Saint John of the Cross; the Mystical Doctor

Saint John of the Cross; the Mystical Doctor

Saint John of the Cross, born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez on 24 June 1542 was a Spanish Catholic priest, mystic, and a Carmelite friar of converso origin. He is a major figure of the Counter-Reformation in Spain, and he is one of the thirty-seven Doctors of the Church.

John was born in a poor family. His father died when he was three, and his older brother, Luis died two years later, likely because of malnutrition. His mother eventually had to work as a weaver to feed the family.

John was sent to a boarding school for poor and orphaned children. He chose to follow the religious path right from childhood and served as an acolyte at an Augustinian monastery.

In 1563, John joined the Carmelite Order and took the name "John of St. Matthias." He was sent to the university in Salamanca to study theology and philosophy. He became an expert in the Bible and dared to translate the Song of Songs into Spanish, an act which was controversial since the Church forbade the translation of the Bible from Latin -a measure to protect the original meanings in the scripture.

John became a priest in 1567 and, attracted by the strict routine followed by Theresa of Avila, decided to follow her. On Nov. 28, 1568, Theresa founded a new monastery and the same day, John changed his name again to John of the Cross.

On December 2, 1577, a group of Carmelites broke into John's residence and kidnapped him. He was taken by force to the order's main house in Toledo and was brought before a court and placed on trial for disobedience. He was punished by imprisonment.

A cell was made for him in the monastery that was so small he could barely lie on the floor. He was fed only bread and water, and occasional scraps of salt fish. Each week he was taken into public and lashed, then returned to his cell. His only luxuries were a prayer book and an oil lamp to read it by. To pass the time he wrote poems on paper that was smuggled to him by the friar charged with guarding his cell.

John became known as a remarkable and influential poet, especially following his death. He has been cited as an influence on many poets, mystics, and artists, even Salvador Dali.

After nine months, John managed to pry his cell door from its hinges and escape. He joined Teresa's nuns in Toledo and spent six weeks in the hospital to recover.

During the last few years of his life, John travelled and established new houses across Spain.

In 1591, John became ill with a skin condition that resulted in an infection. He died on December 14, 1591.

Shortly following his burial, there was a dispute over where he should be buried. The dispute was resolved by removing his legs and arms. Over the years, parts of his body were placed on display or buried across several places.

Saint John of the Cross was beatified by Pope Clement X in 1675 and Canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726.
He is the patron of Contemplatives, mystics and Spanish poets.

John of the Cross is known for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Ávila. Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and among the greatest works of all Spanish literature.

John was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. In 1926, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI and is commonly known as the "Mystical Doctor".

Other Saints of the Day
1. Saint Agnellus
2. Saint Drusus
3. Saint Heron
4. Saint Matronian
5. Saint Viator


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