in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

‘An Unforgettable Experience’:Teresa of Avila 1515 – 2015: Mystical Theology and Spirituality in the Carmelite Tradition



Thank you so much for an incredible conference.  The angels themselves were jealous at the gathering.  Where to begin?  It was a fantastic line up of brilliant scholars and the humanity of everyone shone through.Teresa was beaming her wild wonders down from the beatific life. I had so many life affirming conversations and interactions all in the name of theology following God.  All our theologising at the conference was rooted in the God who is actually living and real, and for me it made a huge difference.  It showed that real theology is possible.' (A participant)
‘I thank you for this beautiful and unforgettable conference in Twickenham where so many (if not all) of us have been blessed in so many different ways. This has been the perfect combination of academic and mystic where our mind, heart and soul were made One in the Trinity. I have attended many conferences in my life but this one has been the most fruitful in so many different ways that I have not yet finished uncovering.’ (A participant)


On 18th June 2015 over one hundred delegates from five continents – academics, contemplatives, clergy and lay people – gathered to celebrate the life and work of the great ‘Santa’ of Avila – Teresa of Jesus, whose 500th birthday we celebrate this year. The aim of the conference was to create a space where the latest academic research on her writing might intersect with the contemplative lifestyle of those living out the Carmelite charism. This was achieved by a full programme that included academic presentations from the leading writers on Teresa, space for prayer, artistic exploration and, of course, chat and relaxation over meals and drinks.

The first day was taken up by placing Teresa in her context and seeing how the historical circumstances of 16th Century Spain shaped her place in the pantheon of the Christian mystical tradition. This was begun by two leading interpreters of the tradition – Emeritus Prof Bernard McGinn of Chicago University and Fr Wilfrid McGreal of Aylesford Priory, Kent, one of the first Carmels founded in England after the Carmelites left the Holy Land. The afternoon witnessed a lively debate between Professors Sarah Coakley (Cambridge), Peter Tyler (St Mary’s) and Edward Howells (London University) over Teresa’s debt to the medieval mystical tradition. Finally the day concluded with a heart-centred reflection from the American mystic, James Finley, one time novice of Thomas Merton.

The second day began with a presentation from Archbishop Emeritus, Rowan Williams who chose as his subject the importance of the Eucharist in Teresa’s theology. He was followed by two Carmelite friars – Fr Matt Blake ODC of the Boar’s Hill Priory and Fr Iain Matthew ODC of the Teresianum in Rome who presented two important aspects of Teresa’s thought – her role as foundress and the place of Christ’s resurrection in her description of the soul. The day culminated with a magnificent Votive Mass of Teresa celebrated in the historic University Chapel. The principal celebrant here was Fr Tony Lester OCarm, UK Carmelite Provincial, and we were honoured to be joined by the Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St James – HE Frederico Trillo-Figueroa y Martínez-Conde – who took a particular interest in the travelling Teresa exhibition displayed at the back of the Chapel. The liturgy was celebrated to the accompaniment of music by St Teresa’s fellow Avilan, Tomás Luis de Victoria, brilliantly sung by Cherry-Willows Pauls and her choir.


Our final day began with a spirited video conference given by the celebrated French theorist and feminist Prof Julia Kristeva. Following her post-Lacanian deconstructivist approach to Teresa a dialogue was initiated by Prof Gillian Ahlgren and taken up by the Carmelite sisters, Sr Jo, Sr Philomena and Sr Mary on how Teresa’s 16th Century experiences can be lived out in today’s postmodern world.

The opening comments from our delegate with which we began sum up the feeling at the end of the conference. We felt we had glimpsed the unending genius of this remarkable woman – mystic, foundress, thinker and saint – in a unique event which will stay in our hearts and minds for many years to come.

The proceedings of the conference will be published by Ashgate in 2017 and in the meantime papers from the conference and videos can be found on and



No comments:

Post a Comment