SE40 Week 3 – Getting It On With The Gods, Bonus Edition

In writing about the story of Ganymede I recalled another of my favourite supernatural sexual experiences, from a little bit closer to our era. Meet Saint Teresa of Avila. She was a Spanish nun who lived from 1515-1582. Why have I heard of her? She was a mystical sort, and supposedly was capable of levitation from time to time. But I know her for this incredible story she wrote, about the time she encountered an actual angel:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s 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. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying

So a handsome angel appears out of nowhere and thrusts an arrow into her repeatedly… Hmm. I’m not a psychoanalyst but I think you could possibly read a double meaning into this story. This likely tale gave us one of the most insanely amazing sculptures of the Renaissance, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Just look at this thing…

Pump me with God's grace!
Pump me with God’s grace!

I’m sure it’s all very pious, but I mean, come on… look at her face!


All kidding aside, the fact that a human is capable of making a hunk of rock into something so expressive boggles the mind. If you’re not familiar with it, check out some more work by Bernini. His David is way better than Michelangelo’s (in my opinion), and his Rape of Proserpina is a hauntingly lifelike depiction of what might otherwise seem a run of the mill Greek god goes kidnapping again type of story. Here they are, if you’re too lazy to click the links. Note the sense of weight and motion present in the figures, and the overall dynamism, like they’re going to unfreeze and come to life at any moment.



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