This is one of my personal favorite websites from the GeoCities archive so far. It is located at http://www.oocities.org/soho/5224/. Saint Theresa's House is a personal website dedicated to Saint Teresa of Ávila, a patron saint of Spain. Teresa, who lived during the 16th century, was a Spanish mystic, religious reformer, and enduringly influential writer.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure why this website holds so much fascination for me. I am not Catholic, nor Christian, nor religious in any way, actually, and I am mostly ignorant of the life and times of Saint Teresa. I've been to Spain only once, and then only for a brief stay in a hostel in Barcelona. But maybe all this is why this devotional website is so compelling to me — it is a window into a worldview very different from my own.
Saint Theresa's House contains a wealth of information on the saint: biography, translated text written by Theresa herself, artwork inspired by her, and a detailed, illuminated story about a trip the author (identified only as Cheryl De Ciantis) took from Greensboro, North Carolina to Spain, "to walk in the footsteps of St. Teresa of Avila." Although the care with which Cheryl describes this journey is impressive, the details of it are not particularly interesting to an outside reader. However, there is something kind of magical to me about the design of the site. It truly does have the feeling of a diary, or maybe more so a digital shrine. Cheryl introduces the site with the following welcome:
Saint Teresa of Avila has been a beacon for me in art, life and spirituality for more than twenty years. I would like to share her with those of you not yet familiar with her, and I would like to share my idiosyncratic take on her with those many of you who are. I hope to inspire, and entertain, but not to offend.
Teresa wrote extensively of her religious life, which included raptures, and sometimes out-of-body experiences. She wrote that she would levitate and had to request other nuns to hold her down. On this website, Cheryl shares a translated text written by Teresa, in which she describes an ecstatic experience which involved being piereced by the golden spear of an angel.
I really like the inclusion of a physical house for Saint Teresa, in the form of the above artwork which Cheryl describes on the site. This website is itself a kind of house for the saint. On the page about the sculpture, Cheryl writes:
When I had my 40th birthday, it occurred to me for the first time that, like St. Teresa, I spent the first half of my life in isolation. She spent it in the convent (La Encarnación, in Avila) where she had her most dramatic mystical experiences; I spent it in the studio, focused on making art, which itself can sometimes feel like mystical experience. In the second half of her life, St. Teresa went out into the world and founded the convents of her Reform, and she wrote the books that still bring her recognition as a great theologian and teacher. In the second half of my life, I want to go out into the world, to teach, to talk with people, to have an influence and create real things in the world of business and politics.
This is the most personal statement on the site, and gives us more understanding of why Cheryl felt compelled to spend so much time creating this space dedicated to Saint Teresa. Then again, sometimes it is hard to describe or understand why someone feels the need to spend time researching and discussing a particular subject; whether it's a certain saint, or a period of time, or a type of website. The way I experience it, there is a kind of force that draws you to a subject, because you have the feeling that understanding it better will help you better understand yourself — and by extension, the world around you. Maybe this is what Cheryl was thinking about when she included this quote from French writer André Maurois on Saint Teresa's homepage:
"Every work of art is a sign; one does not know of what, and in that lies its attraction."