[O]nly the Lord can know the unbearable torments I suffered within myself: my tongue, bitten to pieces; my throat unable to let even water pass down—from not having swallowed anything and from the great weakness that oppressed me; everything seeming to be disjointed; the greatest confusion in my head; all shriveled and drawn together in a ball.
The result of the torments of those four days [15–19 August 1539, when she was 24 years old] was that I was unable to stir, not an arm or a foot, neither hand nor head, unable to move as though I were dead; only one finger on my right hand it seems I was able to move.
Since there was no way of touching me, because I was so bruised that I couldn’t endure it, they moved me about in a sheet, one of the nuns at one end and another at the other.
Right away I was in such a hurry to return to the convent that I made them bring me back as I was. The one they expected to be brought back dead they received alive; but the body, worse than dead, was a pity to behold.
The state of my weakness was indescribable, for I was then only bones. I may add that the above condition lasted for more than eight months. The paralysis, although it gradually got better, lasted almost three years.
When I began to go about on hands and knees, I praised God. With great conformity to His will, I suffered all those years and—if not in these early sufferings—with great gladness. For it was all a trifle to me in comparison with the pains and torments suffered in the beginning.
I was very conformed to the will of God, and I would have remained so even had He left me in this condition forever. It seems to me that all my longing to be cured was that I might remain alone in prayer as was my custom, for in the infirmary the suitable means for this was lacking. I went to confession very often.
I spoke much about God in such a way that I was edifying to everyone, and they were amazed at the patience the Lord gave me. For if this patience had not come from the hand of His Majesty, it seemed it would have been impossible to suffer so much with so great contentment.
Saint Teresa of Avila
The Book of Her Life, Chap. 6, nos. 1–2
Note: Many questions have been raised over the centuries concerning this illness of Saint Teresa. One interesting article discussing the question was Saint Teresa of Avila: Did She Have Epilepsy? written by Professor Marcella Biro Barton, published in 1982 in The Catholic Historical Review Vol. 68, No. 4 (Oct., 1982), pp. 581-598. Professor Barton theorizes that St. Teresa suffered from temporal-lobe seizures.
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Featured image: This detailed screenshot shows the scene where the famed Spanish actress Concha Velasco portrays St. Teresa waking from the supposed coma during “the torments of those four days” in August 1539.
That’s amazing! I have temporal lobe epilepsy. I never knew I had a Patron in that. It is one of the disabilities which has seriously impaired my life. How amazing to think my holy Mother might have shared my sufferings, and, evidently here, to a much worse degree.
You can register on J-Stor to read articles as an independent researcher… this is fascinating. The author’s husband was a psychiatrist.