Bernini’s Teresa

I teach a great deal on the spiritual piety promulgated by the Catholic Reformation; one of the pieces I showcase to students is that of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa. I made the trip to a small church to witness this amazing piece. There were few people at this Church of Santa  Maria. I was shocked since it is one of Bernini’s best and most controversial pieces. It addresses one’s sense of religiosity in what might be considered highly sexual. Benini found her sense of faith to be pleasurable enough to be orgasmic. Bernini took this and constructed the statue I am standing beside. Look at her face and note her spiritual pleasure — not sexual pleasure. Look at the joy in her face. The pure pleasure. Here is what Bernini read from her that drove him to construct this piece:

Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form…. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire…. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.

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