Teresa of Avila: An Extraordinary Life

ISBN: 0974240524
ISBN 13: 9780974240527
By: Shirley du Boulay

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About this book

This intelligent, balanced portrait of an irreverent, intense, and fiery Renaissance woman and her times includes moving excerpts from her letters and sublime spiritual writings. Her unconventional, progressive views on prayer and worship, her outstanding administrative and literary talents, her travels around Spain to found and supervise convents, and how she spent much of her life under the scrutiny of the Inquisition are all detailed.

Reader's Thoughts

Katelyn Beaty

I picked up this new biography on St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Spanish mystic and founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, primarily to learn more about her ecstatic experiences. I now realize I should go directly to her autobiographical accounts of those experiences! Though Shirley du Boulay writes clearly and compassionately, she focuses too intently for my taste on Teresa's business savvy and dealings with a number of hard-headed monks who didn't want to see Teresa's plans materialize. I would recommend this for church-history buffs, only.


Often when I read biographies of saints I have a very hard time relating to their stories or even grasping some of their thought patterns. This author did a great job of helping the reader to relate to Teresa and of putting her story in the context of the time period. I am now ready to read some of St. Teresa's own writings.

Peggy Wickham

I have trouble reading for very long lately, but this book I could not put down. I found Teresa (my Confirmation name!) a wonderful person to emulate. She had an amazing life, and the parts about St. John of the Cross made me want to read about him too!

Lia Aprile

Ugh. I was really excited about this book because I'm very interested in Teresa of Avila, but it was pretty darn dry. A shame, because her life, from what I've heard, was anything but. I was looking for a little inspiration, a little spiritual uplift, but it felt like a pure recounting of facts. Couldn't finish it. Sigh.


This was a good biography of an interesting lady.


A pretty impressive story. She was a very inspiring woman.

Jeni Enjaian

While at first I was intrigued by this book, ultimately I was left unsatisfied.I read this book for my Reformation class (and will be writing an academic book review soon) and chose it because I knew little about Teresa of Avila.This book was categorized as a biography but would be better labeled with the term hagiography using the strict definition of the word. Teresa of Avila is a saint in the Catholic Church. This is her story. Beyond the strict definition, du Boulay also indulges in frequent adorations of the saint, almost like fan-girl behavior. Any inconsistencies in Teresa of Avila's life du Boulay would mention and then praise Teresa because Teresa is a saint. What du Boulay did not do is explain how, for example, Teresa could strictly admonish no close personal relationships yet indulge publicly in many of her own.du Boulay also diverts frequently into what could be termed meditations on various spiritual topics that arise throughout Teresa's life. At times the book reads more like a devotional than a biography or even hagiography.I wish that these flaws were not present in the book because du Boulay is a more than capable author. Her prose flows beautifully creating wonderful word pictures.This book is not for people looking for an objective biography of Teresa of Avila. Those of the Catholic faith, especially those drawn to mysticism, would enjoy this book.


I learned that overland travel in Spain from 1515-1580 was very dangerous, difficult and exhausting, especially for women. There were only ruts for roads, no maps, no Holiday Inns and a lot men who believed that women travelers, even nuns, were fair game for mischief. Teresa was very adventurous and intelligent during a time when women should be docile and pregnant. I only gave it three stars because I felt the author did not bring this facinating woman's story to life as well as she could have.

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