The Story of St. Teresa, a Woman Who Refused to Be 'Bred and Sacrificed' to Domestic Life

Illustration for article titled The Story of St. Teresa, a Woman Who Refused to Be 'Bred and Sacrificed' to Domestic Life

“I am not Catholic,” wrote Jessa Crispin on Saturday at the New York Times, “and yet I find myself drawn to the women saints. There is something about them that I admire. Maybe it is simply the lengths to which they went to avoid marrying.” Same.


Crispin, who just published The Dead Ladies Project (read Kelly Faircloth’s interview with her about it here at Pictorial), centers this piece on St. Teresa of Avila and a visit to Avila, Spain, a town “celebrating her 500th birthday with banners of her poetry and a whole year of events.”

It is wonderful and rare to be in a city centered on a woman writer. There are many statues and sculptures of St. Teresa throughout the town, and most have fresh roses dropped into her lap every day. In almost all of them, she is holding a quill. Fresh cookies, frosted in her likeness, fill the windows of the bakeries.

Everything in town is named after her. The plaza, the streets, the schools, the churches, the cafes, the parking facilities.

Teresa wrote “volumes, about the role of women, about compassion, about the power of art, about living through dark times. She was a philosopher, and yet even today she is rarely mentioned in philosophy survey classes and rarely listed with her brothers Spinoza, Descartes, Aquinas, Kant and others.”

She carved out this life for herself under opposition that we can hardly imagine in 2015, when a young girl can readily grow up thinking she’s capable of anything and yet we still argue about h*ving it *ll. It took huge, startling, often deviant decisions in centuries past to fight your way out of the domestic script. Crispin:

[Teresa] did not have to remove any body parts to stay unmarried, nor murder scores of men. She did have to defy her family, though. As well as what she thought she wanted out of life, which was love. But she had watched her mother slowly die through pregnancy after pregnancy, her body weakening with each child, and she saw that this was her wifely duty.

Teresa did not want to be reduced to merely a body, bred and sacrificed for the sake of her husband and children. If she had to choose between being a body and a brain, she would choose to be a brain. So she entered the church — the only way a woman could become a philosopher.

Crispin writes about “the default for the women [in my family]: the sacrifice of everything for the husband”—and the fact that, so long after the life and death of St. Teresa, it’s still the case that “there are still very few models for women of how to live outside of coupledom, whether that is the result of a choice or just bad luck. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television show or a film about a single woman, unless her single status was a problem to be solved or an illustration of how deeply damaged she was.”

It’s a truism that you lose out on something by remaining alone; it’s less acknowledged that you often do, too, by loving someone. In this whole beautiful essay, here’s the part that I’m still thinking about.

It’s hard to get people to understand why a woman would ever choose to live a life alone. We no longer have to choose between being a brain and a body, but I can’t help but think that we lose something when we couple up, and maybe that thing is worth preserving.


Read the whole thing here.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons


Ken Yadiggit, Adios

Any former Catholics who are still weirdly obsessed/interested in religious iconography and saints and the like?