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Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross who is well known for his mystical writings and poetry. He was closely associated with Saint Teresa in her work of founding the reformed Carmel

He is one of thirty-six doctors of the Church.

Feast day: 14 December 
Patron:  Contemplatives, mystics and Spanish poets
Born: 24th June 1542
Died: 14th December 1591
Beatified: 25th January  1675 by Pope Clement X
Canonized: 27th December 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII

Juan de Yepes y Álvarez was born near Avila, Spain on 24th June in 1542. Following his father's dismissal from his job as an accountant the family struggled financially. When he was three years old his father passed away, followed shortly after by his brother Luis. His mother had no financial support and so he was no stranger to destitution. In life he was all too familiar with suffering, however, he knew a genuine, selfless love from his mother and his older brother Francisco.

John attended a boarding school for the poor and orphaned children and there received a religious education. From a young age he chose to follow a religious path. He served as an acolyte at an Augustinian monastery. In later years he worked in a hospital while attending a Jesuit school.

He joined the Carmelite order in 1563 and took the name, "John of St. Matthias." Following vows he studied theology and philosophy at the university in Salamanca. As a young Carmelite he planned to join the Carthusian Order, however, after meeting St Teresa of Avila he abandoned these plans and joined her in her new venture. John was attracted by the strict routine followed by Teresa, a routine she hoped to reintroduce to her order, as well as her devotion to prayer and simplicity. Her followers went barefoot, and were therefore known as the discalced Carmelites. In 1958The two then began the first monastery of the Teresian reform for the friars at Duruelo. The same day John changed his name to John of the Cross.

In 1572, Teresa invited John to Avila to become her confessor and spiritual guide. He stayed there until 1577. While there, he had a vision of Christ and made a drawing showing Christ on the cross called, "Christ from Above."

As the movement grew he experienced hostility from his former brother friars who objected to this reform seeing it as a criticism of their own more lax way of life. He was imprisoned in Toledo in a cell that was so small he could barely lie on the floor. The only food he was given was bread and water, and occasional scraps of salt fish. Each week he was publicly lashed then returned to his cell. The only luxuries he had were a prayer book and an oil lamp. The friar guarding his cell smuggled paper to him which he used writing poems to pass the time.

The time spent in this place of darkness and cruelty led John to spend many hours in silent prayer. The fruit of this flowed out in some of the most superb poetry.  After nine months, John managed to pry his cell door from its hinges and escape. He went to Toledo and spent six weeks recovering in hospital.

In 1580 Pope Gregory authorised the split between the Discalced Carmelites and the rest of the order which ended the hostility. In the last few years of his life John travelled across Spain establishing new houses. 

After falling ill with a skin condition which resulted in an infection John died on 14th December 1592.

Saint John of the Cross was beatified in 1675 by Pope Clement X and in 1726 Pope Benedict XIII canonised him. He is the patron Saint of Contemplatives, mystics and Spanish poets and his feast day is celebrated on 14th December.

Bishop Barron in the short clip below 
talks of St John of the Cross and his
message for us today

Bishop Barron in the short clip below 
talks of St John of the Cross and his
message for us today

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