Caravaca de la Cruz


The Carmelite Reform carried out by St Teresa and the foundation of several monasteries had a considerable impact on certain sectors of society and the Church. The religious renewal and the strength transmitted by the Saint when she appeared in public reached the ears of certain ladies from Caravaca who belonged to the most important families and, led by Doña Catalina de Otálora and Don Rodrigo de Moya, they decided to lock themselves in a house and not come out until St Teresa accepted their proposal of founding a convent in Caravaca de la Cruz.

In spring 1575, the Ávila Saint, while in Beas de Segura, sent Brother John of Ávila and Antonio Gaytán to the town of Caravaca de la Cruz to arrange the terms for the possible foundation. Both were impressed 'when they saw such a thing as strange and new as they had done' and they reported the willingness of the local people 'which was greater than in any other foundation'.

After agreeing the conveyance of the income and ground rent with the families of the ladies who had locked themselves in the house and after obtaining the necessary licence from the Council of Military Orders, St Teresa expressed her firm intention of personally founding a convent in Caravaca de la Cruz; however, sudden obligations in Seville required her to set off for the Andalusian city. From there, at the end of November 1575, she sent Mother Ana de San Alberto, the first prioress of the town of the Cross (Caravaca), together with another three nuns, giving them a 'Memorandum' she had written herself with the first instructions for the new convent of the Barefoot Carmelites. Fortunately, the letter has been conserved and can be seen today in the Municipal Archive of Caravaca de la Cruz.

Provisionally, while waiting for a monastery and church to be built, the nuns and novices of Caravaca moved into a house offered by Rodrigo de Moya on Calle Mayor, which was the beginning of the future convent. After signing the deed of allocation, on the first day of 1576, the Most Holy Saint was placed in a small chapel and the convent, which was her twelfth foundation, was devoted to St Joseph, as was usual in the Saint's convents. Small Caravaca crosses soon arrived (the symbol of the town par excellence) to various benefactors, prioresses of other monasteries and Teresa of Jesus herself, who acknowledged the efforts made by her nuns in Caravaca de la Cruz with the crosses they had carved themselves. During her life, the Saint herself wore a two-armed cross and, following her death, it was taken by her nurse, Ana de San Bartolomé, to the convent founded by Ana de Jesús in the city of Brussels, where it is conserved today as a valuable relic.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the monastery and the new church of San José de Caravaca de la Cruz were built and furnished with chapels, altarpieces and statues sponsored by important personalities and the donations made by many of the town's locals. Although the nuns left Caravaca de la Cruz in 2004 and the monastery is no longer used, beautiful statues, paintings, tiles, grilles and an excellent organ in the choir stalls of the magnificent baroque church are still conserved today and constitute some of the most important pieces of heritage in Caravaca de la Cruz.

Furthermore, the former monastery of San José de Caravaca de la Cruz was visited on seven occasions by Brother John of the Cross, the other great protagonist of the Carmelite Reform, when he was member of the Order Council, vice-chancellor of Baeza and provincial curate of Andalusia. In June 1581, during his second visit to Caravaca de la Cruz, the nuns asked the Saint to found a monastery of monks in the town, since they had no brothers of the Order to help them. And, in 1587, the convent of Nuestra Señora del Carmen de Carmelitas Descalzos de Caravaca de la Cruz was founded and the town of the Cross became one of the few places in which there were convents founded by St Teresa and St John of the Cross.



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