Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Friday 24 September |
The Blessed Virgin Mary—Our Lady of Walsingham
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

This famous sculpture depicts the ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila


Gian Lorenzo Bernini | CC BY-SA 4.0

V. M. Traverso - published on 06/30/20

The life-sized marble sculpture of the “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is considered a masterpiece of Baroque art.

Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish mystic who founded the Discalced Carmelites order, is considered one of the most important female Catholic saints in history. The Spanish noblewoman turned ascetic nun left a profound mark on this world thanks to her written contributions, from The Way of Perfection to The Interior Castle and The Life of Teresa of Jesus, which are today considered keystones of Spanish Renaissance literature in addition to their significance as works of Catholic spiritual literature.

One of her most famous passages describes her experience of religious ecstasy: “I saw in his [an angel’s] 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.”

Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

The life-sized marble sculpture of the “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is considered a masterpiece of Baroque.

Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini captured this moment of ecstasy in what is considered to be one of the sculptural masterpieces of the Baroque period. The sculpture, painstakingly carved from Carrara marble, depicted the 16th-century saint being stabbed in the heart by an angel holding an arrow.

Located in the Coronaro Chapel inside the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome,the life-size marble sculpture was completed under Pope Innocent X between 1647–1652.

Livioandronico2013|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

Colored marble columns on each side of the sculpture and rays of light above it frame the scene in a theatrical way.

Colored marble columns on each side of the sculpture and rays of light above it frame the scene in a theatrical way. The effect is further reinforced by light shining on the sculpture from a window hidden in the dome of the surrounding edicule. On the side of the sculpture, two niches hold sculptures of the Coronaro family, a Catholic family who donated money for the chapel, who look as if they are watching the theatre-like scene unfold.

This arrangement allowed Bernini to achieve what art historian Rudolf Wittkower called the “separation of two worlds”: on one hand, the material world of the spectators, on the other, the mystical experience of religious ecstasy of St. Teresa.

The Church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria, located in Via Venti Settembre, 17, Rome, is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 12 noon and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mass is held Monday to Saturday at 7 a.m., 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon and 6.30 p.m.

Make sure to visit the slideshow below to discover seven of Teresa de Avila’s insightful phrases on love, prayer, and friendship. 

ArtBaroque ArtSaints
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cecilia Pigg
7 Ways the saints can help you sleep better at night
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
Philip Kosloski
Why J.R.R. Tolkien loved to attend daily Mass
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Aid to the Church in Need
What happens when a million children pray the Rosary?
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.