An Illustrated Life of John of the Cross


Why have we chosen John of the Cross to be our guide to the world of Christian mysticism? It is because, together with Teresa of Avila, he was well rooted in the Christian mystical tradition, and he brought that tradition to a higher level of self-awareness. His works, therefore, are a firm foundation upon which to try to renew Christian contemplation today, and to come to grips with the new challenges it faces like its dialogues with depth psychology and Eastern religions.

Juan de Yepes was born in Spain in the Castillian town of Fontiveros in 1542.

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The statue of John of the Cross
in the chapel of Fontiveros

Soon after his birth his father died, and his mother had to struggle to keep her three young sons alive. This poverty probably played a role in the death of one of John's brothers and the move of the family to Medina del Campo, where John was placed in an orphanage. Upon leaving the orphanage in his teens he served as a nurse in a hospital of incurables, and attended the Jesuit college. At 21 he decided to enter the Carmelite monastery in Medina del Campo.

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Medina del Campo

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John's profession in the Carmelite Order

John did his studies for the priesthood at the University of Salamanca.

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After being ordained as a priest he was at the point of leaving the Order for a more rigorous and secluded one when he met Teresa of Avila who had already initiated a reform movement for the sisters, and was planning one for the friars as well. She convinced him to help her in this new work, and he started the first house of the new reform and went on to hold many positions in this growing movement.

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Teresa of Avila

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Chapel at Duruelo, site of the first monastery
of the Discalced Friars

In 1577, while in the midst of an extended stay as a confessor and spiritual director at St. Teresa's convent at Avila,

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The walls of Avila

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A Drawing by St. John of the Cross

he was kidnapped by the friars who opposed the reform and was imprisoned at Toledo. Buried in a dark cell and treated brutally, he began to fear for his life. Here he suffered a dark night out of which was born some of his most beautiful poetry.

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The images on these pages were taken from the video In Spain with St. John of the Cross.