Friday, April 25, 2008
Remnants of Time by Carren Jao (Avila)
AVILA was only a name in grade school, said in reference to St. Teresa of Avila. Any mention of it evoked hazy pictures of angels and other supernatural elements.
However, today, Avila was clear and solid to the touch. I stood in front of the historic walls of Avila that had its beginnings as far back as 3rd century B.C. It was hard to imagine that this was the same wall that cloistered a saint’s life – two in fact. St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Standing before these walls was like having the stuff of legend suddenly come to life in front of my eyes.
Avila was beautiful. Set 1,130 meters above sea level, it stood above the heat of Spain offering respite to the local people. The air seemed clearer and purer as we went farther along. The sky was azure and the guide tells me that was how it usually is, spared from the rains of Spain due to its altitude.
It is no wonder this was the place that had inspired the writings of St. Teresa. How could one feel apart from God living in such beauty?
Avila is also known for its well-preserved medieval wall enclosure, which acted as a defense during the Roman era. For Manilenos, our own Intramuros echoes its grandeur to a lesser extent.
Inside these walls were the protected palaces of noblemen including the likes of St. Teresa’s family, which were preserved and converted into hotels. Palacio delos Velada was one such place. It sits right beside the Cathedral and a block away from the converted shopping district, where locals and tourists roam the city as if time were of no consequence. Though the structure had been there for centuries, modern amenities were added for comfort, while the interior still kept its air of history.
Avila was dotted with chapels and cathedrals owing to its strong religious heritage. Inside the South Wall on Calle Dama, sits Convento de Santa Teresa built on top of the place of Santa Teresa’s birth. It holds a museum of relics, which include St. Teresa’s actual writings and one of St. Teresa’s fingers.
A little ways away, Iglesia de San Pedro stands in front of the Plaza de Sta. Teresa where the townsfolk mill around and children play in the afternoons. It was an idyllic sight starkly different from the usual city life filled with nights of being glued to a television set. People and children actually found time to enjoy themselves playing, sitting and talking.
Outside the walls lay the Monastery of the Incarnation. Erected in the 16th century, this was where St. Teresa stayed as a nun for more than 20 years. Within their walls, one can actually visit her cell where she spent her life. It was little more than a patch of land cordoned off by walls. Looking at it, I wondered how it must have felt to live in her shoes during such times when modern day comforts like heat and light were just figments of the imagination.
As my group and I listened to our guide, I gradually realized that St. Teresa was a force to be reckoned with. As a mystic she was given to bouts of religious ecstasy at the contemplation of God, yet she was also a strong woman even by today’s standards and more so in the 16th century.
She was, in essence, a businesswoman for her congregation. Through her strength and perseverance, she raised money for new chapters of her order to be founded. She kept her congregation going.
She had also equalized the social structure within the congregation as well. In the olden times, the social stature of a nun was maintained even after entering the convent. If you entered a rich woman, then you were a rich nun living in luxurious quarters and eating the best food. However, if you were unfortunate enough to enter as poor woman, you would be given a small room eating the food that was leftover. This had all changed when she came into the picture. Rightly so, she had given equal lodging and food to those who would be novitiates. It was a revolution for her time, though it would seem only natural to us. She contended with many disgruntled nuns, unused to this equality. To say she was remarkable is an understatement. She is an inspiration to women of whatever status in life.
St. Teresa was a reflection of her hometown. They were both a sight to behold and amazing to contemplate. Avila maintained the sense of peace and clarity that I can only imagine it had centuries past. No wonder pilgrims and tourists alike are drawn to this place preserved in time, standing almost apart from it, unmoved by the ferocity of the outside world’s pace.