The medieval town of Caravaca is located in Spain’s Mediterranean region of Murcia. // © 2016 Tourism Spain
Feature image (above): The city of Seville in Andalusia offers a wide variety of places to see religious art, including pieces that honor St. Teresa. // © 2016 Tourism Spain
A 16th-century Christian mystic and writer, St. Teresa of Avila left a lasting legacy on Roman Catholicism while maintaining a profound relationship with divinity during the Counter-Reformation in Spain. Now, 17 cities across the country where St. Teresa worked and traveled have become part of the official Huellas de Teresa de Jesus ("The Trail of Teresa of Jesus") pilgrimage tour as a tribute to the religious figure's 500th birthday.
For those who'd rather stay in one part of the country, however, four "Teresian" cities in three different autonomous regions in southern Spain are welcoming those looking to follow in the footsteps of St. Teresa, if only for part of the journey.
Inside Spain's Mediterranean region of Murcia, the medieval town of Caravaca de la Cruz is home to the Basilica-Sanctuary in the walled Caravaca de la Cruz Castle and Fortress. The erstwhile Moorish outpost once belonged to the Knights Templar, became fortified during the Napoleonic empire and was expanded to include a sanctuary while also safeguarding a treasured relic. Beautiful Renaissance and baroque churches in the area include the Parish Church of El Salvador and the convent and church of San Jose, founded by St. Teresa in 1575. For those interested in temporarily experiencing cloistered life, the convent and church of Nuestra Senora del Carmen, founded in 1587, not only operates as a religious institution, but is also a hotel-like hostelry today.
West of Caravaca de la Cruz in the province of Jaen is Beas de Segura. The small town of about 6,000 residents is tucked inside the picturesque Sierra de Segura mountains in the valley of the Beas River, by the lush Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas — one of the best-preserved natural areas in Europe. In Beas de Segura, visitors can find the monastery of San Jose del Salvador, another foundation established by St. Teresa, as well as relics such as her handbell and pieces of her habit and veil. One look from the top of the city, and guests will see why St. Teresa herself called the land "delighting."
In the province of Andalusia, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Granada is a comparatively larger metropolitan center that was also touched by the life of St. Teresa. Granada's most famous landmark is the Alhambra, a magnificent Moorish palace and fortress dating back to the 9th century. But travelers should also visit the monastery of San Jose de Granada, established in 1582, the same year of St. Teresa's death. Located at the entrance of Granada's old Jewish neighborhood, the Realejo, the religious building still houses discalced Carmelite nuns who continue to run it nearly 500 years later.
Also in Andalusia, the city of Seville honors St. Teresa in numerous locations, including the Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic temple in the world. Not only does the massive church hold art by the likes of Francisco Goya as well as a monument to Christopher Columbus, but in the main sacristy, visitors can see the quill-wielding St. Teresa in a circa-1650 painting by Francisco de Zurbaran. The convent of San Jose, best known as Las Teresas, meanwhile, features the only portrait of St. Teresa to be painted while she was alive. For further insight into the trials and travails of St. Teresa, visitors can drop by the old Court of the Inquisition in the Castle of San Jorge, where St. Teresa was examined by the Spanish Inquisition for the mystical tones of her autobiography. Finally, a stop at the Monastery of Santa Maria de las Cuevas, which became a ceramics and porcelain factory in the mid-1800s and is now the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, is another spiritual site with history tied to St. Teresa's tireless time in Seville.
Given the scope of St. Teresa's mission, it would seem that visiting less than the 17 cities her life touched wouldn’t be enough. But as it turns out, a visitor just needs to see four cities in two autonomous provinces to take part in the Huellas de Teresa de Jesus. Travelers receive "badges" that are stamped in the tourist offices of the different Teresian cities, eventually picking up a pilgrim's recognition in the visitor center in Avila, where St. Teresa was born.