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The Camino Teresiano, from "The Cradle to the Grave" (De la Cuna al Sepulcro), is a historic four to six day walk, celebrating the life of St. Teresa of Ávila, from her birthplace in Ávila, Spain to her burial place in Alba de Tormes, Spain. This short Camino traces a path through the area where she did her saintly work, along with her contemporary mystic, St. John of the Cross.
This route is also known locally as the "Ruta Teresiana" the feminine version of the name, so it can be a bit confusing.
“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee:
All things pass;
God never changes.
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.” ~ St. Teresa of Ávila
St. Teresa of Ávila was a Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus (Santa Teresa de Jesús) who lived from 1515-1582 in the province of Ávila. She established many Carmelite convents in the area, which are standing and in use to this day.
St. Teresa is considered to be a reformer of the Carmelite order from what it had become in the 16th century and the foundress of a new order called the "Discalced Carmelites" or the "Teresians." Her intent was to reform the order, back to its original 12th century roots.
The term "discalced" was used as a derivative of the Latin word for "without shoes," since the Carmelites would go barefoot! The emphasis for the new order was to return to strict seclusion, radical poverty and contemplative prayer. (Taken from the webpage, The Cloistered Life/Carmelites.
Together with her male mystic counterpart, St. John of the Cross, they also reformed the Carmelite friars of the time. For a more complete treatise on the history of the Carmelites, please see their official webpage.
Her many literary works are still pertinent for today, including "The Way of Perfection" and "Interior Castle." These texts are still used by spiritual directors for those seeking a contemplative spiritual path.
St. Teresa thrived in the harsh environment of the Spanish Inquisition, where many non-conformists were brutally put to death, yet her works were venerated. Her faith and her strength are remarkable. Yet when you read about her and her simple life, you find that she was very humble and felt unworthy because of her self-proclaimed, many sins!
St. Teresa was said to have levitated during prayer, as recorded in her biography and witnessed by the sisters. You may reference the Deep Trance website for excerpts from St. Teresa regarding her states of rapture. She felt tortured by this gift from God, and when she felt it coming on, she would request her sisters to hold her down!
I have been reading and studying her works and the layers are many, not to mention the difficulties in the translation of her mystical words from Spanish into English. This English is hard to read and understand, for me at least.
For more information on the saint's life, you may wish to click here, a catholic website that gives a very nice summary.
It is because of St. Teresa of Jesus, that I chose to walk the Camino Teresiano. I was hoping to touch the spirit of her, deepen my own contemplative practice and find a new spirituality in walking.
Prior to our Camino, I was chatting online with an English pilgrim who had done the northern Ruta Teresiana. He gave me lots of recommendations, on short-cuts (which I never take), albergues, food and such. He described this Camino as a "proper adventure." And I certainly agree, it is!
For reasons which I shall describe next, I would not recommend this route for the first-time pilgrimage traveler. It is just too difficult for many reasons.
The first reason is that this is truly a solitary walk. Unless you wish to be entirely alone, you will see very few, if any pilgrims. We saw some cyclists briefly, but absolutely no other pilgrims in September, one of the most popular walking months. Do not do this Camino alone, unless you thrive on solitude.
The second reason is that absolutely no one we met in this incredibly rural, farm country could speak a word of English! I had to take my Spanish to a whole new level on this journey. But everyone was so amazingly kind to us, that smiles and gestures for the adventurous, non-Spanish speakers, would get you very far! Just understand that it will be more difficult if you know no Spanish.
I only encountered one tired young female bartender, who when I requested that she speak her Spanish slower, she talked even faster! She was not going to accommodate a Gringa!
The third reason this Camino is more difficult is that the distances between towns are great and the services very limited. A pilgrimage traveler needs to be prepared and absolutely must plan ahead. Plus lots of water must be carried as this area can very hot, even in September when we walked.
The fourth reason is that there is almost no WiFi anywhere! Not in towns, not in bars and not in albergues! If you do not have data, you are essentially disconnected from the world. This is not a good set-up for a solitary pilgrim. I love my GPS tracker, my maps and staying connected, so we were fine with a before-hand purchased Spanish SIM card.
The country folk were so friendly, and very astonished whenever we revealed that we were from the USA. They would fuss over us, and say how far we had come and go out of their way to help us! Fortunately, very few cared or wished to speak about politics, although we did encounter this several times. At those times, we just stated that we don't speak of politics when on a pilgrimage!
Here are the GPS tracks of the Ruta Teresiana. There are actually two routes on this Camino, the Northern and the Southern, that branch in the town of Mancera de Abajo, on day three or four. The two Caminos Teresianos re-join in Garcihernández for the same destination of Alba de Tormes.
The southern route, shown below in blue, and the one that we walked in four days, is a total of 106.6 kilometers (66.2 miles) and the northern alternative shown in orange, is slightly longer at 117.2 (72.82 miles).
While this Camino is not an official Camino de Santiago, you can easily connect it with the Via de la Plata, starting in Salamanca, just 23 km to the west of Alba de Tormes. This is what we did.
In fact, there is a lovely walking path, called the Camino Natural Via de la Plata, connecting the two cities. The Camino Natural Via de la Plata follows an old railroad bed, for an elevated, level and easy walk between Alba to Salamanca to join the VdlP.
Also, of note, the first stage from Ávila to Gotarrendura is shared with the Camino Levante, one of the longer Caminos from Valencia to Santiago, at approximately 1200 kilometers. It is on this first stage that you will see the most pilgrims.
Here is the map of the Southern Ruta Teresiana from the official tourist page of the Diputación of Ávila. You can see all the attractions and amenities along the route that have been placed on the map.
The tourism offices in the provinces of Ávila and Salamanca promote this area and this route, as well as the Junta de Castilla y León. The towns of Ávila, Alba de Tormes and Salamanca are heavily touristed by non-walking-pilgrims, as you might expect, but the pilgrimage route itself we found to be totally solitary as mentioned before.
As you can see from the elevation profile below, also from the tourist office, the Camino Teresiano routes are essentially flat! The start in Ávila is at approximately 1200 meters, followed by a nice downhill of almost 300 meters on the first stage to Gotarrendura. From there it is an essentially level Camino all the way into Alba de Tormes, at approximately 900 meters.
I was looking forward to my first easy Camino, hoping that it would be a great warm-up for the Via de la Plata and the Camino Sanabrés to follow.
This Camino is filled with long distances through grain fields as the pilgrim walks from small town to small town, through this high and semi-arid central plateau of Spain. This area is the breadbasket for Spain, and the solitude of the fields, I hoped would give me a new appreciation for the Spanish baguette.
I was anticipating a hot and dry walk, so I planned for the more seasonable weather in the fall, with perhaps hot days, but at least cool nights. This is exactly what we got in late September; hot, dry and sunny days, into the 80's, with cool nights, just below 50.
This near-perfect weather, was fabulous for trying the Verdejo white wine, a speciality of the area, recommended to me by other pilgrimage travelers, chilled and refreshing after a long days walk!
We found this Way to be extremely well waymarked! Instead of yellow arrows designating the route, the Camino Teresiano uses unique red arrows, shown here to the right.
There are also unique concrete waymarks to guide you, as shown below. In the photos, the name of the destination town of "Alba" is included on the concrete waymark as well as the emblem of the Camino Teresiano, carved into the concrete and the direction of travel.
You can walk this Camino in the opposite direction, as noted previously, and if you do, "Ávila" will appear on the opposite side of the waymark! It seems to make sense to start in Ávila, however, since it is the place of St. Teresa's birth, and end in Alba, the place of her death.
I have also included a photo of the official emblem in color, shown here to the right. You will see this emblem everywhere!
There is a unique pilgrim's passport, also known as the credential. It can be purchased at the Visitor Reception Center of Avila (Av. Madrid, 39, 05001 Avila, tel 920 35 40 00) and in Alba de Tormes (Castle of the Dukes of Alba, c / Castillo, s / n). Or you can download it here and print it out for yourself!
I would highly recommend that you print it out for yourself, as several pilgrimage travelers have told me it was not available when they inquired. This is what we did, so we were ready to go! We used heavy paper and colored ink, and the results were perfect! Here is my completed, stamped version!
This is the only pilgrimage route that I know of that will issue you a certificate of completion, called the "La Andariega," whether you journey by foot, by bicycle, on horseback, or by automobile! How interesting is that?
According to the official website you can get your Andariega at the same place you can purchase the credential, at the Visitor Reception Center of Ávila (Av. Madrid, 39, 05001 Ávila, tel 920 35 40 00) and in the Alba de Tormes (Castle of the Dukes of Alba, c / Castillo, s / n), depending on your direction of travel. It looks like this:
However, in actuality, at the end of our Camino when we asked about the Andariega at the Museo Teresiano, in the heart of the Plaza Santa Teresa, in Alba de Tormes, the kindly priest explained that all that was available was this "diploma," shown below! Good enough for me!
The diploma has from top left, a photo of the tomb of St. Teresa, top right, an image of her, and on the bottom images of relics from the saint; her heart, below left, and her arm, below right, in the decorative jars. You can see all of these items in Alba de Tormes, in the Madres Carmelitas Descalzas church in the square.
Roughly translated, the first quote says "In these times, strong friends of God are needed." And the quote on the bottom, is the same quote I used at the beginning of this article, her famous words of needing nothing but God.
Unfortunately, the diploma does not certify completion of a walking pilgrimage, but that a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Teresa de Jesús has been completed. But it is a wonderful diploma, non-the-less.
There is a Guide to Services that you can download to your device for offline use, but unfortunately it is in Spanish. There is also a downloadable guide for use in Ávila called the Trail of St. Teresa, which is in English and Spanish. This is a nice brochure of all the top sites to see in Ávila.
If you are patient, I should have my own information completed by early 2020. Subscribe to my feed, (the little orange button under "Recent Articles" on the sidebar) if you don't want to miss anything!
As you will eventually see, the towns along this route also post information on billboards, regarding the services it provides. I, however, found some of the information to be inaccurate and/or a bit out of date. Alas, all Caminos are fluid things!
If you are looking for accommodation in Ávila, there are so many. On booking.com you can reserve ahead and see the deals for the day. It is easy and convenient. We always like to start out our Caminos in a very comfortable, but inexpensive hotel, and we stayed in the Hostal El Rincón, right in the center of town, next to the town hall.
And thus, my Camino Teresiano, having been completed, I will leave you with these thoughts from the Saint herself:
"Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world." ~ St. Teresa of Ávila
Days Two thru Five, Coming Soon!
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