Carmelite Chronicles
Trouble in Avila


At the Incarnation of Avila, three years had passed since Teresa’s successful superiorship, and many of the nuns were anxious to have her back. On October 7, 1577, the election of prioress was held under the presidency of the provincial of Castile, John Gutiérrez de la Magdalena. Before the balloting, Gutiérrez let it be known that candidates outside the community were ineligible. In spite of this instruction, most of the nuns voted for Teresa. Their ballots were declared null, and the choice of the remaining ones, Doña Juana del Aguila, became prioress. When the pro-Teresian nuns insisted that their candidate had been validly elected and refused to acknowledge Doña Juana as prioress, the provincial excommunicated them. Tostado upheld the provincial’s conduct of the election.

All this did not take place without heated passion on both sides. The Discalced side of the controversy is well known to posterity, especially through the agile pen of St. Teresa, but today after the smoke of battle has cleared somewhat, it may be safely said that the provincial was within his rights.

When the royal council ordered the provincial to absolve the nuns from excommunication, on instructions from Tostado he complied, signifying his eagerness to obey the king, his “natural Lord.” Ignoring an appeal of the nuns to the royal council, of his own accord he granted the absolution. The nuns continued to object to the election, but in this they received no support: the validity of the election was not in question.

The provincial deputed Ferdinand Maldonado, prior of Toledo, to absolve the nuns, December 2-3, 1577. At the same time, he was commissioned to remove the Discalced confessors from the monastery. It is generally said that he was under orders from Tostado, but there is no reason why the provincial could not have decided this measure on his own authority.

The Dominican visitator, Fernández, had placed Discalced friars at the Incarnation as confessors with great spiritual profit for the nuns. Later, Ormaneto suggested to Gracián founding a house in Avila for confessors. “It never seemed to me to be good,” he wrote on November 11, 1575, “to have two or three friars in a house attached or not attached to a monastery.” Another matter he would like to mention: he does not like the way Mother Teresa, saint though she is, goes about founding and visiting monasteries. Religious women should stay in their monasteries and not travel about; that is the job of their superiors. However, the nuncio does not want his commissary to mention this opinion to a soul, as he does not wish to hurt “this good and holy Mother.”

From The Mirror of Carmel by Joachim Smet, O. Carm.

Joachim Smet O.Carm.
Fr. Joachim Smet O.Carm.
Fr. Joachim Smet, O.Carm. (1915-2011) was one of the leading historians of the Carmelite Order. In addition to being a founding member and President of the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome and editor of Carmelus, a journal of Carmelite Studies, Fr. Joachim was a gifted writer. he is well-known for his four-volume work The Carmelites and his Life of Saint Peter Thomas. Among his other works: Familiar Matter of Today-Poems (2007), The Mirror of Carmel: A Brief History of the Carmelite Order, (2011), various publications on Carmelite Nuns, Carmelite Liturgy, Carmelite Libraries of Spain and Portugal and the Carmelites of Medieval England.

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