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Our Protector SaintsThe patron and protector saints of the Home

Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross

Facts

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Birth

Fontiveros, Ávila (Spain), 1542.

Death

Úbeda, Jaén (Spain), December 14, 1591.

Beatification

He was beatified by Clement X in 1675.

Canonization

He was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726.

Doctor of the Church

He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

Feast Day

December 14th

Life

juancruz2John of the Cross, Juan de Yepes Álvarez, was the youngest of three sons born to Gonzalo and Catalina.  John was born in June of 1542, in Fontiveros, Ávila, Spain.  His father died when John was still very young, leaving Catalina a widow with three children, in a situation of absolute poverty.  Because of this, they had to move to Medina del Campo, where John was able to attend a religious school for poor children and, at the same time, serve as an errand boy in a hospital.  For seven years, he studied and worked hard in addition to learning the trade of weaving.  Ever since he was young, he was known for his religious piety, as well as the practice of virtues and a great spirit of mortification.

In 1563, he entered the Carmelite convent of Medina del Campo.  His religious name was Brother John of St. Matthias.  In his desire for perfection, he asked to observe the original Carmelite rule, without mitigations, and received the permission.  He was ordained a priest in 1567.  The ordination was a great moment of grace for the saint and there arose in him an even greater desire for perfection and for withdrawal from the world.  He seriously considered entering the Carthusian Order.

juancruz3However, in God’s Providence, he met Saint Teresa of Avila, who at that time was beginning her work of reformation of the feminine branch of the Carmelite Order.  When Saint Teresa received news of this religious who was so holy, she wanted to meet him.  Saint John told her of his desire to withdraw to the Carthusian Order and she managed to convince him to not seek holiness outside but rather as a Carmelite, collaborating with her in returning the Carmelite Order to its original spirit.

In 1568, the first convent of reformed, or discalced, Carmelites was founded in the small town of Duruelo.  Two other carmelite religious joined Saint John.  The three renewed their vows as Discalced Carmelites a few months after the foundation.  In this moment, the saint took the name of John of the Cross.  In a short time, several new convents were founded.  Saint John of the Cross was an exemplary religious whom everyone considered a saint.  His humility and sacrificial spirit, his prudence, his deep contemplative life and his detachment from the earthly things were what stood out the most. Saint Teresa greatly esteemed him and asked him to be her spiritual director and confessor.

In 1577, because of a series of miscomprehensions between some Carmelites, those who followed the mitigated rule took the saint by force and brought him to Toledo.  There they tried to oblige him to renounce the reform, but he refused to do so.  Because of this he was obliged to remain confined in a tiny cell in the convent and suffer many humiliations.

juancruz4On the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, Saint John asked the Prior for the grace of being able to celebrate Mass on the feast of Our Lady, but he was denied permission.  On that same night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and said to him: “Have patience, my son, for this trial will soon come to an end.” Indeed, some days later, thanks to the miraculous intervention of Our Lady, the saint was able to escape.

After his captivity, the saint stayed at different convents of Discalced Carmelites.  Soon internal conflicts also arose, because Fr. Nicolas Doria, who was elected provincial, wanted to bring the reform to the extreme, making the two Carmelite branches entirely independent.  Among the discalced Carmelites there were supporters and opponents to such a measure.  Saint John of the Cross, who held the position of prior several times in different convents and who was vicar and consultant in his order, followed a more moderate politic.  This provoked opposition amongst the religious to such a point that Fr. Doria suspended the saint from all of his responsibilities and sent him to the small convent of La Peñuela.  As a consequence of all the sufferings that he had to undergo, Saint John fell sick and had to change convents.  He was given to choose between two convents: Baeza, where the superior was a friend of his, or Úbeda, where the prior considered him an enemy and there was greater poverty.  He chose the more difficult option: the convent of Úbeda.

juancruz5His health deteriorated even more during the trip and upon his arrival he was treated harshly by the prior.  He secluded the saint in a cell with the prohibition of not receiving visits from other brothers. He submitted him to continuous humiliations, not granting him any exception as regards the food like other sick members of the community. He even changed John’s caretaker for having treated him with care.  After a long agony of sufferings of every kind, Saint John of the Cross died on December 14, 1591, at 49 years of age.  He was beatified by Clement X on January 25, 1675.  In May of that same year, his body was moved from Úbeda, where a relic remained, to Segovia.  On December 27, 1726, Benedict XIII canonized him.  On August 24, 1926, Pius XI bestowed on him the title of Doctor of the Universal Church.

Eucharist

juancruz6Saint John of the Cross was a deeply Eucharistic soul. The Mass was the center of his life. In fact, he himself confessed that what had most made him suffer during his nine months of imprisonment was not being able to celebrate the Eucharist or receive Communion.

His love for the Eucharist was known by his brothers, who saw him spend long hours in adoration, above all during the night. He had great details of love with the Lord, such as often placing flowers near the Tabernacle.

In the moment of his final agony, he asked that the Blessed Sacrament be brought to him to adore it. With tenderness he said to the Lord in the Eucharist: "Now, o Lord, I shall not see you again with these mortal eyes."

The following canticle, written during his imprisonment, expresses well the desire that this saint had for the Eucharist:

“I know well the spring that flows and runs,
although it is night.

That eternal spring is hidden,
for I know well where it has its rise,
although it is night.

I do not know its origin, nor has it one,
but I know that every origin has come from it,
although it is night.

I know that nothing else is so beautiful,
and that the heavens and the earth drink there,
although it is night.

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I know well that it is bottomless
and that no one is able to cross it,
although it is night.

Its clarity is never darkened,
and I know that every light has come from it
although it is night.

I know that its streams are so brimming
they water the lands of hell, the heavens, and earth,
although it is night.

I know well the stream that flows from this spring
is mighty in compass and power,
although it is night.

I know the stream proceeding from these two,
that neither of them in fact precedes it,
although it is night.

This eternal spring is hidden
in this living bread for our life’s sake,
although it is night.

It is here calling out to creatures;
and they satisfy their thirst, although in darkness,
because it is night.

This living spring that I long for,
I see it in this bread of life,
although it is night."

 

Mary

juancruz8As a good son of Mt. Carmel, Saint John of the Cross was greatly devoted to Our Lady.

In his writings, there are abundant references to the Mother of God. She herself helped him to escape his captivity:

On the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, the prior entered the cell where Saint John of the Cross was imprisoned and gave him a kick. The saint sat up and greeted him. The prior noticed that the Carmelite was somewhat absorbed in his thoughts and asked him: "What is it that you are thinking of?" The saint responded: "I have remembered that tomorrow is the feast day of Our Lady and it would be the greatest joy for me to be able to celebrate the Holy Mass.” The prior, irritated, replied: "You will not do so while I am the superior."

That night, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and consoled him, saying: "Be patient, my son; soon this trial will come to its end." And indeed, some days later she appeared again, showing him a window that was facing the river. She said to him: "You will escape from here and I will help you." After this vision, he was given time for exercise. He took advantage of this to look for the window that he had seen and, when he found it, returned to the cell. Days earlier he had begun to loosen the hinges of the door and had prepared a rope made of pieces of sheets. That night, he finished taking off the hinges to open the door, he dropped out the window with the rope that he had made, and jumped to the ground, on the shore of the Tagus river.

Through this providential intervention, the Blessed Virgin wished to free her devoted son from prison.

Places

juancruz11The main places of pilgrimage related to Saint John of the Cross are Úbeda (province of Jaén), Spain, and Segovia, Spain.

Saint John of the Cross was buried in the convent of Úbeda, where he died. There, the first tomb of the saint is conserved and there is also a museum with many relics and items from the time of the saint.

In 1563, his body was taken to Segovia where it is currently conserved incorrupt in a chapel of the Carmelite Convent. In addition to the Convent, in the city of Segovia, there are other places to visit associated to Saint John of the Cross.

Other places to are: Fontiveros (province of Avila), where his birth house is located, the church where he was baptized and where his father and one of his brothers are buried; Medina del Campo (province of Valladolid), where the convent in which he entered the Carmelite Order is located and other places that he frequented; Duruelo and Mancera (province Segovia), where the first convents founded by Saint John of the Cross are found and other cities of Castilla and Andalusia through which he passed (Salamanca, Toledo, Ávila, Granada, etc.)

Readings

By the saint:

Saint John of the Cross is considered a renowned author of the Spanish Renaissance.

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His greatest works are:

- Ascent of Mount Carmel
- Dark Night of the Soul
- The Spiritual Canticle
- The Living Flame of Love

Besides these great works, there are other minor works, such as the Letters, The Precautions, Spiritual Counsels, Counsels to a Religious, and Poems.

The writings of Saint John of the Cross have been translated to English many times and have been published by many publishers. You may also find them in various Catholic websites with different digital formats.

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From the Popes:

- Apostolic Letter “Teacher of the Faith” of the Holy Father John Paul II, December 14, 1990.

- Catechesis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI about Saint John of the Cross, February 16, 2011.

From other authors:

- "The Science of the Cross", a study about Saint John of the Cross by Saint Edith Stein.

Sister Clare

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