“Mystical ecstasy, the ultimate experience of a human being, is something that St. Teresa thought was an art,” said a professor of history and religious studies from Yale University on Friday in the Gentile Gallery.
Carlos Eire, a refugee from Havana, Cuba, and well-learned author who holds a doctorate from Yale, gave a presentation regarding the life of St. Teresa of Avila and subsequent art depicting it.
Eire said that initially, Teresa’s prayer was not heartfelt, despite being in a Carmelite convent. Furthermore, she became deathly sick to the point that Eire said Teresa’s body “had betrayed her.”
It was not until Teresa was middle-aged that she began to see visions of God after praying before an image of the scourged Jesus. Eire said that Teresa’s ecstasies, particularly her transverberation, were excruciatingly painful yet at the same time unimaginably joyful.
“She did not like being thought of as what she was: a saint and a great woman,” Eire said. He noted that Teresa would often levitate during her ecstasies, which drew unwanted attention to her. In response, she would often speak humbly and refer to herself as merely a poor woman.
Eire spoke on Teresa’s life and legacy as a whole and mentioned her many writings on the faith, which included accounts of her personal experiences with God. Furthermore, she established 17 convents across Spain and acted as a reformer for the Catholic Church from within.
Throughout the lecture, Eire utilized graphic hagiography — 16th century illustrated images of the lives of the saints — to depict Teresa’s life. The most important of these images depicted Teresa’s transverberation, or her mystical ecstasy during which she was pierced by an angel’s dart and felt God’s presence.
Eire finished the lecture by presenting different artistic depictions of Teresa’s transverberation, which Eire described as feeling like one’s soul is being yanked from the body. Depictions ranged from angels to the child Jesus himself striking Teresa with a dart, allowing her to experience God in her ecstasy.
Commenting on the lecture, senior Dominica Bean said, “I thought it was really interesting how … the ecstasies and the mysticism that (Teresa) experienced weren’t something that she earned; they were something that she received as a gift from God.”
Sophomore Maria Carneckis was also impressed by the talk. She said, “I really appreciated how (Eire) was able to describe articulately what the experience was like (spiritually and physically).”
The presentation was organized by Franciscan University of Steubenville’s English department and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences as a part of the university’s Friday Academic Lecture Series.