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A pilgrimage to Ávila, Spain, at the start of the Camino Teresiano, is the perfect place to begin the celebratory walk, commemorating the life of Santa Teresa de Jesús. This is a newly-developed pilgrimage route, taking 4-6 days, from Ávila to Alba de Tormes.
This sacred city is where the saint was born on March 28, 1515, and Alba is where she died on October 4, 1582. Her appearance and energy can be seen throughout the city, quite difficult to miss. From the pen of St. Teresa, these words of hers reverberate within and without: “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
The city of Ávila is a step back in time, with the invitation to explore its hidden treasures. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985. There is so much to see and do here, but I have covered only a few of the places in this article!
If you are looking for a place to stay in Ávila click here for booking.com. We enjoyed staying at the inexpensive but comfortable Hostal El Rincón. It is very conveniently located in the center of the medieval city, on the northeast corner of the market square, next to the city hall.
The highly visible medieval walls were built in the 11th and 12th centuries, an amazing architectural phenomenon, spanning a two-and-a-half kilometer perimeter, up to 20 meters high, with 88 semi-circular towers and nine gates.
The walls are the first thing to greet you as you enter the city center, looming mightily above you. We approached the city center from the train station to the east, and these eastern ramparts, below, and the apse of the cathedral, farther below, built right into the wall, were our first glimpses of its magnificence. Many years and phases of restoration have maintained this marvel into modern day.
As you explore more of the walls, indeed, at least to me, the most special is the Puerta de Santa Teresa, or St. Teresa's Gate, on the south side of the city and shown below. It is from here that the Camino Teresiano begins, adjacent to the Plaza Santa Teresa and the Convent to her which honors her place of birth (see farther below).
The southern walls just outside the Puerta de Santa Teresa, shown below, are fabulous in their preserved state. The walls were built upon foundational rocks already there, as you can see.
Most of the sites in Ávila will cost you something, but it is most economical to just purchase the Ávila tourist card for 15 Euros. Click here for a list of those sites included in the price of the card.
You can purchase the tourist card in the visitor reception center, Av. de Madrid, 39, 05001 Ávila, right next to the San Vicente church, on the NE corner of the city walls.
Just inside the St. Teresa's gate is the Convento de Santa Teresa de Jesús. Built in the 17th century, it opened in 15 October 1636, a mere 54 years after her death on October 4th, 1582. The church was built on the house where she was said to have been born. (You will read in some references that she was actually born in the town of Gotarrendura, 23 km to the north, but Ávila claims the honor.)
There are three places to visit within the convent, the reliquary, the church, shown below, and a museum in the basement of the convent, accessed by a door around to the west side of the church. Unfortunately, none of the museum's exhibits are presented in English, and while I can understand a bit of Spanish, the amount of effort it took me to do so, was time prohibitive. Instead, we just gazed at the various pieces.
There is a bronze statue of the Saint outside the convent church, and perhaps a pilgrimage to Ávila is not complete without a photo with her in front of this church. It took me forever to wait as visitors, one after another rushed up to the statue to take such a photograph! But I managed to capture her alone.
The main facade of the church, also has a lovely statue of the Saint, front and center.
Once inside the church, the main altar breaks tradition, in that it faces northwest, in order to coincide with the room where St. Teresa was born. Normally the main altar always faces to the east.
Below is a photo of the main altar and a close-up of it. It depicts a scene of the Saint's life, heralded by angels.
In an equally glorious side altar, is an ornately designed and more compelling effigy of Santa Teresa de Jesús, shown below.
Also within the relatively simple church is a re-creation of St. Teresa of Ávila's birth room. To me, this room was unnecessary, but nonetheless, it is a fine example of a probable 16th bedroom and is an important part of the traditional pilgrimage to Ávila.
Even though simple, the church is much more extravagant than St. Teresa herself would ever have allowed!
And finally to the east side of the Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesús, is the reliquary, that houses her finger with a ring still intact on it, her cane and a pair of her sandals. Definitely, no pilgrimage to Ávila would be complete without paying a visit here.
In the photo below, is the entrance to the "Sala de Reliquias, Recuerdos de Santa Teresa," or Room of Relics, Memories of St. Teresa.
And across the Plaza de Santa Teresa, is a Gate in her name, the Puerta de Santa Teresa. Here it is shown from the inside, at the official start of the Camino Teresiano. For us, this is where our pilgrimage to Ávila started and ended.
Just outside the walls from the Gate of St. Teresa is the Mysticism Interpretation Center, or as it is called here, the Centro de Interpretación del Misticismo. Once again, the interpretation center is not presented in English. We were given a card with English, but for me, there was something horribly lost in the translation, and I was unable to understand its presentation.
I have spoken to Spanish-speakers who tell me this interpretative center was amazing and a must-see. As a self-acclaimed student of mysticism, I so wanted to understand it! If you click on the website, you will see how lovely it is, as you travel from symbolic room to symbolic room.
I still encourage English speakers to go to the center, but instead of using the English card they give you at the center, download the guide from the website itself and use it to take you on the mystical journey. This guide is so much better! As I read this guide now, from home, everything that I saw would have made so much more sense. A pilgrimage to Ávila will be that much more special if you see this center, and take this guide!
Right adjacent to the central market plaza in Ávila, is the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, or St. John the Baptist church. This Romanesque church, much reformed in the 16th century to a more Gothic style, is famous for the fact the St. Teresa was baptised here on April 4th, 1515.
On the outside of the church, there is a plaque that lets you know this fact about St. Teresa, see the photo below left.
The church was not open when we visited. It has limited hours and is only open during its scheduled masses. Kindly, the front door is open, with a barred inner door that allows you to see inside, without having to enter the church itself. I was grateful for this, as it is an important site on the pilgrimage to Ávila.
I was able to take the photo below right, through these bars. For more information on the church, click here.
The Cathedral of Ávila is one of the main attractions and cannot be missed on your pilgrimage to Ávila. It's plaza is guarded with a line of very photogenic lions. To plan your visit, please click here for current opening hours and prices. You can even visit the bell tower with panoramic views of the cathedral and the city.
The cathedral was initially built in the 11th century with the beginnings of Christian activity in the area, and was commissioned by King Alfonso the VI. It was a primitive building dedicated to San Salvador.
Over the centuries, the cathedral underwent many phases of building as you might expect. It is considered to be the first Gothic cathedral in Spain. For a complete history of the building of the cathedral, visit here.
Behind the choir, in the central nave, shown below left, is a Renaissance masterpiece, that is the first thing to great you when you enter the cathedral. When closely examined, it is a marvel. A scene in the center, in the photo below right, shows the adoration of the baby Jesus by the kings.
On the other side of the choir is the central altar, shown below left. There is even a small alter, below right, to St. Teresa.
A special red sandstone from the area, known as "blood" sandstone can be seen throughout the vaulting in the ambulatory of the Cathedral of Ávila. The red hue is due to the iron oxide in the stone, and it makes this cathedral very unique.
For a really nice video tour of the cathedral, there is a YouTube video presented by the official cathedral website.
Ávila Cathedral stands as both church and fortress and its apse, known locally as the Cimorro and set into the walls, is the most imposing turret of the east wall, shown in the photos below.
No pilgrimage to Ávila is complete without a walk on the fortress walls. The most popular place to begin is at the east entrance, near the cathedral, at the information office outside the walls.
The views over the city and of the cathedral are impressive from the walls. We had insufficient time to walk the entire way open to foot travel. Here are some of my shots of our trip along the walls.
And finally, to complete your pilgrimage to Ávila, you may want to see its incredible beauty at night. We were so exhausted, after our overseas flight, that I was unable to force myself to stay awake long enough to see it.
Below is an incredible shot from the KevMRC website. Perhaps, on your own pilgrimage to Ávila, you will spend sufficient time here, to take it all in at night!
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