500 Years of Teresa de Ávila
Booth Family Center for Special Collections
Georgetown University Library

by Barbara Mujica

© 2015 Barbara Mujica
48 pages

Introduction to the book --

Books were vital to Teresa de Ávila (known in the Spanish-speaking world as Teresa de Jesús) from the time she was a girl. The daughter and granddaughter of conversos (converted Jews), Teresa learned to read at an early age. She mentions in her Vida that as a child she was an avid reader of chivalric novels, a passion she shared with her mother: "I was so completely taken up with this reading that I didn’t think I could be happy if I didn’t have a new book" (2:1). Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a successful silk and woolens merchant, a profession that would have required him to draw up letters of agreement, contracts, and payment and production schedules. Furthermore, like many other conversos, Alonso, like his father, bought a patent of nobility to prove that he was an "old Christian"—that is, a Christian with no Jewish or Muslim ancestors—and was constantly involved in litigation to legitimize his claim to "pure blood." Even if Teresa never read a single one of her father’s documents, she would have grown up aware of the importance of the written word. When Teresa’s mother died in 1528, the future saint became swept up in the social whirl of Ávila. Her father, concerned that she would fall prey to negative influences, placed her in the Augustinian Convent of Our Lady of Grace as a boarder. Teresa writes in her Vida that she had no intention of becoming a nun. However, under the influence of the novice mistress, María de Briceńo, she eventually changed her mind. She entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation in 1536, at the age of 21.


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