This essay examines the English translations of the autobiographical writings of Teresa de Ávila — The Lyf of the Mother Teresa of Iesus (Antwerp, 1611) and The Flaming Hart (Antwerp, 1642) — to demonstrate the impact of her exemplary spiritual life on the development of early modern life writing, particularly in domestic contexts. Teresa’s autobiographical texts were mediated for new audiences: religious orders and lay readers, both Catholic and Protestant. Teresa quickly established cult status in large part through readers’ engagement with the record of her life. Analysis of her writings shows how they partook in a carefully orchestrated campaign of Counter-Reformation proselytization that established a network of religious houses but also a network of thought and contemplation across Europe. The key players involved with circulating her works were by and large lay people operating in close collaboration with houses on the Continent, but outside of the religious orders per se. While Teresa’s writings were a source of inspiration and emulation across the confessional divide and across the gender divide, she had a particular appeal for women, who often acted as crucial agents of conversion and reconversion, particularly in England. The article also shows how Teresa’s own protracted and intensive effort to validate her spiritual visions had the effect of both publicizing and authorizing herself as an authentic witness to the divine in the face of an oppositional, tradition-defending church. This must have had strong appeal in a century that was profoundly concerned with rearticulating the relationships between individual and collective state or religious authority.

This content is only available as a PDF.