|Author||St. Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.|
|Original title||El Castillo Interior|
Published in English
|1675, 1852 and 1912|
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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
Teen Daze's  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." This line appears dubbed over the musical introduction to "New Life."
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.