St Teresa of Avila | Iconography and attributes

Get to know who was St Teresa of Avila and how to identify her.

In this post learn how to identify the representations of St Teresa of Avila by her attributes.

Who was St Teresa of Avila

Santa Teresa d Avila

Probably the most faithful portrait of St. Teresa. It is a copy of an original painting of her made in 1576, when she was 61 years old. (Source: Wikicommons)

Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born on March 28, 1515 in the city of Avila, Spain.

Known as Santa Teresa d Avila or Santa Teresa de Jesus had an important role in the religious life of the XVI.

She was a reformer having founded the New Order of the Carmelites – Discalced Carmelites – (embracing the primitive rule of the carmel order). She founded about 15 convents in Spain.

With St John of the Cross she founded monasteries of barefooted Carmelite brothers. She wrote several mystical texts.

She was canonized in 1622 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on September 27, 1970.

Identification of characters and episodes in works of art

In the context of Art History , the careful description and interpretation of artistic objects allows us to see something more than what is immediately presented.

The use of attributes (associated objects or symbols) came alongside a need to identify the religious characters before a mostly illiterate audience.

In the beginning, we can still find the names of the Saints painted on their halo or on the filacterium (a silk band that usually carries a message and can be across the chest, at the bottom of the figure).

However, the use of signs or symbols, as was tradition in pagan religions, proved much more efficient, having been more accepted over time.

The Saint was this way singled out by his/hers physical aspect, clothing, weaponry, accompanying animals or other symbols related to their life story.

We can distinguish a Saint by two aspects:

– their characteristics – referring to physical appearance and clothing;

– their attributes – the elements of various kinds that generally relate to their condition, occupation, life history or martyrdom.

Representations and attributes of St Teresa of Avila

She is often represented in art. The most representative art work “The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa” by Bernini (Chiesa Santa Maria della Vittoria, Roma).

ÊXtase de Santa Teresa Bernini

Important episodes

She belonged to the Carmelite Order at the Monastery of Encarnación, in Ávila (Spain). She founded her first convent in 1562, determined to reform the Order. Championing equality and poverty, she also authored several works in which she speaks of her many mystical experiences. She is considered a doctor of the Church.

In her biographical book, she describes the vision of an angel that stuck golden arrows through the heart, leaving her «kindled with the love of God».

Common representations

Writing or in contemplation.

The ecstasy.



Dove (symbolizes her inspiration).

References and other meanings

May appear with other Carmelite and mystic Spanish Saint: St.  John of the Cross.

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