Week 4: A Tale of 4 Cities!

Week four was filled with many wonderful adventures! In my class, we learned about St. Teresa’s four major works, including The Book of Her Life, The Way of Perfection, The Foundations, and The Dwellings. Tuesday afternoon my class and I took a trip to the town of Alba de Tormes. 100_4004 We first went to the remains of the Castle of the Dukes of Alba. Most of the castle was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, but one tower still remains. Beautiful frescos decorate the walls and the ground floor contains objects found during the excavation of this sight. We then went to the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Annunciation where St. Teresa’s tomb is located. 100_4032 Her tomb is beautifully displayed over the altar. This church also contained some of St. Teresa’s relics, including her heart and her arm. It was incredible to see the heart that was pierced by Christ in the transverberation! 100_4028 Thursday afternoon, my class had the pleasure of celebrating mass at the Convent of Saint Joseph, the first convent founded by St. Teresa. Mass was celebrated in the primitive chapel, where St. Teresa and her fellow sisters celebrated their firs mass together. There is a larger church attached to the chapel, but the chapel has been beautifully preserved. Friday, my class and I spent the day in Salamanca. Upon our arrival, the tour guide first took us to the old Roman bridge that was once was a famous spot on the road to Santiago de Comp Estella. Next to the bridge is an ancient statue of a bull. This was the same bull that is in the famous Spanish novel Lazarillo de Tormes, which I have read in my Spanish classes at home! 100_4041 We then went to the New and Old Cathedrals. The two cathedrals are right next to each other and tower over the entire city. The guide also explained the history behind the University of Salamanca and the Pontifical University. Years ago, doctoral candidates not only had to pass their exams. They also had to kill a bull and write their name on the university wall with the bull’s blood. Talk about physical and mental exhaustion! The names still cover the outside walls. After visiting the main city plaza, my friends and I enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine. In the afternoon, we visited the Dominican Monastery of Saint Esteban. The beautiful church was filled with paintings and sculptures of famous Dominican saints. 100_4112 We then visited the old lecture halls and the library at the University and a few of the small museums filled with books and information about the University and the library. 100_4120 100_4123 Saturday morning my friends Veronica, Madeline, and I woke up super early to catch to travel to Granada. After our long train ride, we indulged in some delicious gelato and the walked to the Dominican Monastery where the Venerable Luis of Granada and wrote many of his works. His books of prayer were very influential in St. Teresa’s life. 100_4127 The outside of the church is decorated with beautiful frescos. We then climbed up the huge hill to the Alhambra. Before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took the throne in 1492, unifying Spain under their rule, Granada was one of the last places occupied by the Muslims. The beautiful architecture in the city reflects this unique influence. 100_4138 The Alhambra used to be the Muslim ruler’s palace. This spectacular palace is filled with intricately carved walls and elegant tile work. 100_4143 We also explored the military fortress used for protection, located next to the palace. 100_4161 The entire property is decorated with charming gardens. From the Alcazar, my friends and I visited the cathedral, which was absolutely stunning. Unlike most of the churches we have seen so far, the inside of this church was white, which added brightness and drew attention to the artwork on the walls and on the elaborate altar. 100_4164 After a yummy paella dinner, we caught the train to Sevilla. I think we were all happy to get some rest at the hostel after a long day of traveling. In the morning we went to mass at the beautiful cathedral and then visited el Hospital de los Venerables. This hospital was originally opened for retired priests, but was used to nurse patients back to health during the plague. This elaborate hospital has a beautiful courtyard and a spectacular church, filled with colorful paintings. 100_4173 There is also a beautiful art museum inside the hospital, filled with stunning artwork from Spanish painters. We then walked to the Plaza de España. On the way, we walked through the colorful parks, filled with colorful flowers and horse drawn carriages. The plaza itself was the most beautiful plaza I have ever seen. 100_4178 A small river loops around the middle of the plaza and colorful mosaics of Spain decorate the stunning government building. 100_4189 We then walked to the smaller Plaza de America and visited the Museo Artes y Costumbres Populares (Museum of arts and popular customs). There were exhibits on Spanish silk, flamenco, and traditional Spanish life in this region. Heading back towards the center of town, my friends and I walked along the sparkling river. After eating lunch at a local café, we toured the cathedral and climbed up 34 stories to the top of the bell tower. This tower was once part of the mosk when the Muslims controlled the city. 100_4210 After a long and beautiful weekend of traveling, my friends and I boarded the train back home to Avila.

Week 3: Classes, Segovia, and the birthplace of St. Dominic!

Week 3 was filled with many new adventures here in Spain! Monday was the first day of classes at the university. I was excited to meet the other students who would be studying with me for the summer. Upon our arrival at the university, the summer program began with an opening ceremony, where the professors and program directors welcomed us and explained the upcoming events. Following the opening ceremony, I attended my first class. The professor is wonderful and the class has been quite interesting so far. This first week, we discussed the topic of mysticism itself, and then began learning about St. Teresa’s life. After class each day I have been working on my research in the library until the bus brings us back for lunch. Monday afternoon, my classmates and I went on a guided walking tour of the city. The tour guides took us to the Cathedral, the basilica, a local palace, and the church of Saint Teresa. Along the way, the tour guide also explained the history of the city and the significance of the stone walls. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how the city developed over time. Wednesday afternoon, a group of the girls and I went to the town pool, which is just up the street from my residence hall. The water was cool and refreshing in the dry summer heat. It was also a great opportunity to chat and get to know the other students. On Thursday morning, my professor took my class to see sights significant to St. Teresa’s life. At each location, we read excerpts from her writings that detain the significance of each place. I then spent the afternoon working on research. I spoke with Brother Carlos, one of the Dominicans here, and he let me use the Friars’ private library!! He and the librarian led me through the cloister to the library, where rows and rows of shelves are filled with old books, some dating back hundreds of years! The library will be an invaluable source of information for my independent study. Friday afternoon, my class and I spent the day in the nearby city of Segovia. Similar in size to Avila, Segovia is surrounded by old city walls and is rich in history. Upon our arrival, local tour guides led us through the old cobblestone streets. Our first stop was the Roman aqueduct. 100_3700 The grand arches were once used to bring water to the entire city. According to the old legend, a farm girl was so tired of going to fetch water that she agreed to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for an aqueduct. However, right before the devil put the last stone into place, the girl repented and the devil did not finish. She got to keep her soul and the city still got an aqueduct. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary where the last stone should be. The tour guide then took us through the old city, where she explained the history of Segovia. On our way to the cathedral, we passed the church where Queen Isabella was crowned queen! 100_3783 Once we arrived at the cathedral, the tour guide took us inside and explained the major highlights. 100_3713 I found it interesting that the cathedral in Avila was the first gothic cathedral in Spain, and the cathedral in Segovia was the last! A unique feature in this cathedral was the twin set of organs in the choir. During big feast days, the organists would play off each other, back and forth. After exploring the cathedral, my friends Madeline and Goli and I went to the castle. 100_3743100_3756100_3779 This massive palace was home to twenty-two different kings and queens throughout history. I felt just like a princess as we crossed the bridge to enter the front gate. Suites of armor, swards, and artillery filled the grand halls and beautiful artwork decorated the walls. We concluded our visit by climbing the tower to the top. The spectacular view overlooked the entire city. From the castle, we make our way to the cave of St. Dominic. This sight is now part of the university, but used to be a Dominican monastery. This was the spot where St. Teresa had a vision of St. Dominic. 100_3795 He gave his blessing as she set off to form her order! After fetching the key, we opened the gate leading to the courtyard and chapel. When we opened the door, it was like entering the Secret Garden; very peaceful and quiet. Behind the altar there is, what appears to be, the original cave walls! 100_3808 Before departing for home, my class and I stopped by the church where St. John of the Cross’ remains lay. 100_3688 We prayed together and admired the beautiful golden altar. Saturday, I left for another exciting adventure to the town of Caleruega, where St. Dominic was born! The trip took longer than I expected, but it was well worth the wait. Upon my arrival, the Dominican friars welcomed me to their house, fed me lunch, and got me settled in my room. In the afternoon, the friar who works in the library was kind enough to pull books from their private library that would be beneficial to my research. He then graciously gave me a tour of the town. He first showed me their convent and the three chapels. We then went into the basement where there is the Wine cellar of Blessed Juana, St. Dominic’s mother. In this spot, she prayed for more wine to give to the poor, and the Lord graciously answered her prayers. 100_3822 Father explained that part of the convent and the nun’s cloister was the house where St. Dominic grew up. 100_3842 The newer part of the friar’s house was built in the 20th century. He then brought me into the church next to the nuns’ monastery. One part of the church was built in the sixteenth century and the other was built in the thirteenth century and was part of the house. The newer part of the church contains Blessed Juana’s relics. The remains of the Venerable Felix (St. Dominic’s father) and the Venerable Antonio (St. Dominic’s brother) are found in the vestry. The crypt contains St. Dominic’s Well, which appeared in the place where St. Dominic was born. 100_3831 The friars were kind enough to give me a drink of water from this holy spot. The walls are decorated with mosaics depicting St. Dominic’s nine ways of prayer and the five members of his family. The librarian then took me into the nuns’ cloister, which contains a museum about St. Dominic. One of the rooms used to be a hospital where blessed Juana and her sons would tend to the sick and injured. One of the most interesting pieces, in my opinion, was a statue of the Annunciation. Mary is pregnant, but is also wearing a chastity belt, symbolizing her purity. 100_3845 I then climbed to tower, located in the courtyard. St. Dominic’s house was also used for defense, and the tower overlooked the entire town. The land extended for miles in every direction. The librarian let me study in the library until it was time for mass at the Church of Saint Sebastian, the place where St. Dominic was baptized. 100_3896 There is a plaque were the baptismal font used to be, but the Spanish king later moved the baptismal font to Madrid. After dinner and recreation time with the friars, I studied in the library until bed. In the morning, I spent my last few hours perusing the books in the library, praying with the friars, and enjoying a delicious breakfast. 100_4000 The friars brought me to mass at the 13th century church inside the monastery, where the nuns’ angelic singing filled the entire room, and then they kindly drove me to the bus station for my return trip back home. After an exhausting weekend of traveling, a friend and I concluded the evening with a delicious cone of gelato!

Week 2: Tracing the life of St. Teresa

This week in Avila, I decided to trace the path of St. Teresa through the city. I spent each morning researching in the library and then went exploring in the afternoon. On Monday, I ventured to the Roman bridge that crosses over a little stream. 100_3528 The bridge is just large enough for foot traffic. It was such a quaint area, surrounded by big, green trees and glistening water. From the bridge, I made my way up the hill to los cuatros postes, or the four posts. As I wrote previously, this was the spot where Teresa’s uncle stopped her and her brother from running away to become martyrs when she was seven. From this viewpoint, you could look over the entire city of Avila, with its medieval walls and church bell towers popping up between the red-roofed buildings. On Tuesday afternoon, I discovered the Convent of Grace, where St. Teresa attended school.100_3531 This was a unique find, as it was not on my map and many locals are not quite sure of its location. Unfortunately, the convent is not open to visitors, but I anticipate attending mass there one morning, in the hopes of sneaking a peak at the interior. From there, I walked to the Church of St. Teresa, the place where she was born in 1515. 100_3572 Below the church, there is a museum dedicated to St. Teresa, filled with paintings, documents, and artifacts related to her life. After exploring the museum, I visited the beautiful, gilded church and further explored the room of relics. Wednesday afternoon, I went to the museum at the Convent of the Incarnation, the place where St. Teresa first entered as a religious sister in 1535. 100_3579 The entrance held paintings and furniture from the monastery. 100_3583 One of the chests contained all of the convent’s important documents, and required three keys to unlock. Three sisters were each entrusted with a key. 100_3586 Talk about tight security! On the way up the stairs, there was the chair that Pope John Paul II sat in on his visit in 1982; the fourth centenary of St. Teresa’s death. 100_3589 The third room was an imitation of what a cell looked like before the convent was reformed in 1940. 100_3594 There were also musical instruments and sheet music used by the nuns during St. Teresa’s time. The third room contained various relics and artifacts from the time of the Saint, such as Papal Bulls, letters written by St. Teresa, and keys to her cell. One of the most interesting pieces was a statue of “St. Joseph the Tattletale”. 100_3606 According to the story, St. Teresa would place the statue in here chair when she left on her various travels. When she returned home, the statue would talk to her and tell her all that occurred in her absence. Later that day, when I returned home, I had the pleasure of meeting Brother Carlos, one of the Dominicans who lives here with the Friars and is preparing to make is final profession in August. Then, a group of my new friends and I went out for a going away dinner for my new friend Frank. He recently left to return home to China after studying here for the academic year. Finals just ended, and many students left for home this past week. Dinner in Spain is an elaborate affair, with various courses. First, we enjoyed a selection of meats with bread, followed by a salad course. The main dish was braised beef with potatoes. The beef was the most tender, succulent steak I have had the pleasure if eating in quite a while. Thursday afternoon I walked to the Convent of St. Joseph, the first convent that St. Teresa founded, which was built in 1562. 100_3640 The church and museum had unfortunately closed for the day, but I was able to return on Saturday. I spent the rest of Thursday window shopping and running errands downtown. Friday was a very exciting day. In the morning, I attended mass at the Convent of the Incarnation. The inside of the church is spectacular, and the nuns’ singing was absolutely angelic. In the afternoon, I had the privilege of being invited to a bull fight with the Students from New York! I was told that it would be an amateur bull fight in a small town about fifteen minutes away. When I heard the word amateur bull fight, the other students and I assumed that it would be rookie bull fighters. You can imagine our surprise when we learned that we were the rookies! After showing us around the museum and the farm, the farmer took us into the small bull ring. Bulls cannot differentiate between 2-D and 3-D shapes, so we hid behind small segments of wall that were in front of the actual walls. When the bull came into the ring, we could move from wall segment to wall segment, dodging the moving bull. The three bulls that each had a turn in the ring were little bulls, but they sure could run. 100_3656100_3651 100_3655 Now I can officially say I have run with the bulls, inside the bull ring!! Saturday afternoon I went to tour the museum at the Convent of St. Joseph. A little, elderly Spanish women was kind enough to also show me around the church and the original chapel. That night, I went to dinner with my friend Goli, a teacher from New York. The restaurant was located on el Rostro, and runs along the city walls on one side and overlooks the city and the mountains on the other. For dinner, we had roasted vegetables, fries, and the largest stake I have ever seen! 100_3670 As the sun faded into the horizon, it was beautiful to see the walls light up. Lovely ending to week #2!

End of Week 1: Museums, bridges, and runaway Saint?

Today marks the end of my first week in Avila! The time is already flying by. On Saturday, I spent the morning working on my research. In the afternoon, I went to the Provincial Museum, or the Museum of the City of Avila. 100_3502The museum occupies two large buildings. The first houses artifacts from ancient times, the time of the Romans, the middle Ages, and the Modern age. Many of the pieces were taken from old churches around the city. Some of my favorite pieces were los verracos, or bulls without horns. I think that they look more like bears, but I suppose it is all up to interpretation. 100_3414 Modern replicas of los verracos are found all over the city. The other building contains artwork from various time periods in the development of the City. The first part of the museum depicts Avila’s traditional culture, including traditional dress, agricultural equipment, and tools. The other rooms chronicle the prehistoric age, the age of antiquity, the age of the Visigoths, the Middle Ages, the Modern Age, and the 19th Century. Each room contains archeological artifacts, paintings, and sculptures. It was such a unique experience to see the traditional culture and the historical development of the city. Before dinner, I attended the Vigil mass at the Church of Saint Thomas. It has certainly been a challenging experience attending mass in Spanish, especially with the thick Spanish accent, but it is beautiful to be praying in such a splendid setting, surrounded with so much history. After dinner I indulged in some dessert from the local bakery. My family can attest to how much I love cream puffs, so works cannot begin to describe how ecstatic I was when I saw this cream puff in the display case! Yum!! 100_3503 Sunday was a leisurely day, reading in the gardens. Today was the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, a huge feast day here in Spain. Music from the festivities could be heard from my window into the small hours of the night. This morning, I ventured over to the library run by the Carmelites. It is quite charming inside, and I was thrilled to find entire shelves dedicated to St. Teresa! One section of the library contains beautiful books dating back to the 1880s, with gold letters decorating the covers. What a find! After lunch I walked to an ancient Roman bridge that crosses over a charming little river. The picturesque scene overlooks the city walls. 100_3526 From there, I walked up the street to los cuatro postes, the four posts. I have learned in my research that when St. Teresa was young, she loved to read the lives of the saints. When she was seven, she and her brother wanted to run off and become martyrs, so they decided to run away. Much to their dismay, their uncle saw them and stopped the children at the sight now known as the four posts. 100_3525 100_3523 On the way home, I could not help but stop for a quick snack in la pasteleria, and discovered these wonderful sugar cookies with lemon and orange, shaped like the city walls! Sweet ending to a lovely day!

Exploring the City

The past few days in Avila have flown by! On Tuesday, I spent the morning mapping the places I hope to visit over the next several weeks. After a lunch break, I walked around the grounds here at the residency. The dorm lays on several acres of land. Attached to the residence hall is the monastery. There is also a soccer field (or as they say here futbol), a rose garden, an area where the horses roam, and open fields full of colorful wildflowers and trees. 7 8 Afterwards, I went to further explore the city and get my bearings, and purchased a map that has become quite handy. 9 Dinner is at 9:00 every night, which is extremely late for American standards! After a big meal, I was ready for bed.
I spent the next morning shopping in the city. Up the street from my residence hall, there is a market and various shops. After buying groceries, I wandered into the charming little shops that dot the street. My favorites were the floral shop and the dress boutique. In the afternoon, one of my new friends and I went to walk on top of the old city walls, called Las Murallas. The walls were used to protect the city from invasion and surround the entire city. The view of the city and the mountains in the distance was impeccable! 10 11 I learned that there is a holy belt around the city, meaning that there is a church located in front of every entrance in the wall. This was done so that travelers who were unable to make it into the city walls before nighttime had a place to go. It also served as spiritual protection from attacks.
Thursday morning I was finishing mapping out my plans when I received exciting news. The Carmelites run a large, private library in Avila. Saint Teresa was Carmelite, and the library will hopefully prove beneficial to my research! Later in the day, I went to the outdoor book fair, located on a walkway known as “el Rastro”. This beautiful area is at the top of the hill and looks down into the city. The path was named after the local meat factory, but is now home to various art fairs and cultural activities. I also was able to explore the public library before lunch. Later in the day I went to the Monastery of Saint Thomas, which is attached to my residence hall! 16 The walls are filled with incredible history. There are three cloisters inside the monastery. The Cloister of the Noviciate was built by the request of Don Hernán Núñez Arnalte, who was the treasurer and secretary for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The other two cloisters were built per the request of the King and Queen. Rich ornamentation decorates the Cloister of Silence. 12 The arms of Castile and the Dominican emblem are everywhere you look. There were also many carving of pomegranates, which symbolizes the King and Queen’s determination to conquer the City of Granada from the Moors. This cloister also contains the confessional where Saint Teresa would go to confession. 13 Finally, the Cloister of the Kings was constructed as the summer palace for the Catholic Kings. 15 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had their only don, Prince Juan, laid to rest in the Church. He was a sickly child and later died from an illness. 14 The Church is beautiful, with various side chapels located throughout. Above the altar is a series of St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order and the patron saint of the church. The choir has delicately carved stalls where the Friars would attend mass. There are three special stalls that stand out from the rest; one for the queen, one for the king, and one dedicated to Saint Dominic. The monastery also contains a Museum of Natural Sciences, and a Museum of Oriental Art. The artwork was brought back by Spanish Dominican missionaries from China, Japan, and Viet-Nam. Then, I finished walking on the other half of the walls. The stunning view overlooked the Cathedral, the Plaza of Saint Teresa, and el Rostro.18 19 17 20I then attended mass and evening prayer at the Basilica and stopped by the local pastry shop (la Pasteleria) for a treat on the way home.21
Today I spent a good part of the day starting my preliminary research on Saint Teresa. In the afternoon I took a break to walk around the grounds and read by the rose garden. It was nice to enjoy a warm, sunny day. The past few days have been rainy and unseasonably cold. Other residents told me that it was in the 40s and 50s just a week ago! I then attended mass and evening prayer at the Chruch of Saint Thomas with the Dominican friars. The beautiful day was topped off by banana gelato (helado platano) at the local ice cream shop. A great ending to the day!

Let the Adventures Begin!

Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog! It is nearing the end of day one here in Avila, and what a day it has been! This whole adventure began in the Fall semester when I began the extensive application process for the Smith Fellowship Program. After two rounds of applications, many e-mails to Spain, and countless conversations with my Spanish professor, the selection committee graciously awarded me one of the 2013 Smith Fellowships. As I sat in the airport waiting to board the plane, the reality started to set in that I was on my way to Spain for seven weeks.airport
The plane ride was long, as was expected. The man sitting next to neglected to say hello, the little girl behind me kicked my chair the entire way to Madrid, and my legs were restless for sitting for so long, but none of that mattered because I was on my way. No turning back now! After a long flight, my nerves were eased when I saw a familiar face. Who would have guessed that Beth would be on the same flight, just a few seats across from me? It really is true what they say; you can find fellow Friars everywhere you go, and I literally mean anywhere.
From the airport I caught a cab to the airport. I was so anxious to get to the train station that I was ready to grab the taxi right outside the baggage claim. I quickly learned, however, that you are apparently supposed to go to the cab at the front of the line. Learn something new every day! At the train station I proudly bought my first Spanish train ticket, all by myself. The train was running a bit late and as I nervously waited for the platform number to appear on the board, I noticed that I was the only one who appeared the slightest bit anxious. First reality check: people in Spain are not obsessed with checking the time like in the States. It will all get done in due time.
Exhausted from travel, the train ride was a leisurely jaunt through the Spanish country side. On the train, I met an adorable elderly couple who live in Madrid and spend their summers in Avila. They pointed out a beautiful monastery that they insisted I visit during my time here. The women even said that I should write it down so I do not forget. They also told me about the summer fires in the plains as we passed by the expansive landscape. I also met a university professor from Texas and a couple who had walked for thirty-five days across Spain!
From the train station, a quick taxi ride brought me to my final destination: Avila. 3 After a quick power nap, I went to lunch, where I met two awesome ladies. A college professor from New York is here with a group of students and a teacher from Colorado is here completing a teaching internship and graduate work. In the afternoon, one of my new friends was gracious enough to show me around the city. 2 We went to see the Basilica of the Martyred Saints Vincent, Sabina, and Cristeta. Under the Basilica there is a stunning statue of the Virgin Mother. Legend has it that the statue dates back to the time when the Muslims invaded Spain and the statue was hidden underground for safekeeping. St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross both had a devotion to this Virgin of the Soterraña (meaning underground). Then, after tasting my first Yema (candy made especially in Avila, with lemon, sugar, and egg yolk), we went to see St. Teresa’s relics. My personal favorite was her ringed finger!
After a trip to the local market and dinner at the residence hall, my new companions and I went to get ice cream. It was a lovely way to end a beautiful and event-filled first day!

This entry was posted on June 17, 2013. 3 Comments