About St John of the Cross Image
About St John of the Cross

St John of the Cross, was a 16th century Spanish Carmelite priest who was key to the reforming movement within the Catholic Church that occurred in response to the Protestant Reformation. He is known as the Mystical Doctor of the Church.

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Who Was Saint John of the Cross?

St John of the Cross, was a 16th century Spanish Carmelite priest who was key to the reforming movement within the Catholic Church that occurred in response to the Protestant Reformation. He is known as the Mystical Doctor of the Church.

St John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez on June 24th, 1542, is best known for his poetical, mystical writings on prayer, meditation, and the Dark Night of the Soul.

He was mentored by St Teresa of Avila, who reformed the female Carmelite Order.

John was born at Fontiveros, Old Castile into family that descended from Jewish converts to Catholicism.

His father married a poor woman and was thus ostracized from his extended family, his fortunes falling as a result.

John’s father died when he was just three years old. A few years later John’s older brother also died, possibly of malnourishment due to the family’s impoverishment.

John entered a school for the poor, where he was provided room and board. He became an altar boy at a nearby convent of Augustinian nuns. As he came of age, he attended a new Jesuit school, and at age 21 he entered the Carmelites, taking the name John of St Matthias.

After making his first Profession of vows with the Carmelites, he studied philosophy and theology at Salamanca University.

He became a priest in 1567 and met Teresa of Avila. She inspired him through her devotion and ascetic life.

John eventually traveled to Avila and became St Teresa’s Confessor and spiritual director.

John and Teresa were reforming the Carmelites, and their branch of the Order became known as the Discalced Carmelites, since they chose not to wear shoes, but the existing Carmelites resisted the reforms, and for many years the tensions grew between the two branches.

Some of the Carmelites who resented John took dramatic action on December 2nd, 1577, when they kidnapped him and brought him to Toledo, where he was disciplined for disobedience and imprisoned in a small cell of the monastery.

They fed him the bare minimum of food to survive, and he was publicly humiliated each week with a flogging.

A sympathetic Carmelite brother brought him pen and paper to write on during his time in his cell, and John wrote poetry on it.

Nine months later, John broke his cell door and escaped.

He rejoined St Teresa and her religious sisters but had to go to the hospital for some weeks to recover from his brutal treatment.

A few years later, Pope Gregory recognized the Discalced Carmelites as distinct from the existing Carmelites.

Near the end of his life, John founded many new Carmelite houses around Spain.

John died on December 14th, 1591.

St John of the Cross was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675, and canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.

He is the patron saint of mystics, contemplatives, and Spanish poets.

His feast day is on December 14th.