The remarkable nature of St Teresa’s life never put a doubt in her contemporaries minds that she was a saint and very quickly after her death, the process of collecting testimonials from eye-witnesses began in earnest.
A collection of testimonials from all over Spain about Teresa was commissioned by King Philip II, an avid fan of Teresa during her life, on the advice of his confessor, Juan de Yepes. He had witnessed the incorrupt body of Teresa and also claimed that fresh blood had flowed from her body.
As the body of the saint was kept in the town of Alba de Tormes, in the Diocese of Salamanca, the bishop of Salamanca, Jeronimo Manrique, began the procedure. The three reasons given for the opening of the process were – the incorruptibility of her body (it remained incorrupt nine years after her death), the marvels or miracles that God was said to have performed through her intercession and her virtuous life.
There was a question about the orthodoxy of Teresa’s words and this delayed the process for a time in the 1590s. Her confessor, Jerome Gracian wrote a treatise defending her doctrines in 1597. Following this, various institutions and individuals petitioned the papacy to have her beatified.
In 1604, the Congregation of Rites opened an investigation into the miracles attributed to her intercession.
‘Many witness testified to Teresa’s “many hours” of prayer and her levitation during ecstatic prayer. Others described a glow in Teresa’s face when she prayed. A few recounted an episode in which Teresa was taken into a rapture while cooking in the kitchen. Although absorbed in intense prayer, the ever-practical Teresa did not let go of the frying pan and lost not a drop of the convents’s only remaining oil.’ (See notes)
‘Those who knew Teresa best bore witness to the intense physicality of her prayer life….The physical components of Teresa’s prayer life could be disruptive to the entire religious community.’ (See notes)
‘The testimony of many of Teresa’s confessors is also very strong on the quality of Teresa’s prayer life, although their main concern was its orthodoxy. Their statements often reflect the fact that Teresa won them over from scepticism to confidence about the veracity of her prayer, often because, as one of them says, “she knew things it was impossible to know without revelation.” (See notes)
The result of reading her writings and the edification people experienced from them was an important part of the testimonials during the process. Her books were promoting vocations to the discalced Carmelites and improving the spiritual lives of those who read them.
Study of Teresa’s virtuous life focused mainly on her humility, obedience and penitence of which there were many testimonies. A number of miracles were attributed to her intercession, but only 12 of these were focused on.
The final verification process began in 1609. In a papal brief dated the 24th of April 1614, Paul V beatified Teresa. She was canonized by Gregory XV on March 12th, 1622, along with Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Phillip Neri and Isidore the Worker.
Notes from the Papal bull of Gregory XV
‘She believed and confessed the Holy Sacraments of the Church and the other dogmas of the Catholic Religion with such firmness and truth that, as she often said, she could not have been surer of anything else.’
‘Not only did she make many prayers [on behalf of the unfaithful and the heretics], but she also offered up fasts and disciplines and with other exquisite torments she afflicted and mortified her body.’
Obedience to superiors:
‘The vows and promises concerning the observance and profession of her religion which she had offered to God she kept with great precesion, care, and diligence, and not only did she perfect and accomplish all her outward acts with great humility in accordance with the will and opinion of her superiors, but she firmly proposed in her heart to subject and offer all her thoughts and works to them.’
‘[She was a new Deborah] having conquered and triumphed over her flesh with perpetual virginity, and over the world with admirable humility, and over all the machinations and temptations of the devil with great and abundant virtues … exceeded and surpassed feminine nature with admirable courage and strength of will.’
All information abridged and notes taken from ‘Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity’ by Gillian TW Ahlgren
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