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St Teresa of Ávila: Kabbalistic Christianity

Teresa of Ávila was a Christian Carmelite Nun, born of a Jewish "converso" (those who were forced to convert to Catholicism) family and her mystical writings, which were considered so unique in terms of Christianity, caused great suspicion from the Inquisition on a number of occasions. These writings contain similarities with Jewish Kabbalistic and Sufi-Islamic Mysticism.

In Spanish, Teresa’s Interior Castle is called ‘Las Moradas’ which is more accurately translated as ‘The Dwelling places’. In Hebrew Mysticism we speak of our bodies as the Dwelling Place of Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit. In this piece of writing the experience of the soul is more attuned to Kabbalah esoteric understandings of soul interiority. The Soul is regarded as having seven levels or interconnecting chambers or dwelling places. Las Moradas draws heavily on the mystical text, ‘The Songs of Songs’. Teresa of Ávila wrote a reflection on The Song of Songs, but only fragments survive today, as these were kept in secret in order to hide these powerful transmissions from the Inquisition, which interrogated Teresa of Ávila many times.


Ávila , a city that housed Hebrew, Islamic and Christian Mysticism, was the town of St Teresa of Ávila.  She was known in Ávila as ‘La Santa’ (the Saint), born on the 28th of March, 1515, to a large family. Her parents were Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda and Beatriz Dávila Ahumada and they came from Toledo after they had been forced to convert from Judaism to Christianity.

St Teresa of Ávila had a strong connection to her grandfather, a wealthy tax collector who was convicted by the Church for backsliding into Jewish faith and practice, and was punished by being forced to parade around Toledo dressed as a clown for one day a week with others who were considered insincere converts. This was something that saddened her and she always was a guiding light who helped many of the converts who were secretly practicing Judaism.

There are many things that aren´t said about St Teresa of Ávila. For example, she created a form of Catholic prayer with a mystical system based on four stages of spiritual ascent, influenced by Kabbalah. She also had the desire to create a form of prayer for the Jews who were forced to convert that seemed more aligned with their mystical view of life as opposed to the new religion that seemed so dogmatic to the converts.

Ávila was the location of one of the most important Talmudic academies of the 13th to the 14th centuries. Ávila was home to Moses bem Sem Tob de León (Moses de León), a Rabbi and wandering wise man who, after living in Guadalajara, wrote and put the finishing touches here to the Zohar or Book of Splendour which, along with the Talmud and the Bible, form the trilogy of Kabbalistic mysticism. It was in Ávila that the first manuscript of the Zohar was written.

John of the Cross, another important Spanish Mystic and friend and student of St Teresa of Ávila, also came from a family that was forced to convert from Judaism into Catholicism. This was actually quite common and it wasn ́ t frowned upon by the Hebrew Community, as many of the conversos, as they were called, secretly  continued with their jewish spirituality and knew that it was the only way to survive.

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross were always under suspicion by the jury of the Inquisition. There were many times that this jury wanted to take Teresa of Ávila into prison, not only for her ecstatic prayer and her writings which seemed scandalous at the time, but also because she was believed to have dirty blood, not a true Christian as she was a "conversa". She was also known to be of a beauty that was heavenly. Many were the men who were secretly in love and infatuated by her and she was only interested in being a Qadeesha, a  high holy woman. In this moment of history, women could only marry or be nuns. She chose to be a nun because she believed in her role as a spiritual guide and she knew she would not be able to fulfil this role as a wife, in the sense that it was believed that a wife should act in the 16th Century.

St Teresa of Avila´s Carmelite order was the only order that did not discriminate against jews who had converted. They were allowed to enter the convent and she also provided education for them.

There are so many things that fascinate me about St Teresa of Ávila. For example, she introduced the 6 decade Rosary from the Brigittine order into her Carmelite Order. The 6th decade is dedicated to Light Conception.

Teresa of Ávila wrote from the Heart, conversational and contemplative, and always wrote from her own direct experience. In describing a mystical experience, Teresa wrote that her mind and eyes wanted to come with her, but that they simply could not make the journey. Her senses were simply unable to withstand the Presence of Alaha. Only her soul had the stamina to be in the company of the Divine.

What is the soul? Teresa describes the soul as a castle, made of a diamond or a transparent crystal, with many rooms. She says:

Let us think of our soul

as resembling a castle

formed of a single diamond,

or a very transparent crystal

containing many rooms

of which some are above,

some below, others at the side.

In the centre,

in the very midst of them all,

is the principal chamber,

in which God and our soul

hold their most secret communion,

Nothing can be compared to

the great beauty and capabilities of our soul.

However keen our intellects be,

we are no more able

to comprehend the depths of our soul`

than we are to comprehend God

for our soul has been created

in the image and likeness of God.

It is our soul’s likeness to God

that makes it possible for us

to commune with the God in whose image

we have been made.

This morning I woke up earlier than usual, feeling a call to immediately sit in prayer, and St Teresa came to my presence. I saw her dressed in white, her head completely covered. She looked more like an Essene Princess than a Nun. After taking in this vision, I knew I had to write about her and let all of the lovely new souls in this community know that these is a free Novena to Teresa of Ávila in the online school platform.

CLICK here if you would like to journey with her transmissions and presence.

St Teresa of Ávila is always a special presence in my life. My parents named me after her and mother Anna (my full name is Ana Teresa). I hope she delights and awakens in you what is waiting to flourish and be remembered.

Sending all of you so much love.


Ana Otero

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