Santa Teresa's ecstasies: pain and pleasure in Counter-Reformation Spain
In this dissertation I analyze the presence of the body and desire in the writings of the Spanish mystic, Santa Teresa de Avila. Such presence is perplexing if we consider that the author experiences and writes about her intensely physical encounters with the divine in the midst of the Spanish Counter-Reformation, a period marked by a mistrust of unorthodox religious experiences, women, and female sexuality. Through her adult years Teresa de Avila is subjected to the constant scrutiny of ecclesiastic and inquisitorial authorities, and perceived by many of her contemporaries as a "loose" and dangerous woman. But only thirty-two years after her death, the once chastised nun is suddenly beatified, and then canonized.Following Alison Weber's argument in Teresa of Avila and the Rhetoric of Femininity, that Teresa's sudden canonization occurs in great measure because of the writer's astute rhetorical manipulation of her audience, I analyze the salient eroticism in Teresa's accounts of mystic union vis-a-vis the coercive atmosphere that surrounds her. It is my contention that the writer brings in pain as she speaks of the delights of mystic union. In this way she mutes, and yet subtly maintains, the existence of a corporeal pleasure that comes dangerously close to a female sexuality both censured and feared in Counter-Reformation Spain.