Title: Teresa of Ávila
Author: Shirley du Boulay
I just finished reading Shirley du Boulay's book "Teresa of Ávila—An Extraordinary Life". I had previously read St. Teresa's own autobiography, but Boulay's biography covers her entire life and fills in several details that I did not know about. For example, Teresa did a good deal of traveling all over Spain, and considering just how difficult traveling was in the 16th Century, her journeys were often feats of endurance. Boulay's book was very well written and quite vivid, and it kept its attention squarely fixed on the person within the context wherein she live, and best of all, it refrained from trying to conscript St. Teresa into serving some sort of 21st Century political purpose.
St. Teresa of Ávila, who canonized in 1622 and was later declared the "patroness of Spain" in 1812, had a very active and extraordinary life, to say the least. And, in many ways, her life was very far-removed from my own: I'm a 21st Century "charismatic" (for lack of a better term), and she was a 16th Century Spanish Catholic "mystic" and foundress of numerous Discalced Carmelite convents. That's a pretty wide gap in fact, but nevertheless, for some strange reason, I found her life fascinating, and although she had some rather beyond-this-world experiences — and I'm one of those persons who doesn't have too much trouble accepting the possibility of beyond-this-world experiences — Teresa always seemed very lively, witty, humorous, practical, and down to earth in many ways.
However, the thing that was shocking to me was how veneration of relics got a little out of hand especially with regard to Teresa after she died in October of 1582. Over the course of time, her body, to put it crudely, was pretty much carved up and spread all over the landscape, with pieces here and pieces there, even if it was done with the best of intentions. As regards to the resurrection of the dead, well, even so, it presents no difficulties. In any case, I imagine that the Catholic Church is nowadays a little more strict about how these matters are conducted. By the way, I remember finding the website of an organization dedicated to stopping the illicit trade in relics.
I do recommend Boulay's biography. I picked it up at Borders Books just recently.
Addendum: Of course, everyone is familiar with Bernini's erotically overwrought depiction of Teresa's "transverberation". And it's funny but I also vaguely remember seeing long ago a movie about some Spaniards stealthily hauling a really big cannon to go blow some holes in the walls of a city occupied by soldiers of Napoleon. They were doing it for Santa Teresa, if I remember it rightly. Or at least they were invoking her help in driving Napoleon out of Spain. I'm not completely sure which, but I'm pretty sure St. Teresa was somewhere in the movie. But it was helpful for the Spaniards to have the cannon, and the French general had a rather surprised expression on his face when he saw it.