Ahhhhh! Avila, Spain


City of the Knights, birthplace of Saint Teresa, UNESCO designated as the world’s best walled city; and home to mystic, San Juan de la Cruz. Pronounced Ahh-vee-la with the accent on the first syllable.  Almost like taking a breath upon seeing it for the first time.

Look at the size of these stones.  How to lift and place them without a modern crane?  And look on the right side, at the level of each row.  When considering the circumference of more than 8,000 feet around this wall, with turrets, it is mindboggling to me.


Artist painting the cathedral.  The inside of the walls are speckled with painters and paintings for sale.  This guy had the most onlookers of all the painters I saw.

A little history for you, now.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, this land was inhabited by the Visigoths (German warriors) until displaced by the Moors in 714 and recaptured by the Christians in 1088 who began construction on the wall about 1090. This fortification was built on Roman ruins, designed by Moorish architects, construction was managed by Jewish engineers and craftsmen and labor contributed by the Christians. How’s that as an example of everyone working together.             

History and photos of Avila

This magnificent structure is 53 miles northwest of Madrid and is one of the highest cities in Spain. The fortress is 8,202 feet in circumfrance with 90 massive stone turrets, and 7 gates. Obviously built to withstand military attacks and protect the city.


Although the history of Avila is of interest to me, I was surprised and intrigued by the history of St. Teresa.

See: YouTube, Biography of St. Teresa of Avila.

When the tour guide started speaking about St. Teresa, I was only half listening; instead, my attention was on the massive walls and turrets of the city.  However, when he said that in a dispute with the religious leaders of Avila, she left the city, stopped at the top of the hill, took off her sandals and shook the dirt from the bottoms saying “I take nothing with me from Avila, not even the dirt from my shoes” I knew I would have liked this woman.

Her story was interesting when you consider that during her time convents were not necessarily a place to find religious solitude, but instead, a peaceful interlude for people of means.  Nuns could have personal items and relationships with people outside of the convent.  The church was more interested in money than prayer at this time.


Her widowed father sent her to be educated by the Augustinian nuns after the death of her mother.  She appreciated the structure and solitude of her surroundings; joining the Carmelite order at age 21. Later in life she suffered a severe illness that left her legs paralyzed for three years, until she experienced a vision that changed her life forever and spurred her to vigorously reform the Carmelite order to it’s original austere religious tenets.

As a very devout woman, who was known to have experienced many mystical visions; but was often counciled by other priests to “keep her visions to herself,” St. Teresa was an unstoppable force on a mission to reform the church: and, was not known for always doing as she was instructed. She, with the help of St John of the Cross, established more than 14 monestaries prior to her death.

After her death, she was reburied several a times and in several places.  Her body was dissected with pieces going to chapels, and private residences of the rich who wanted a piece of this mystic/saint. (I guess it was like having a rabbit foot – which was never good for the rabbit).

At the same time as St. Teresa you have the mystic, poet, reformer of Spanish monasticism and helper to St. Teresa in restructuring the Carmelites, St. John of the Cross, also in the area of Avila.

St. John is regarded as one of the greatest Spanish poets, and one of the greatest mystical poets of all times. There is a book, “Flame of Love; Poems of the Spiritual Mystics, St. John and St. Teresa of Avila”. Together with his writing of “Dichos de Luz y Amor”  are the most important works of Spanish mystical literature today.

If you ever find yourself in Madrid, with time on your hands, I would suggest a short train ride to Avila .. Or .. Toledo, which is my next blog, or Segovia.


Vaya con dios, amigos!