An Angel Pierces Saint Teresa of Avila's Heart

Painting of Saint Teresa of Avila being stabbed by an angel.

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Saint Teresa of Avila, who founded the Discalced Carmelite religious order, invested lots of time and energy into prayer and became famous for the mystical experiences she had with God and his angels. The pinnacle of St. Teresa's angelic encounters happened in 1559 in Spain, while she was praying. An angel appeared and pierced her heart with a spear of fire that sent God's pure, passionate love into her soul, St. Teresa recalled, sending her into ecstasy.

One of Either the Seraphim or the Cherubim Angels Appears

In her autobiography, Life (published in 1565, six years after the event occurred), Teresa recalled the appearance of a flaming angel—from one of the orders that serve closest to God: the seraphim or the cherubim. Teresa wrote:

"I saw an angel appear in bodily form close by my left side ... He was not large, but small, and extremely beautiful. His face was aflame with fire so much that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, those that we call seraphim or cherubim. Their names, angels never tell me, but I'm well aware that in heaven there are great differences between different types of angels, though I can't explain it."

A Fiery Spear Pierces Her Heart

Then the angel did something shocking—he pierced Teresa's heart with a flaming sword. But that seemingly violent act was actually an act of love, Teresa recalled:

"In his hands, I saw a golden spear, with an iron tip at the end that appeared to be on fire. He plunged it into my heart several times, all the way to my entrails. When he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out, as well, leaving me all on fire with love for God."

Intense Pain and Sweetness Together

Simultaneously, Teresa wrote, she felt both severe pain and sweet ecstasy as a result of what the angel had done:

"The pain was so strong that it made me moan several times, and yet the sweetness of the pain was so surpassing that I couldn't possibly wish to be rid of it. My soul couldn't be content with anything but God. It wasn't a physical pain, but a spiritual one, even though my body did feel it considerably[...] This pain lasted many days, and during that time, I didn't want to see or speak to anyone, but only to cherish my pain, which gave me a greater bliss than any created things could give me."

Love Between God and a Human Soul

The pure love the angel injected into Teresa's heart opened up her mind to have a deeper perspective of the Creator's love for the human beings He has made.

Teresa wrote:

"So gentle yet powerful is this wooing that takes places between God and the soul that if anyone thinks I'm lying, I pray that God, in his goodness, will grant him or her some experience of it."

The Effect of Her Experience

Teresa's experience with the angel significantly impacted the rest of her life. She made it her goal each day to devote herself completely to serving Jesus Christ, whom she believed perfectly exemplified God's love in action. She often spoke and wrote about how the suffering that Jesus endured redeemed a fallen world, and how the pain that God allows people to experience can accomplish good purposes in their lives. Teresa's motto became: "Lord, either let me suffer or let me die."

Teresa lived until 1582—23 years after her dramatic encounter with the angel. During that time, she reformed some existing monasteries (with stricter rules of piety) and founded some new monasteries based on stricter standards of holiness. Remembering what it was like to experience a pure devotion to God after the angel thrust the spear into her heart, Teresa aimed to give her best to God and to urge others to do the same.

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Your Citation
Hopler, Whitney. "An Angel Pierces Saint Teresa of Avila's Heart." Learn Religions, Sep. 13, 2021, Hopler, Whitney. (2021, September 13). An Angel Pierces Saint Teresa of Avila's Heart. Retrieved from Hopler, Whitney. "An Angel Pierces Saint Teresa of Avila's Heart." Learn Religions. (accessed March 25, 2023).