The Interior Castle

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The Interior Castle

by St. Teresa of Avila

THE LITERARY WORK

A religious allegory exploring techniques of mystical prayer; published in Spanish in 1588 (as Las Moradas del Castillo Interior), in English in 1852.

SYNOPSIS

The author likens the soul to a castle that contains seven groups of moradas, or dwelling places, each group representing a stage in the journey towards spiritual union with God, which occurs in the seventh or central ring.

Events in History at the Time of the Allegory

The Allegory in Focus

For More Information

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada (1515–82) was born into an aristocratic family in the city of Avila, about 50 miles northwest of Madrid. In 1535, at age twenty, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation at Avila, taking the monastic name Teresa of Jesus (only after her canonization in 1622 would she be known as “Teresa of Avila”). Like other Carmelites in the sixteenth century, the nuns at the Incarnation observed a “mitigated” or softened version of the order’s original rule, and for two decades Teresa lived an accordingly relaxed and materially comfortable existence. In 1555, however, she experienced a religious awakening that called her towards a more ascetic and meditative life. By 1562 she had secured Pope Pius IV’s approval to open the first convent of the Carmelite Reform, in which she hoped principles of humility and poverty would be more rigorously observed. By the late 1570s Teresa had founded further Reform Carmelite convents, but great controversy often surrounded her work. Central to that work was the idea of mental prayer, which Teresa believed could establish a close personal link between the individual and God. Teresa explored this idea in her many writings, which include letters, poems, and scriptural commentary as well as four longer prose works: the autobiographical Life (written in 1562); The Way of Perfection (written in 1564); The Book of the Foundations (written in 1573 and describing her struggles to found convents); and finally The Interior Castle (written in 1577), widely considered to be the most vivid and fully realized account of this influential mystic’s spiritual method.

Events in History at the Time of the Allegory

Catholicism in Golden Age Spain

During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the Spanish reached heights of imperial and cultural splendor from which they dominated Europe and much of the world. The lifetime of the woman later known as St. Teresa of Avila spanned roughly the first half—that is from the accession of King Charles I of Spain in 1516 to the death of his son, King Philip II, in 1598—of this so-called Golden Age. While Spain’s cultural achievements continued well into the seventeenth century, Spanish military and economic strength began to decline before Philip II’s death, so that Teresa can be said to have lived during the age in which Spanish power reached its peak.

The driving force behind Spain’s dynamic expansion was its militant adherence to the Catholic faith, forged during the long Reconquest of Spain from the Muslims. Muslim Arabs and North Africans (called Moors) had conquered Spain in the eighth century, and Jews had settled there in their wake, adding to a preexisting Jewish population. The vigorous Moorish culture that resulted blended Islamic, Jewish, and Christian influences, making medieval Spain the most culturally diverse of European lands. Since the Moorish conquest, however, Spain’s Christian kingdoms had waged a long and successful struggle to reconquer the peninsula, a campaign that had taken on the character of a holy war. The Reconquest was concluded by Charles I’s grandparents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who captured the last Moorish stronghold, the southern city of Granada, in 1492.

As they had reconquered Moorish territory, Spain’s Christian rulers had also energetically sought to convert their new Muslim and Jewish subjects to Christianity. Muslims and Jews who refused to convert were ultimately expelled from Spain. In 1492, for example, the same year that Granada was captured, Ferdinand and Isabella also expelled Spain’s remaining Jewish population, amounting to some 170,000 people. Under threat of expulsion, many Muslims and Jews had indeed become Christians: Muslims who converted and their descendants were called Moriscos; Jews who converted and their descendants were called Conversos. In the 1940s historians discovered that Teresa’s father, Alonso Sánchez de Cepeda, was from a Converso family, for Teresa’s paternal grandfather was a Jew from Toledo who converted to Christianity during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Known as the Catholic Monarchs for their strict piety, Ferdinand and Isabella were gravely concerned about their subjects’ religious purity. They were aware that many Moriscos and Conversos had become Christian in name only, accepting baptism but secretly continuing to observe their original faiths. With the Pope’s blessing, the Catholic Monarchs established a special branch of the Church known as the Spanish Inquisition, with broad powers (which eventually included censorship) to ensure that Moriscos and Conversos worshipped according to Catholic standards. Throughout Spain’s Golden Age, both Moriscos and Conversos were subject to continuing persecution by such institutions as the Inquisition, whose methods ranged from interrogation to confiscation of property, torture, and execution by fire. In 1485 the Inquisition in Toledo, suspecting the Sanchez family of Jewish practices, subjected all of them—including Teresa’s father, then five years old—to an examination that culminated in a humiliating procession of penance through the city’s streets, during which they were taunted by their fellow Toledans. Historians believe that it was to escape such persecution that the family moved to Avila in 1493, where Teresa’s grandfather reestablished his successful garment manufacturing business.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation

Starting in 1517, when Teresa was two years old, the European world underwent a major religious upheaval that would extend throughout Teresa’s lifetime and beyond, and in which Teresa herself would play an important part. For centuries complaints had been raised against corruption and abuses within the Catholic Church, but numerous reform movements had resulted in little change. In October 1517, however, a reforming German monk named Martin Luther set in motion a train of events that would result in a momentous division, as former Catholics split away from the Catholic Church and formed what would become the various Protestant churches. Europe could no longer be considered a Catholic continent. Protestantism grew strongest in northern lands such as England, the Netherlands, and the German principalities, where it provided a rallying point for rulers eager to defy Habsburg and Papal authority.

At around the same time an answering Counter-Reformation arose within the Catholic Church, as Catholic leaders attempted to address the Church’s problems without abandoning Catholicism itself. Catholicism remained strong in Spain, which now became the leader of the Catholic world, in France, Spain’s rival for leadership despite a sizeable Protestant minority, and in Italy. In the past, historians have viewed Spain’s leadership of the Catholic Counter-Reformation as primarily repressive and authoritarian in nature. For example, after the Reformation the Spanish Inquisition turned its main attention from Moriscos and Conversos to Protestants, whom they called luteranos (indiscriminately lumping all Protestants together as Lutherans). Thousands of real or suspected luteranos were burned in the Inquisition’s autos-da-fe or “acts of faith,” mass public executions by fire usually attended by large, enthusiastic crowds. Both Spaniards and foreigners in Spain could be subjected to the Inquisition’s feared interrogations and punishments.

More recent scholarship, however, has also recognized a balancing creativity in Spain’s leadership of the Counter-Reformation. In the 1530s, for example, the Spanish priest St. Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556; canonized, 1622) founded the exclusively male religious order known as the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. Unlike other religious orders, many of which accepted primarily wealthy or aristocratic novices, the Jesuits took new members based on scholastic aptitude and general merit, a socially egalitarian approach that would later inspire Teresa in her reform of the Carmelites. Bound by an oath of obedience to the Pope, and working under the centralized command of a general in Rome, this dedicated and highly organized company of priests recognized no local church authorities. Ignatius, the Jesuits’ first general, founded many schools and colleges in Spain, and made the Jesuits into primarily a teaching order.

Combining spiritual discipline, classical education, rigorous training, and intensive foreign missionary activity, the Jesuits became a leading arm of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

The Jesuits were only one example of what amounted to an outbreak of religious fervor in sixteenth-century Spain, resulting in a spate of monastic and other religious foundations. While the Jesuits were certainly concerned with prayer and spiritual matters, their training tended to focus on academic learning and subtle nuances of doctrine and theology. Many Spaniards sought a more direct religious experience, wishing to establish a personal and mystical connection with

LIMPIEZA DE SANGRE AND LA HONRA

Spanish society in the Golden Age deemed it honorable to come from a family without any Moorish or Jewish ancestors, a principle called limpieza de sangre or “purity of blood.” Real or, if necessary, false genealogies could be bought, and Spanish aristocrats often went to great trouble in this way to proclaim their Christian “purity”, a crucial component of one’s all-important honor (la honra). In reality, however, like the future St. Teresa, many Spanish aristocrats were descended from wealthy Jews who had converted to Christianity decades or even centuries earlier. Fewer noble families had ancestors who married Moriscos. Laws often restricted important positions in the Catholic Church to so-called “Old Christians,” excluding those suspected of Converso or Morisco ancestry.

The rejection of such considerations in deciding whom to admit to her convents was an important element of Teresa’s Carmelite Reform, one that historians suggest may have had origins in Teresa’s own Converso background. In The Interior Castle, as in her other writings, Teresa seems to oppose such prejudices, if always in veiled terms. For example, she writes that in the outer rooms of the castle “souls are still absorbed in the world and engulfed in their pleasures and vanities, with their honors and pretenses” (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, p. 293). Critics have seen this and similar passages as referring to such pervasive social preoccupations as limpieza de sangre and honra.

the divine. Starting in the early 1500s, groups of mystics called alumbrados or “illuminated ones” began appearing in Spanish towns and cities. Meeting informally in private homes, the alumbrados often belonged to various established Catholic religious orders—some might be monks or nuns, others priests. They shared a belief that the individual could be “illuminated” by the Holy Spirit so that he or she could understand Christian Scripture without the benefit of rigorous academic training.

Appearing as early as 1509, the first alumbrados predated the Protestant Reformation by nearly a decade, and historians believe that their movement arose independently, although from impulses similar to those that motivated many Protestants. At first Spanish authorities tolerated them, but after the Reformation the Inquisition targeted the alumbrados as dangerous heretics, in effect luteranos who shared the Protestant belief that God and humans could commune without the intermediary of the Church. Issuing its first edict against the movement in 1525, the Inquisition persecuted a number of alumbrado leaders, several of them women, sentencing them to be publicly whipped and then imprisoned for life. Despite the success of such measures in breaking up the groups, accusations of alumbradismo resurfaced periodically in succeeding years, reaching another peak in southern Spain in the 1560s and 1570s, when the Inquisition published further edicts banning alumbrado beliefs and practices (in 1568 and 1574).

This second wave of persecution occurred in response to a phenomenon that had little in common with the original alumbrados, other than the fact that many of the persecuted worshippers again were women. The groups in southern Spain were, in fact, mostly women. They were engaged in ecstatic prayer under the direction of a male leader, and the alleged alumbrados were this time charged with sexual misconduct rather than heresy. In 1577, the same year in which she later wrote Teresa herself faced similar charges (see below). In The Interior Castle and other writings, Teresa takes great pains to forestall any such accusations of alumbradismo against herself, repeatedly and explicitly praising accepted Catholic virtues such as chastity and distancing herself from any heretical beliefs that could be associated with the movement.

Women in the Church and society

The Catholic Church has based its exclusion of women from the priesthood largely on several passages in the New Testament. Most important are those attributed to St. Paul, who tells Christian men, “Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience” (1 Corinthians 14:34; Authorized King James Version). Again, Paul enjoins Christians, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection,” claiming that the example of Eve—who was deceived by the serpent, in contrast to Adam, who was not—justifies the Church’s not permitting “a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (1 Timothy 2:11–12). Furthermore, Paul implies elsewhere, the feminine disposition is likewise especially susceptible to deception by false prophets, who easily beguile “silly women laden with sins, led away with various lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6–7).

While the official structure of the Catholic priesthood has always been shut off to women religious figures, who have therefore had only the unofficial venue of the convent in which to follow their calling, this doctrine of so-called “Pauline silence” has been interpreted with varying degrees of strictness at various times. The late medieval period, for example, saw a flowering of female mystics, many recognized as Catholic saints, who wrote highly influential accounts of their visions and other inner experiences. Examples from the fourteenth century include the Italian mystic St. Catherine of Siena, who was illiterate but dictated her widely read works, and the English Mother Julian of Norwich, whose revelations depicted Christ as a nurturing Mother.

By the time of the Renaissance in the late fifteenth century, humanists like the Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466–1536) rejected the assumption that women were spiritually inferior to men, denying as well that special education was necessary to understand Christian Scripture. Erasmus advocated ideas that were taken up by the Protestants during his lifetime, such as translating Scripture into the vernacular to make it accessible to all, but he himself remained a Catholic. His influential writings were embraced in Spain before the Reformation by Cardinal Ximénez Cisneros, Spain’s leading Catholic official, who oversaw the translation into Spanish of works by a number of mystics, both men and women. In general, Cisneros supported a greater role for women in the Church. He established religious education for nuns and promoted Spanish women mystics, such as his contemporary María de Santo Domingo, whom Cisneros successfully defended when the Pope’s investigators arrived to ascertain the validity of her visions.

MYSTICISM AND OUTSIDERS

Some historians have noted that, like Teresa, a high proportion of Spanish mystics have come from Converso backgrounds. For example, another saint from sixteenth-century Avila, St John of Avila, was also a Converso, as was Teresa’s younger colleague St. John of the Cross, who followed Teresa’s reform of Carmelite convents with corresponding reforms of Carmelite monasteries. These historians speculate that the Con-versos’ status as outsiders in Spanish society helped foster an especially strong, internalized faith that sought a deeper expression than the externalized rituals common in Catholic practice. Historians have also attributed similar motives to the many women mystics active in such movements as that of the alum-brados. The Interior Castle explores the landscape of this internalized faith. Ironically, an emphasis on internal faith often provoked suspicion from Catholic institutions such as the Spanish Inquisition, for the Church had reacted to similar impulses among the Protestants by enforcing an even greater reliance on ritual. Supporters of this increased ritualization were among Teresa’s strongest opponents in the controversies surrounding her reforms.

Cisneros died in 1517, the same year that the Reformation began, and his successors effected a backlash against his liberal policies. The persecution of the alumbrados mentioned above was part of the reaction that followed Cisneros’s death, as was a general diminution of the role of women in the Catholic Church. It was during this extended backlash that Teresa lived, worked, and wrote. The backlash can be seen as part of Spain’s complex response to the Reformation, for while the Catholic Church did attempt to reform abuses within its institutions as part of the Counter-Reformation, at the same time the Inquisition strove to censor humanist and Erasmian influences as dangerously close to Protestantism.

However, the decreased participation of women in the Church can also be seen as more truly reflecting the values of a conservative society, one that traditionally shut women of Teresa’s class out of public life, strictly cloistering them in either the home or the convent. Middle- and upper-class girls in Spain were carefully watched over by their parents until marriage, when the husband replaced the parents as the guardian of a woman’s honor. Girls were expected to marry in their teens. Teresa’s mother, for example, Beat-riz de Ahumada, had married at 15 (Alonso Sánchez, whose first wife had died, was 29 when he married Teresa’s mother).

REFORM AND CONTROVERSY

A major element of Teresa’s Carmelite reform was her emphasis on internal devotion as opposed to external ritual, as exemplified by her demands for her nuns to practice mental prayer. This and other similar practices left her potentially vulnerable to charges of luteranismo (Protestantism), charges that she is careful to forestall in her writings. For example, throughout The Interior Castle she calls for mental prayer along with vocal prayer rather than instead of it Still, her reforms stirred constant controversy during her lifetime, and she was always in danger of persecution by institutions such as the Spanish Inquisition.

If a girl did not marry, as Teresa had not by the advanced age of 20, her parents would likely decide to place her in a convent, and she would become a nun. The convent generally demanded a substantial dowry or cash payment as an entrance fee, which her father would pay, just as he would pay a dowry to her husband if she married. Often her social life would continue in the convent, where the nuns would usually be segregated by class, with the wealthier sisters enjoying special comforts and privileges. Starting in the 1560s, Teresa’s reforms would abolish such practices in the convents she founded, for Teresa insisted that her convents be cloistered and subsist on charitable donation, and that life there be based on internal religious devotion rather than on social connections, class, or wealth.

The Allegory in Focus

Contents summary

Teresa dedicates The Interior Castle to her sisters of the Carmelite Reform, otherwise known as the Discalced or Unshod Carmelites (to distinguish themselves from the other Carmelites, as well as to symbolize their poverty and humility, the Discalced Carmelites wore only sandals, not shoes). In a brief Prologue she explains that she has been ordered by her superiors to write about her techniques of prayer. Because for several months she has felt ill and has had difficulty concentrating, she prays for help performing the task.

In the first chapter she records that, when she prayed for assistance in writing, an image came into her mind of the soul as a beautiful castle of diamond or crystal, with many moradas or dwelling places, “just as there are many dwelling places in heaven” (Interior Castle, p. 283). Accordingly, the book is divided into seven sections corresponding to the seven groups of dwelling places she perceives in the soul. The first or outer dwelling places represent the least spiritually enlightened state, and the seventh or central ones represent the dwelling place of God, the King who rules the castle. These seven sections fall into two larger parts, with the first part (dwelling places one through three) covering normal human spiritual experience, and the second part (dwelling places four through seven) covering mystical, less accessible aspects of spiritual development.

  • The First Dwelling Places. The first step is to enter the castle, for many souls are content to admire the castle’s beautiful walls from the outside or to stay in the outer courtyard. The soul, by entering the castle, enters itself, and “the door of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection” (Interior Castle, p. 286). Souls that do not pray are like bodies that are crippled and paralyzed. Souls that have entered the first dwelling places, however, see only a little of the glowing light that emanates from the King’s inner chambers. The first room represents self-knowledge, which in turn leads to all-important humility. Yet the devil puts many temptations in these first rooms, and the soul must be determined in pushing on to explore further and not succumbing to pleasurable distractions.
  • The Second Dwelling Places. These rooms are for souls who have begun to practice prayer, and who now are called upon to make even greater efforts and face greater afflictions from the devil. Those souls must persevere, and “shouldn’t be thinking about consolations at this beginning stage” (Interior Castle, p. 300).
  • The Third Dwelling Places. Souls that have progressed to these rooms have achieved a disciplined life in general accordance with Christian principles. Yet they continue to cling to worldly pleasures such as wealth and honor, and risk complacently turning away from further effort. They rarely achieve a real depth or selflessness in their prayer and reflections.
  • The Fourth Dwelling Places. “Supernatural experiences begin here,” Teresa writes of the highly beautiful rooms of the fourth dwelling places, but such experiences “are something most difficult to explain” (Interior Castle, p. 316). She emphasizes a basic difference, that between active prayer achieved by human will (as in the previous rooms), and passive or quiet prayer in which the individual lets go of the intellect and surrenders to the peace of God’s love. At this early stage of mystical development, the individual practices both active (or natural) and passive (or supernatural) prayer. The former is like filling a water trough through man-made aqueducts, while the latter is like filling it from underneath through a bubbling spring.
  • The Fifth Dwelling Places. The souls who make it this far have mastered pure passive prayer, which is “not some kind of dreamy state” but a meditative yet delightful union with God in which the soul seems separated from the body (Interior Castle, p. 337). Here, in The Interior Castle’s most famous image, Teresa employs the analogy of a silkworm to illustrate how the soul ends its life of worldly attachments, emerging from its cocoon in God’s dwelling place to find new life in Christ as a small white butterfly. In another analogy, she compares the remaining stages of spiritual development to the process of courtship, engagement, and marriage. Two people first find out if they are compatible, then if so they get to know each other more deeply, and finally they cement their love in a perfect union.
  • The Sixth Dwelling Places. Where the other dwelling places are described in sections of from one to four short chapters each, Teresa’s description of the sixth dwelling places fills eleven chapters, making this the longest section in The Interior Castle. Teresa expands on the metaphor of marriage, stressing that the soul must possess courage to be joined in its spiritual union with God. This courage, which comes from God after mental and vocal prayer, helps the soul through many external and internal trials, such as adversity from others, the praise and flattery attendant on success, illnesses, and inner fears and doubts. To the soul that withstands these trials God shows secrets, revelations, and visions, and the soul begins to understand divine mysteries. Some of the visions are intellectual (sustained revelations taking place in the mind), others she calls imaginative (comparatively fleeting sensory impressions). Yet the soul must reach a further state in which it is able to put aside its wonder at divine things and recollect instead that Christ was human as well as divine. The soul must perceive that all blessings come from God through the fully divine yet fully human Christ. Teresa stresses that theological discussion about Christ is different from the experiential reality of mystical union with Him.
  • The Seventh Dwelling Places. The prayers and visions of the fifth and sixth dwelling places, Teresa tells us, join the soul to God “by making it blind and deaf” with delight, so that the soul does not perceive the true nature of the union: “In this seventh dwelling place the union comes about in a different way: our good God now desires to remove the scales from the soul’s eyes and let it see and understand … the favor He grants it” (Interior Castle, p. 430). Where earlier revelations concerned God and then Christ, the intellectual visions now granted to the soul bring a deep and intuitive understanding of the Holy Trinity (God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit). The soul grasps that “these Persons are distinct,” yet “through an admirable knowledge the soul understands as a most profound truth that all three Persons are one substance and one power and one knowledge and one God alone” (Interior Castle, p. 430). After revisiting the metaphor of marriage to illustrate the mystical union between God and the soul, Teresa concludes by exhorting her sisters to remember that “the Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done” (Interior Castle, p. 450).

Teresa’s rhetorical subservience

Teresa begins The Interior Castle’s Prologue with the following statement: “Not many things that I have been ordered to do under obedience have been as difficult for me as this present task of writing about prayer” (Interior Castle, p. 281). To a Catholic reader, the phrase “under obedience,” would recall St. Paul’s well-known pronouncement (quoted above) concerning feminine silence and subservience in the Church. Throughout the rest of the book that follows, in different ways Teresa will continually reiterate the point that she is writing with some reluctance on orders from her (male) Carmelite superiors. For example, only a few lines later, near the end of the Prologue, Teresa writes:

In all that I say I submit to the opinion of the ones who ordered me to write, for they are persons of great learning. If I should say something that isn’t in conformity with what the holy Roman Catholic Church holds, it will be through ignorance and not through malice.

(Interior Castle, p. 282)

Here Teresa links the idea that she is writing under orders with the idea that she, a woman, is herself ignorant. Several pages into the text, she then explicitly reinforces the connection between her ignorance and her femininity: “Learned and wise men know about these things very well, but everything is necessary for our womanly dullness of mind” (Interior Castle, p. 290). This point, too, is one that she will continually reiterate in different ways throughout the remainder of the book.

While they exemplify Carmelite ideals of obedience and humility, Teresa’s repeated disavowals of intent and her conspicuous self-deprecation can also be seen as a protective strategy for a woman who wrote at a time when the penalties for incautious religious pronouncements could (and often did) include arrest, torture, and death. While both men and women risked such punishments, the dangers for women were particularly high, owing to the traditional strictures on women in the Catholic Church at large and in Spanish society in particular. In light of this very real threat, critic Alison Weber has found a similarly defensive role in The Interior Castle for several aspects of Teresa’s style, including her consistent vagueness and avowed uncertainty when referring to Christian Scripture (scriptural commentary, which fell under the rubric of teaching, was an especially restricted field for women).

Similarly, Weber notes, Teresa frequently laments her own incompetence and disorganization, leaving it to God to see that she gets things right. “Since this work is for my Sisters, the disorder won’t matter much,” she says disarmingly (Interior Castle, p. 354). As Weber observes, such disclaimers, it could be hoped, might serve to deflect the potentially hostile gaze of the Inquisition: “the depreciatory statements about women in this work must be understood as part of a strategy that carves out an area of ‘insignificant’ discourse unworthy of male scrutiny” (Weber, p. 103). In Golden Age Spain, women knew, male scrutiny could be fatal.

Sources and literary context

Teresa’s courage in writing The Interior Castle is underscored by the fact that even as she accepted the assignment, a previous work, her Life, was being held and examined by the Inquisition. Indeed, Friar Gracián, her friend, supporter, and Carmelite superior, originally asked her to write the book that became The Interior Castle precisely because the earlier work was unavailable, and he wished her to provide the nuns the same assistance in prayer that they might otherwise have found in the relevant parts of the Life.

Although the meditative techniques described in The Interior Castle were Teresa’s own, critical studies have shown that she drew on a wide range of sources for literary inspiration, including both secular and religious works. As a girl, she had avidly read chivalric romances, and much of her language—for example, the conception and description of the castle, romantic images of love and union, as well as martial images of battles and victories—may reflect this early literary interest. However, the religious fervor of the sixteenth century saw an explosion of mystical writings, and the metaphor of a castle was a common one in describing the soul and spirituality. For example, a major literary influence on Teresa was the Spanish Franciscan monk and mystic Francisco de Osuna, who had used that very metaphor in his popular Third Spiritual ABC. Teresa’s copy of that work survives, with just such a passage marked by crosses in the margin.

Composition and impact

The Interior Castle was composed in two month-long spurts of writing in the summer and fall of 1577. It was an especially turbulent year for the 62-year-old Teresa and her Discalced Carmelites, who were no strangers to controversy in the best of times. Earlier that year, a disgruntled nun at the new Discalced Carmelite convent in the important city of Seville had denounced both Teresa and Friar Gracián to the Inquisition for alumbradismo and licentious behavior. The Inquisition rapidly dismissed the charges, but only after subjecting Teresa, who was acting as the convent’s prioress (head) at the time, to a stringent examination. Political struggles with the Caked (Shod or unreformed) Carmelites were going badly, and the Carmelites’ superior general had withdrawn his support for her reforms, forbidding further foundations and ordering Teresa to sequester herself in the order’s Toledo convent. That same year, Nicolás Ormaneto, a Papal envoy and her main supporter at the Vatican, died, and was replaced by an official who was hostile to Teresa. In that year, too, her protégé and fellow Carmelite reformer, John of the Cross, was jailed in a Calced monastery, also in Toledo. On top of it all, as she complains in The Interior Castle, a number of health problems added to her difficulties in concentrating.

Yet the resulting work has been widely recognized as Teresa’s masterpiece. Leading scholars today rank her, along with St. John of the Cross, as one of the two pillars of Spanish mysticism, as well as a defining voice of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The Interior Castle was published along with her other works in 1588, six years after its author’s death, and its detailed, authentic descriptions of her approach to spirituality was instrumental in facilitating her canonization by the Catholic Church in 1622. The original copy in Teresa’s hand, bound in red leather, is treasured by the nuns of the Discalced Carmelite convent in Seville, who keep it in a castle-shaped reliquary to preserve this relic of their founding saint.

—Colin Wells

For More Information

Ahlgren, Gillian T. W. Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Bilinkoff, Jodi. The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century City. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Clissold, Stephen. St. Teresa of Avila. New York: Seabury, 1982.

Defourneaux, Marcelin. Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age. Trans. Newton Branch. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979.

Dominguez Ortiz, Antonio. The Golden Age of Spain 1516–1659. Trans. James Casey. London: Wei-denfeld and Nicolson, 1971.

Frohlich, Mary. The Inter subjectivity of the Mystic: A Study of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994.

Slade, Carol. St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Lynch, John. Spain Under the Habshurgs. Vol. 1 of Empire and Absolutism 1516–1598. Oxford: Blackwell, 1965.

Teresa of Avila, Saint. The Interior Castle. In The Collected Works of St. Teresaof Avila. Vol. 2. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980.

Weber, Alison. Teresa of Avila and the Rhetoric of Femininity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Wilson, Katharina M., ed. Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

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