She sits on a cloud that transports her towards heaven. Rays of light shine down to illuminate the journey. Beside her, an angel holds a spear ready to pierce her heart with love. Her dress billows in the wind and she is overcome with ecstasy and emotion as God engulfs her.
Santa Teresa d’Avila was a Spanish nun known for many achievements: the reformation of the Carmelite order, a patron saint of Spain, the first woman to be anointed Doctor of the Church, a prolific author, and one of the few women to have experienced religious ecstasy.
She is also the figure represented in Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s favorite work of art, The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa D’Avila, found in a small church in Rome. Bernini read her autobiography in detail and brought to life the ecstatic transverberation by adding touches from his passion for theater design to the sculpture. Finished in 1652, became one of the defining works of art from the Baroque era, and broke new ground for all artists to design their pieces with rich theatrical flourish.
A small round window is hidden above, alternating yellow and white colored stained glass, to highlight the bronzed rays and Carrara marble beneath. Without it, this masterpiece would lose its spark and shine. The gold glows intensely from the top, nearest to God, and the expression on her face, the folds of her dress and the softness of the cloud are brightly illuminated as the sun turns outside.
“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it …”