On November 28, 1568, the first Sunday of Advent, the life of the Discalced Carmelite friars began.
A benefactor had given Madre Teresa of Jesus a house in a “little town of very few inhabitants” in the province of Avila, called Duruelo. The chapel in the photo is built on the site of the former convent.
When she went to visit it, on her way to Valladolid, she found that it was so poor and so dirty that neither she nor her companions dared to spend the night there: “When we entered the house it was in such a state that we dared not remain there that night; it wasn’t at all clean and was filled with vermin [Teresa jokingly wrote, filled with august persons]” (The Book of the Foundations 13.3).
Despite the misery of the place and the fact that the others found it inadequate, she thought it might be a good place to start the foundation of the discalced friars and that they would move on as soon as a better opportunity arose: “It had a fairly good entrance way, a room double in size, a loft, and a small kitchen. This was all we had for our monastery. I figured that the entrance way could serve as the chapel, the loft as the choir, which would adapt well, and the room for sleeping” (Foundations 13.3).
Fray John of the Cross adapted it as best as he could and on November 28, in the company of Fray Antonio de Jesús (Heredia), he inaugurated the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo (Cf. Foundations 14).
Soon two other companions joined them and they adopted the Constitutions that Teresa had prepared for her nuns, with slight variations.
Driven by Madre Teresa herself, from the beginning they united an intense apostolic and missionary activity with the contemplative spirit and the “style of both our community life and the recreation” of the sisters, as she tells us in the Book of the Foundations (14.8):
They used to go preach in many of the neighboring towns where the people were left without any instructions in Christian doctrine. On this account also I rejoiced that the house had been founded there. […] In a short time the reputation the Fathers had was so great that I experienced the deepest consolation when I learned of it.
At the beginning of 1569, the Madre returned from Valladolid to her convent of Saint Joseph in Avila, passing first through Medina del Campo and Duruelo. She herself relates that in Duruelo she found Father Antonio Heredia sweeping the door of the convent. When she asked him: “My father, what has become of honor?” the good friar answered: “I curse the day I had it.”
Although she approved of the poor, contemplative, and apostolic life of her sons, she rebuked them for their ascetic excesses and tried to put a stop to their penances:
“After conversing with those Fathers, I spoke of some things and begged them especially—since I am weak and wretched—not to be so rigorous in penitential practices, for what they were doing was severe. Since it had cost me so much in desire and prayer for the Lord to give me some friars to begin with and I saw such a good start, I feared lest the devil would attempt to put an end to this beginning before what I hoped for could be accomplished” (Foundations 14.12).
Among other things, she asked them to be careful with their meals and hygiene and to wear espadrilles [sandals, like the nuns], because until then they were totally barefoot.
Thanks to her words, they restrained themselves a little, but she recognizes with a certain bitterness that they did not do enough: “Since they engaged in practices in which I did not, they paid little attention to my words about giving them up” (Foundations 14.12).
In that society, it wasn’t easy to accept Teresa’s humanitarian proposal. Everyone was convinced that the greatest perfection is found in the greatest penance, so generous souls enthusiastically gave themselves to what St. John of the Cross, much later, with Teresa’s values already fully assumed, would call “penance of beasts” (The Dark Night I.6.2, “corporeal penance without obedience is no more than a penance of beasts”).
For the moment, the friars of Duruelo began an adventure with great enthusiasm that matured in the following years and that today continues in the Discalced Carmelite Friars spread all over the world.
Translation from the Spanish text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.