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John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a reformer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Saint John the Cross was also a Spanish mystic and a Doctor of the Church. Scholars agree that John the Cross is probably the greatest poet in the Spanish language, not for the volumes produced but for the content “polished and re-polished ceaselessly” to perfection.

Carmelite Monastery of St. Joseph and St. Anne. Inside is the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. These are true gems of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

inside carmalite monestary
Inside the medieval looking Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The Carmelite nuns celebrate Mass on the other side of the reredos immediately behind the altar.

john the cross closeup
Closeup of St. Elisha the prophet on right and St. Teresa of Jesus on the left at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Mount Carmel, Philadelphia PA. The prophet Elijah is in the chariot of fire at top, being carried into heaven.

face of john
Face of St. Elisha.

Up to John the Cross’s time, there had been very little mystical prose at all, except for poetry of the mystical experience, called the Prayer of Quiet (similar to contemplative prayer). St. John of the Cross had to invent phrases in order to express ideas which previously had no outlet in Spanish.(1) His greatest poetic work, the Spiritual Canticles was composed for the most part while imprisoned by his own religious order, the Carmelites, who resisted the change he was promoting.

A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul

(1) Reference: St. John of the Cross | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. | From Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel–On Prayer

nuns wall


My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

– STANZAS XIV, XV, from The Spiritual Canticle of the Soul by John of the Cross