Saint John of the Cross was a major figure in the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic and a Carmelite friar and priest. His efforts toward reformation, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, lead to the creation of the Discalced (barefoot) Carmelite Order, a separate province devoted to returning to the order's original vocation. He is known for his poetry and writings about the soul, generally believed to be the apex of mystical Spanish literature, and is considered one of the most important writers in all of Spanish literature.
In 1542, John was born in Spain to a former accountant father and a lower-class weaver mother. When John's father had married his mother, his family disowned him, forcing him to work also as a weaver. John's father died when John was three years old, and John's brother soon followed, likely dead from malnutrition.
John went to school for poor children and orphans, where he received a basic education and served as an acolyte at a monastery. As he grew older, he worked at a hospital and continued his studies at a Jesuit school. He joined the Carmelite Order in 1563, and traveled to Salamanca to study philosophy. He intended to return home and join a strict order, but met a nun named Theresa of Jesus, later to become Saint Teresa of Ávila. She spoke about her plans for reformation and a return to stricter ways, and he agreed to join her. Around 1575, he had a vision of Christ on the crucifix and changed his name to John of the Cross. His drawing of the incident, depicting Christ from above, would later inspire Salvador Dali.
Things grew dire as opposition to the reformation grew. In 1577, a group of Carmelites kidnapped him and took him to stand trial, despite the fact that he had permission to start his own order. John was imprisoned and tortured for nine months, before escaping. He finished the poetry he started writing in prison and continued his reformation work. In 1591, he grew gravely ill and died December 4 of the skin condition erysipelas, also known as St. Anthony 's fire.
Quick Facts about Saint John of the Cross
Feast Day: December 14
Best known for: Speaking about the "dark night of the soul" one encounters on the path to fully serving God.
Died: December 14, 1591
Beatified: January 25, 1675
Canonized: December 27, 1726