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Five hundred years with Teresa

How many mothers, how many parents have chosen her name for their daughters. How many women religious (many of whom in their turn became blesseds and saints) have chosen it for their spiritual baptism. How many people, believers and non-believers alike, have found strength and fresh courage to face life in her example and writings. In 500 years – this many have passed since 28 March 1515 – Teresa has left deep marks. 

We therefore decided to dedicate this issue of Donna Chiesa Mondo to her, looking back over her legacy: in the dialogue between a Discalced Carmelite nun and a woman who is an atheist academic (an exception to our rule that there must always be an interview with a Catholic woman on the front page; in the story of a French woman writer who has just dedicated her latest novel to St Teresa; in the inquiry conducted by a Catholic woman historian who is investigating the innumerable metamorphoses to which the saint has been subjected over the course of the centuries; in the narrative of a Jewish woman historian who tells us about Teresa’s non-Christian origins. Yet, meditating on St Teresa also means making a journey through art history, starting with the only portrait to be painted while Teresa was still alive, when she was 60: Fray Juan de la Miseria’s painting (today the image most often reproduced in the large number of souvenirs on sale at Avila) brings back the features of an intelligent woman, strong and certain (“God forgive you, Fray Juan, that after all you have made me go through you have finally brought me out very old and ugly”, she said to the artist). And although important painters portrayed her at the height of a mystical ecstasy – among others, Zurbarán, Velázquez, Ribera and Rubens – the one who made Teresa the very symbol of mysticism was Bernini, with his masterpiece that is now in the Roman church of Santa Maria della Vittoria; all these forma gallery of images capable of moving Teresa away from the reductive model of an obedient nun. Teresa thus emerged through the centuries until in the 20th century shebecame an icon for artists very different from each other, among them the Pole Tamara de Limpicka and the Belgian Ade Bethune, whose saints in black and white illustrated the pages of the Catholic Worker for decades. But it is Teresa herself who projects us into the future: “I see”, she wrote in The Way of Perfection, “that these are times in which it would be wrong to undervalue virtuous and strong souls, even though they are women”. (g.g.)

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