The Interior Castle

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The Interior Castle
AuthorSt. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.
Original titleEl Castillo Interior
SubjectChristian mysticism
Publication date
Published in English
1675, 1852, 1921, 1946, 1979, 2004, 2021

The Interior Castle, or The Mansions, (Spanish: El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas) was written by Teresa of Ávila, the Spanish Carmelite nun and famed mystic, in 1577, as a guide for spiritual development through service and prayer. The work was inspired by her vision of the soul as a diamond in the shape of a castle containing seven mansions, which she interpreted as the journey of faith through seven stages, ending with union with God.[1]

After being ordered to write her autobiography, published posthumously as La Vida de la Santa Madre Teresa de Jesús (The Life of the Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus), Teresa was hesitant to begin writing again on her views of the perfection found in internal prayer.[1][2] She started writing her seminal work, Interior Castle, on June 2, 1577, Trinity Sunday, and completed it on the eve of St. Andrew's Day, November 29, 1577; however, there was a five months-long interruption in between, effectively leaving a fortnight each for first and second halves of the book.[3] In August 1586, it was decided to print Teresa's works, which had been collected and preserved by her secretary, Ana of Jesus. The Augustinian friar and poet Luis de León, was selected as the editor, and finally in 1588 the book was published at Salamanca.[4][5]

The books The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection, taken collectively, are practical blueprints for "seekers" who want to really experience prayer as mystical union with God. Further, Teresa's exposure of how she was blessed with contemplation illuminates the Catholic theologies of grace, the sacraments, humility and ultimately love.


St. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.

In the hands of the Spanish Inquisition at that time, Teresa's Life was commonly believed to be the weight in the scale of whether to call her experiences heretical or not. Her humility and claims that "I am not meant for writing; I have neither the health nor the wits for it" almost prevented Teresa from composing The Interior Castle. However, according to a letter written by Fray Diego, one of Teresa's former confessors, Teresa was finally convinced to write her book after she received a vision from God. Diego wrote that God revealed to Teresa:

"...a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and beautifying them all. The nearer one got to the centre, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures."[6]

With that, The Interior Castle was born. It contained the basis for what she felt should be the ideal journey of faith, comparing the contemplative soul to a castle with seven successive interior courts, or chambers, analogous to the seven mansions. It is also not unduly speculative that living in a walled city like Ávila, not to mention a Carmelite monastery, must have influenced her thinking from an interior perspective. This concept of an interior life is still important in Spanish thinking in the 21st century.

The first English translation was published in 1675; the second in London by John Dalton, in 1852; and the third by the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in 1912.[7]

Overview: Seven Mansions or Dwelling Places[edit]

The Interior Castle is divided into seven mansions (also called dwelling places), each level describing a step to get closer to God. In her work, Teresa already assumed entrance into the first mansions by prayer and meditation.

The first three mansions are considered to be active prayer and asceticism. The first mansions begin with a soul's state of grace, but the souls are surrounded by sin and only starting to seek God's grace through humility in order to achieve perfection. The second mansions are also called the Mansions of the Practice of Prayer because the soul seeks to advance through the castle by daily thoughts of God, humble recognition of God's work in the soul and ultimately daily prayer. The third mansions are the Mansions of Exemplary Life characterized through divine grace and a love for God that is so great that the soul has an aversion to both mortal and venial sin and a desire to do works of charitable service to man for the ultimate glory of God.

The fourth through seventh mansions are considered to be mystical or contemplative prayer. The fourth mansions are a departure from the soul actively acquiring what it gains as God increases his role. The fifth mansions contains incipient Union in which the soul prepares itself to receive gifts from God. If the fifth mansion can be compared to a betrothal, the sixth mansion can be compared to lovers. The soul spends increasing amounts of time torn between favors from God and from outside afflictions. The soul achieves clarity in prayer and a spiritual marriage with God in the seventh mansions.

She candidly reveals this interior journey as being inseparable from her love for Christ and that the highest mansions can only be gained by being in a state of grace through the Church sacraments, fervent devotion of the soul's will to Him, and humbly receiving a love so great it is beyond human capability or description. Through prayer and meditation the soul is placed in a quiet state to receive God's gifts (she calls "consolations") of contemplation, and Teresa notes that man's efforts cannot achieve this if it is not His divine will. In fact she humbly repeats that she is never worthy of these consolations but is always immensely grateful for them.

Some scholars compared the seven mansions to the seven chakras in Hindu culture.[8]

English translations[edit]

Translations of The Interior Castle which stay true to the text:

While these versions are true to the text, as a direct translation they maintain Teresa’s lengthy sentences and paragraphs, making them more challenging to read. You may need a study guide in hand to fully understand the text, even though readers indicate the more recent translations are clearer. Since the 1852, 1921 and 1946 translations are public domain, free or low-cost versions are available.

  • Fr. John Dalton (1852). John Dalton’s translation of The Interior Castle contains an interesting preface and translations of other letters by St. Teresa.
  • Benedictines of Stanbrook, edited by Fr. Zimmerman (1921). The translation of The Interior Castle by the Benedictines of Stanbrook also has an excellent introduction and includes many cross references to other works by St. Teresa.
  • E. Allison Peers (1946). E. Allison Peers’ translation of The Interior Castle is another popular public domain version translated by a professor and scholar of Hispanic studies.
  • Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh (1979). This translation also stays true to the text and contains many useful cross references. An updated study edition contains comprehensive notes, reflection questions and a glossary.

Modern update of The Interior Castle which stays true to the text:

Paraphrased translation of The Interior Castle

  • Mirabai Starr (2004). Described as "free of religious dogma, this modern translation renders St. Teresa's work a beautiful and practical set of teachings for seekers of all faiths in need of spiritual guidance." Starr’s interpretive version of The Interior Castle eliminates Teresa’s use of words such as “sin”, which results in a translation which is more paraphrased than accurate translation.

In popular culture[edit]

Gregorio Fernández, St. Teresa (1625)

St. Teresa's mystical experiences have inspired several authors in modern times, but not necessarily from Teresa's Christian theological perspective.

The 2006 book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert recognizes St. Teresa as "that most mystical of Catholic figures" and alludes to St. Teresa's Interior Castle as the "mansions of her being" and her journey as one of "divine meditative bliss". Gilbert was raised a Protestant Christian, but her book describes her path to God through yoga.[9]

The 2007 book by American spiritual author Caroline Myss Entering the Castle was inspired by St. Teresa's Interior Castle, but still has a New Age approach to mysticism.[10][11]

St. Teresa also inspired American author R. A. Lafferty in his novel Fourth Mansions (1969), which was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1970.

Brooke Fraser's song "Orphans, Kingdoms" was inspired by St. Teresa's Interior Castle.

Jean Stafford's short story 'The Interior Castle' relates the intense preoccupation of an accident victim with her own brain, which she sees variously as a jewel, a flower, a light in a glass and a set of envelopes within envelopes.

Jeffrey Eugenides' 2011 novel The Marriage Plot refers to St. Teresa's Interior Castle when recounting the religious experience of Mitchell Grammaticus, one of the main characters of the book.

Teen Daze's [12] 2012 release "The Inner Mansions" refers to St. Teresa's Interior Castle in the album's title as well as in the first track. "...have mercy on yourselves! If you realize your pitiable condition, how can you refrain from trying to remove the darkness from the crystal of your souls? Remember, if death should take you now, you would never again enjoy the light of this Sun."[13] This line appears dubbed over the musical introduction to "New Life."[14]

In Mark Williamson's "ONE: a memoir" (2018), the metaphor of the Interior Castle is used to describe an inner world of introspective reflection on past events, a set of "memory loci" based on the ancient system of recall for rhetorical purposes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Detweiler, p. 48
  2. ^ Allison, p. 6
  3. ^ Benedictine, Introduction, p. 9
  4. ^ Introduction, p. 16, 21.
  5. ^ Teresa, Introduction, p. 2
  6. ^ Avila, St. Teresa of (1972-02-01). Interior Castle. Image. p. 8. ISBN 0-385-03643-4.
  7. ^ Benedictine footnote
  8. ^ Gálik, Slavomír; Tolnaiová, Sabína Gáliková (Spring 2015). "A Comparison of Spiritual Traditions in the Context of the Universality of Mysticism" (PDF). Spirituality Studies. 1.
  9. ^ Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Chapter 46.
  10. ^ 'God Doesn't Want Your Real Estate'
  11. ^ Entering the Castle Archived 2009-02-26 at the Wayback Machine Integral Institute.
  12. ^ 'Teen Daze, Official Website'
  13. ^ 'Chapter II, Internal Castle,'
  14. ^ 'New Life, iTunes Store'

References and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]