Watching History

Over the holidays, my husband and I viewed an epic series about the life of St. Teresa de Jesus, filmed in Spanish, though English subtitles were provided.

For eight hours, we were taken back to the 1500s in Spain. As a writer of historical novels, I’ve researched many eras. However, being immersed in an era for such a length of time brought to life many facts:

1.) Even in the best of coaches, travel comfort was about two steps above riding in a wheelbarrow. I’ll take high prices for air travel over being jostled and shaken for days.

2.) Roads? What roads? You might see a rough path but certainly nothing paved.

3.) Food was scarce. I wouldn’t enjoy knocking on rich people’s doors to beg. The series showed that some towns opposed the arrival of new religious people, since they felt they had to support them with alms.

4.) Nuns were often called upon by the nobility to offer advice, to comfort the grieving, assist new mothers, and other occasions. St. Teresa was in special demand after she became a celebrity.

5.) Medicine was dicey. St. Teresa was ill a good part of her life, and probably died from untreated uterine cancer.

6.) The sick needed to vomit in bowls. This is only one example of how modern plumbing makes modern life more sanitary.

7.) Being buried alive was a real risk. St. Teresa was almost buried alive after she didn’t respond to hot candle wax being dropped on her eyelids. Thankfully, she awoke before she was declared dead.

8.) Women’s lives have improved. In the film, St. Teresa said that most married women died either in childbirth or from exhaustion.

And yet some things never change:

1.) Everyone faces opposition. St. Teresa reformed the Carmelites, and her measures were opposed by some sisters. People don’t like change.

2.) Dreams can be dashed. St. Teresa was never allowed by the church to found a convent in Madrid.

3.) Some people poke fun at the pious. St. Teresa’s visions and religious experiences were ridiculed.

4.) Even a saint isn’t immune from revenge. St. Teresa made a powerful enemy when she angered a princess, who turned her in to the Spanish Inquisition.

5.) Celebrity is difficult. St. Teresa was mobbed in many towns she visited.

6.) A life lived in devotion to God is not necessarily easy, but such a life is always rewarding.

Your turn:

Do you write historical novels? What is your favorite era and why?

Have you researched history for nonfiction? Tell us about your work.

What do you think was the best era to live in?

What do you appreciate most about today?


The above photo is from the St. Theresa Cathedral in Chennai, India.

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