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We do not know either the day or the month when he was born. We only know the years: 1542. Juan de Yepes Alvarez was born in Fontiveros, a village near Avila. Dry in the summer, cold and arid in the winter. His parents' marriage was a poem of love. Gonzalo de Yepes, coming from a rich family of Toledo fell in love with Catalina Alvarez - beautiful girl endowed with many human traits but not a penny to call her own. His family opposed vigorously a marriage which would degrade their son to a lower social class. They treatened to disinherit him. He felt that love is more important than money and he did not heed their threats. Gonzalo married Catalina and became penniless. Thus, this young man who had been used to the cozy life of a gentleman, suddenly found himself in a situation where he had to fend for himself. He learnt the art of weaving silk, which was his wife's trade. It was hard work which did not pay well.  Indeed, for some time they even had to struggle against hunger.

They had three sons: Francisco (1530) , Luis (date of birth unknown), and Juan. When John was six, his father became very ill. He was bed-ridden for two years thus using up all the family's savings. His death meant that life became much harder for the de Yepes family. The familiar situation was made worse by a famine which affected the whole of Castille.

Catalina decided to seek assistance from the family of her husband. She left Fontiveros and went to Toledo. John was still a baby. However all doors were closed to this poor widow. From Toledo she went to Galvez where her husband's brother lived. This man, a doctor who had no children, decided to take Francisco under his care. However, his wife made life so difficult for Francisco that the boy soon had to return to his mother. Meanwhile, Catalina had returned to Fontiveros. There Luis died. From a family of five, in a few months they had been reduced to a family of three. The shock of two bereavements, so close to each other, left their mark on young Juan.

Life was very hard at Fontiveros, so Catalina decided to emigrate to Arevalo. This was a difficult decision since it meant leaving the place where she had her most beautiful memories. The situation did not improve and after three years she had to load all her possessions on a donkey and travel again, this time to Medina del Campo - a city of 30,000 inhabitants where there was more trade. Withint the space of 12 years, Juan had already lived in four different places. The poor rarely find openings in life, and even in Medina, the family's position did not improve.

This poverty left a deep mark on the sensitive character of the boy. God did not intend his genius to be wasted in the normal bustle of everyday work. The family never made a tragedy out of their poverty. Indeed, both at Arevalo and at Medina, his mother would often gather together some poor children, take them home, share what little food the family had with them. Early in life Juan learnt that love is a flame which burns with a wish to burn more fiercely...

From "God Is A Feast - A New Look at Saint John of the Cross" by Father Pius Sammut, Discalced Carmelite
Translated from Maltese by Mark Agius, MD. New Life Publishing, Great Britain, 1996
Reproduced with permission from the author.

John, as a 26 year old Carmelite friar, met Teresa of Avila. As a result of their collaboration,  on November 27, 1568, the friars'  equivalent of St Teresa's reformed convents was founded. John took the name "John of the Cross" at this time. In 1593 this reform became a separate order known as Contemplative Carmelites. However, they were nicknamed "discalced" or "barefoot" and this is the name that remains today.

Both St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross have been declared Doctors of the Church. Click on the shields below to discover the beauty of the love of God St John was able to communicate through his writings.

Writings About St John of the Cross, OCD Writings by St John of the Cross, OCD
Our Lady and John of the Cross -Thomas Moore,OCDS The Spiritual Canticle
Reinventing Mysticism - Fr Pius Sammut, OCD The Living Flame of Love
John of the Cross for Carpenters - Dennis Read, OCD The Dark Night
Embodied Love in John of the Cross - Richard Hardy, PhD   Prayer of a Soul Taken in Love
The Influence of John of the Cross
in the United States - Fr Steven Payne, OCD


The Ascent of Mount Carmel - Teachings of Fr Steven Payne, OCD, on CINCarm
The Lover and the Beloved - Album by John Michael Talbot,  St John of the Cross in music


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