Throughout history, God has raised up souls with a special love of the Eucharist, who enrich the Mystical Body of Christ by their example. For the Church is not like a museum that only preserves the excellence in which it was established by its Divine Founder; rather, it is a living society that constantly produces new fruits.
One of these souls shone out a little over five hundred years ago, but not from within a convent or in the exercise of ecclesiastical ministry. From the ranks of the laity, and free of weighty temporal responsibilities that would impede her dedication to the Church, a lady of the Castilian nobility stood out: Doña Teresa Enriquez. Who was she?
In the court of the Catholic Monarchs
Teresa Enríquez de Alvarado was born in 1450. She was the first cousin of King Ferdinand the Catholic and a close friend of Queen Isabella of Castile. Married to Don Gutierre de Cárdenas, the head chancellor of the kingdom and mayor of Toledo, she bore five children, three of whom died as infants. Given the illustrious position held by Don Gutierre, the family lived at court.
Surrounded by wealth and luxury, Teresa knew how to remain entirely detached from earthly goods. She wished to serve God, and spared no effort to do so: she ordered the construction of convents, hospitals and chapels; she generously helped the poor and the sick and devoted herself to her children’s education, teaching them the practices of piety and charity.
Nevertheless, raising her eyes to even higher heights, it was the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist that became her heart’s greatest love.
On fire with love for the Eucharist
From childhood, Teresa learned from her paternal grandmother, a virtuous and serious woman, the devotion and respect due to the Blessed Sacrament. As the years passed, she had grown not only in stature but above all in fervour for Our Lord in this sublime mystery.
She was a regular communicant in an age when such was not the custom, and she found time amidst her court duties and charitable works to spend long hours before the tabernacle. After the death of her third child, Teresa began to cling even more closely to Heaven. Conforming herself to the will of God, she found consolation and strength to carry on at the foot of the tabernacle.
She herself ground the wheat and mixed the flour to make the hosts that would be consecrated at the altar. She also founded sacramental confraternities that spread to many other cities, effecting a notable increase in Eucharistic adoration.
The purpose of these confraternities was to promote splendour in the worship of the Blessed Sacrament, ensuring the care of tabernacles, monstrances and sacred vessels, the preparation of priestly vestments and the furnishing of the altar, as well as the proper organization in the processional conveyance of Viaticum to the sick. Members of the confraternities would verify how the Eucharist was being venerated in the different parishes and inform the competent authority, in order to guarantee that all the sacredness and honour proper to the Bread from Heaven was being rendered.
Teresa worked to ensure that Eucharistic worship was not only the privilege of sacred spaces but that it also had an influence on civil and daily life. Thus she instituted a new current, which gained strength in the wake of the Counter-Reformation. While some dedicated themselves to justifying Eucharistic dogma by doctrinally refuting errors, she affirmed it in the field of tendencies, placing a note of grandeur, beauty and good taste in everything pertaining to the Blessed Sacrament.
Filled with love for the Eucharist, she desired that Jesus in the Host be adored and respected, giving everyone an example of fervour. So passionate was she in this commitment that Pope Julius II called her “the madwoman of the Blessed Sacrament,” as she is still known in Spain.
This noble lady was also a great devotee of Our Lady. At the beginning of her will she wrote: “In the name of the Glorious Blessed Virgin, Holy Mary, […] whom I hold as Mistress and Advocate in all my actions and now, with a devout heart, I offer myself as her slave and servant, and I offer Her my soul.”1
Abnegated devotion until death
Before her death in the year 1529, she ordered that her funeral and burial be simple. She forbade anyone to speak of her and determined that the sermon should be in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, thereby proving that everything she had done on this earth was motivated solely by a pure and disinterested love for Our Eucharistic Lord.
Her diocesan process of beatification was recently concluded in the Archdiocese of Toledo, in whose territory Torrijos is located – the city where she spent the last years of her life.
Her body remained incorrupt and rests in the monastery of the Conceptionists of Torrijos, becoming for us a proof of how an upright, devout and compassionate life is rewarded with the benevolence of the Creator.
This noble lady knew how to set her heart on the greatest treasure that exists on this earth: the Sacramental Jesus
The incorrupt body of Teresa Enríquez – Convent of the Most Pure Conception, Torrijos (Spain)
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be
It would be a mistake to think: “It is very easy for someone with social prestige, good relations and a considerable fortune to succeed in a great enterprise.” What determines the success of an undertaking is the worthiness of the goal and the virtuous intention of the person carrying it out, not position or available means. These contribute, and considerably, but they are not decisive. In God’s works, divine grace is what counts most; human factors are secondary. Nowadays, how many people there are with power, influence and money… and how rarely is this capital applied for the glory of God and the good of one’s neighbour!
Aware that a Christian must be a true reflection of the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Blessed Mother, Teresa Enriquez was an admirable example of fervour, humility and selfless charity. She knew how to set her heart on the greatest treasure that exists on this earth: the humble Prisoner hidden under the species of bread and wine. ◊
1 ENRÍQUEZ DE ALVARADO, Teresa. Testamento hológrafo, 30 de marzo de 1528. In: FERNÁNDEZ, Amaya. Teresa Enríquez, la loca del Sacramento. Madrid: BAC, 2001, p.83.