Juan de Yepes Álvarez, later beatified, canonized and proclaimed Saint John of the Cross and Doctor of the Universal Church, Fontiveros (Avila) was born in 1542.
He studied Humanities at the Jesuits of Medina del Campo and at the age of twenty-one, due to his religious vocation, he entered the Carmelitas Calzados, under the name of Juan de Santo Matía. As a professed friar he settled in Salamanca, where he studied Philosophy at the University and in 1567 he was ordained a priest.
That year he had his first encounter with Saint Teresa of Jesus, won the Carmel Reform, and became Juan de la Cruz.
Saint Teresa herself highlighted this meeting in her Foundations:
Shortly afterwards a young father happened to come there, who was studying in Salamanca, and he went with another as a partner, who told me great things about the life that this father did. His name is Fray Juan de la Cruz.
The relationship of the religious and mystical poet of the Spanish Renaissance with Jaén is marked precisely by the founding work within the reforming current promoted by Saint Teresa of Jesus. Thus, after accompanying the Saint in the founding of the Reformation monasteries, acting as Master of novices and as confessor and vicar, he would arrive in Beas de Segura after escaping from the conventual prison of the Carmelite friars of Toledo, where he had been imprisoned by disputes between the Carmelite and the Discalced Carmelites.
During his captivity, which lasted about nine months in a state of total abandonment, Saint John of the Cross began the first stanzas of the Spiritual Canticle at the same time as the Romances and the poem of the “The fountain”.
(…) First I died for very dying.
´Twas my life that slaughter´d me:
For so long as it continued,
Thy dear face I could not see.
Greatly joy´d the heartless aliens(…)
Saint John of the Cross
After his escape from the conventual jail of Toledo and attending the General Chapter of Almodóvar del Campo (Ciudad Real), in 1578 he was appointed Prior of the El Calvario de Beas de Segura Convent, where he arrived very ill and deteriorated by the hardships of his captivity. Therefore, he stayed for a few days in the Monastery of Carmelitas Descalzas, which Saint Teresa of Jesus had founded three years before.
In Beas he spends about eight months, confessing and leading the nuns spiritually, while finding an ideal environment to write, being here, as Antonio Yuste Moreno explains in The Hundred Notices from Beas (1992), where he traces the great schemes of his thinking:
He wrote Prudence, a spiritual treatise as an instruction or advice intended primarily for the barefoot nuns of Beas, although later he intended it for other monasteries and their friars.
He composed the model of the Mount of Perfection, giving each of the nuns an autograph copy.
Wrote the first series of “Sentences and Spiritual Warnings.”
He composed the five stanzas of the Spiritual Canticle.
In 1579 he founded the Discalced College of Carmelo in Baeza, where he would be its first Rector and resided in the so-called Vicar’s house until 1582, although he did not stop returning to Beas every fifteen or twenty days, passing through other municipalities of Jaén: Úbeda, Torreperogil, Villacarrillo, Iznatoraf, Villanueva del Arzobispo …
After Baeza, he began a founding work (Granada, Málaga, Córdoba, Mancha Real-formerly Manchuela de Jaén-, Caravaca de la Cruz) and other functions such as Definitor, Prior or Vicar, which required him to travel constantly and in 1591, after being dismissed in all his positions, he arrived as a simple subject at the Convent of La Peñuela (La Carolina), where sick, he travelled to Úbeda, where he died the night of December 13 to 14 at the age of 49 years.
After his death, the dispute over his relics between Úbeda and Segovia would ensue. The transfer to Segovia was carried out in secret at the end of April 1593 – an event that is thought to have inspired Chapter XIX of the first part of Cervantes´s Quixote.
Literary production of Saint John of the Cross
Considered by many as the pinnacle of mystical poetry, the Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night stand out among his lyrical works. The works of Saint John of the Cross have quite a limitation of historical references, therefore some of dates below are the most accepted approximations:
– Ascent of Mount Carmel (1578-1583).
– Dark night of the soul. (1578).
– Spiritual Canticle (1584).
– Living flame of love (1584 or 1585).
– Epistolary (1581-1591).
Unlike Saint Teresa of Jesus, who left written testimonies of her life and activity – the Foundations – Saint John of the Cross did not write anything directly about himself, except for his letters, nor do personal elements appear scattered throughout his work.
Ascent to Mount Carmel (…)
In an obscure night,
With anxious love inflamed,
O, happy lot!
Forth unobserved I went,
My house being now at rest.
Web Portal of the Way of Saint John of the Cross(Úbeda)
Web Portal of the Way of Saint John of the Cross