus. Tradition has it that Teresa of Ávila took off her shoes before this statue in 1563 when she was on her way to the Convent of San José from the Monastery of La Encarnación.
  13. CATHEDRAL, Chapel of St Teresa. Also devoted to the Lord and to the Madonna of La Caridad, known earlier as La Concepción, the Chapel of St Teresa in the Cathedral of Ávila was built in Renaissance style by Pedro del Valle. It contains the Madonna of La Caridad that was previously kept in the now disappeared Church of San Lázaro, which once stood next to the bridge over the Adaja. Teresa of Ávila commended herself to this Madonna when her mother died. The wall on the right contains a painting that remembers the vision Teresa of Ávila had in this Chapel.
  14. MYSTICISM INTERPRETATION CENTRE This is the only centre of its kind in Europe and its aim is to introduce visitors to the phenomenon of mysticism. It stands as a compendium of universal mysticism and a work of mystic art. It is a unique project and has been designed to show the complexity of mysticism and, at the same time its great simplicity.

AVILA CATHEDRAL

Avila Cathedral stands as both church and fortress and its apse, known locally as the cimorro and set in the walls, is the most imposing turret of the east wall.

Considered as the first Gothic cathedral in Spain, it stands on the remains of an original building that was devoted to El Salvador (The Saviour). In 1172, Alfonso VIII decided to extend the original building and commissioned the project to the French master builder, Fruchel. He was ordered to begin the consolidation of the current building in transitional Romanesque-Gothic style and took part in the construction of the Caleno granite apse (or cimorro), the ambulatory (which has conserved the original Romanesque windows), the first body of the transept and the foundations of the Caleno granite walls.

After his death, a second stage of construction brought in new materials and the use of granite ashlars; the project continued in Gothic style.

The building is of a clearly defined Burgundian style and stands on a Latin-cross layout made up of three naves, a transept and a semi-circular upper end with a double ambulatory and chapels set between the buttresses. It is flanked at the bottom end by two square-shaped towers (the one on the right is unfinished and the one on the left has been finished off with merlons and narrow windows) and covered by a groined vault whose ribs rest on semi-columns attached to the pillars that separate the naves, reinforced by pointed vault arches. In the difference of heights between the naves, there is a double body of stained-glass windows, which were damaged during the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and had to be replaced.

The first body of the towers and the naves date from the 13th century and the second body of the towers, the cloister (finished in the 16th century) and the vaults and flying buttresses date from the 14th century. The entry porch (the door of the Apostles, from the 13th century) was removed and taken to the north wall in the second half of the 15th century; Juan Guas was the author of the new door on the west side. The roof as it is today was laid on top of the original granite roof in 1578 after the sidewalls had been built in brick. The work was completed at the end of the 16th century-beginning of the 17th century with the addition of a few chapels.

Inside the church, the following items are of particular interest:

The retrochoir. By Juan Rodríguez and Lucas Giraldo. Commissioned in 1531, it has Plateresque-style basreliefs showing scenes from the Bible of great artistic merit.
Ambulatory. Special mention must be made of the sepulchre of El Tostado (Vasco de la Zarza – from the first third of the 16th century), an essential piece of Spanish Renaissance work.
The choir. Made by various authors (1536-1547), this is also an essential piece.
Altarpiece of the Main Altar (1499-1512). By Pedro Berruguete, Santa Cruz and Borgoña, with influences from the Italian quattrocento and the Flemish School.
Altar of St Segundo. With highly symbolic basreliefs by Isidro Villoldo (1547).
Altar of St Catalina. Basreliefs completed in 1529, this work is by Juan Rodríguez and Lucas Giraldo.
It was designated a National Monument in 1949.

Distance to nearest cities:
Madrid: 113 km
Segovia: 87.1 km.
Salamanca: 96.5 km
Valladolid: 162 km
Toledo: 181 km.
Cáceres: 230 km.

Roads
Autopista AP 51 Avila -Madrid
N. 110 Soria-Plasencia
N. 403 Avila-Toledo
N. 502 Avila-Talaverra de la Reina
N. 501 Avila-Salamanca

Bus Station: Avda. de Madrid,2 Tel. +34 920 220 154.

Train Station: Paseo de la Estación s/n. Tel 902 240 202

Airports:
Madrid Barajas: a 110 km de Avila. Tel. +34 91 393 60 00

Aeropuerto de Villanubla – Valladolid: a 120 km de Avila. Tel: +34 983 415 400

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