She had the good fortune of closely accompanying the great Saint Teresa of Jesus, of whom she was nurse, secretary and confidante, and, later, propagator of her spirituality and continuer of her mission.
News Desk (07/06/2021 11:27, Gaudium Press)Ana García Manzanas was born on the First of October 1549 into a family of prosperous farmers in the village of El Almendral, near Avila.
She was the sixth of seven children and had the good fortune to be instructed in the Faith from her earliest steps, not only by listening to the pious teachings of her parents, but also by seeing them act as excellent Catholics in everything.
They took their obligations to God so seriously that they made a point of attending Mass every morning with all the children, no matter how serious and urgent the business of the day might be.
Used to giving true value to supernatural realities, Anne always felt a strong attraction to Heaven and a deep aversion to sin.
Familiarity with the supernatural from an early age
When she was three years old, she experienced the first mystical phenomenon of her life, which filled her with strength and consolation: raising her eyes, she saw Heaven open and Our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded by glory, gazing upon her, filling her heart with a burning desire to love and serve Him.
From then on, Anne’s life would be permeated with extraordinary manifestations of this kind, for example, frequent appearances of the Child Jesus, who always presented Himself at the same age as the child.
When Anne was ten years old, her parents died and her brothers gave her the task of looking after the family’s flocks. She profited greatly from this, for in the quiet solitude of the fields the Child Jesus began to make Himself visibly present every day, giving her great spiritual joy.
Proof of dedication to vocation
As time went by, it became clear to the young Anna that God was calling her to religious life, and Our Lord himself indicated to her in a dream the monastery she was to enter: the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Avila, founded a short time before by the then famous Mother Teresa of Jesus.
Anne, however, would only succeed in following her vocation after hard battles, both against her family, who strongly opposed her decision, and against the devil, whose determination to not let her join was terrible.
This is how she describes her entrance into Carmel, to which she arrived accompanied by some family members:
“They were weeping along the way and hardly spoke to me. I was very happy, but on the other hand, so tormented by bad temptations that it seemed as if all hell had gathered to make war on me. I dared not say a word about it, because if I did, they would rightly say that I was crazy to enter the monastery like that.
Jesus, however, who is the strength and victory of the righteous, soon rewarded her perseverance and faithfulness, as she herself relates:
“At the entrance door, that storm disappeared as if a hat had been taken off my head; I remained as in a heaven of contentment, seeming as if I had spent my whole life among those saints.”
At St Joseph’s Convent in Avila, Anne was admitted as a lay sister and added to her name that of St Bartholomew.
In charge of the material needs of the house, she knew how to unite an intense interior life to the incessant activity of caring for the sisters in the habit, joyfully taking upon herself the most difficult tasks.
However, the trial that so often visits those whom God wants to perfect in a special way, inexorably appeared right at the beginning of her novitiate: the sensitive presence of Our Lord, which she had felt since she was a child, completely disappeared.
In the personal service of the great Carmelite reformer
Anne first encountered the one who was to be the light of her steps when she was still a novice, in July 1571. On seeing her, the great Saint Teresa showed so much happiness that she seemed to be in expectation of a soul so like her own. After examining her for a few moments, she gave her a strong embrace and ordered her to be placed in her personal service.
During the three years that the Saint remained in that convent, Anne was able to receive countless lessons in perfection in an intimate conviviality, contemplating with delight and veneration the various facets of her superior.
This period was the beginning of the long journey that the two Saints were to travel together. When St Teresa left for Seville in 1574, her auxiliary could not follow her because of a violent illness that left her without energy for her usual tasks.
Generous as she was, the sense of uselessness caused by this situation only increased her desire to give herself entirely to God. So she asked Him to heal her or to take her from this life, and she received this answer:
“This is not convenient for you now; you will have to suffer many labours in the company of my friend Teresa”.
Despite such a consoling promise, Anne’s health did not improve at all… As usually happens to very chosen souls, Jesus wanted a new act of trust and abandonment from her.
To serve St. Teresa, nothing was an obstacle
When St. Teresa returned to Avila, Anne was still ill. Nevertheless, she gave her the order, at first sight quite arbitrary, to assume the post of nurse.
Although she could scarcely stand, she promptly obeyed, asking Our Lord to help her. Pleased with this act of submission, Jesus appeared and not only gave her the strength to look after the sick sisters, but He also made Himself available to care for one of them.
After a few days, they all recovered and were impressed by the dedication and skill of the new nurse, who seemed to know all the secrets of the job as if she had been doing it for years.
Thanks to this favour granted by God, she was able to help her holy Mother countless times with the health problems that afflicted her, especially in the last years of her life, when, having broken her left arm, she needed someone to help her at all times.
Apart from the journeys, which were a very special occasion for socializing, she became closer to Saint Teresa when she became her secretary.
Even though she could neither read nor write, it was enough for the great teacher to express her desire to have her as an assistant in the dispatch of her correspondence that Anna volunteered to help her, trusting that God would provide her with the necessary means.
With simplicity, she asked the Saint for some of her writings, in order to imitate her handwriting, and that same day she managed to write a letter, writing down what the Mother dictated to her.
Today the collection of the writings of Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew constitutes a large volume that proclaims in itself this miracle worked in her by God.
Before her, human insufficiencies ceased to be obstacles and became the foundation on which God worked his miracles.
“Similis simili gaudet”
On October 4, 1582, Saint Teresa was on her bed of pain. Feeling that her last hour was approaching, she went to confession, received Viaticum, and expired, resting her head in the arms of the faithful Anne, who assisted her day and night.
Our Lord himself then came to console the faithful disciple, appearing to her full of splendour and showing her the stupendous commemoration that the Angels and Saints were preparing in Heaven to receive the one he called “my friend”.
So pure, self-sacrificing and restoring was Blessed Anne’s love for her teacher, that this vision was enough to strengthen and fill her with joy, to the point that she did not shed a single tear on her death.
On the contrary, she was radiant with happiness, because at last her venerable Mother would receive the reward for the arduous battles she had faced, the glory for the unspeakable sufferings she had undergone, and the crown for so many victories she had achieved!
After the departure of Saint Teresa for eternity, Anne became a point of reference for those who, whether they belonged to the Order of Carmel or not, wanted to know better the Teresian story and soul.
And it soon became evident how much that trustworthy witness had allowed herself to be moulded by her superior and had assimilated her spirit. In obedience she received the black veil, which meant that she was no longer a simple lay sister, and was sent to France, together with other religious, to introduce the Discalced Carmelite Order there.
She spent the last years of her life in Belgium, where she founded the Carmel of Antwerp.
At that time the Belgians were engaged in a war against the Dutch. Her reputation for sanctity was so widespread that many soldiers, before leaving for the front, came to ask her for an object of hers, to use as a relic and as a guarantee of God’s protection.
One of them, who had a piece of paper written on his chest by the holy Mother, was saved from death by God: a bullet passed through the thick fabric of his uniform, but was stopped by the thin sheet of paper!
Moreover, on two occasions, in the years 1622 and 1624, when the city was about to be taken by enemy troops, it was Mother Anne’s prayers that miraculously saved it, giving reason to what the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II, then governor of the Netherlands, had said some time before:
“I fear nothing concerning the Castle of Antwerp nor this city, for I am safer with the defence made by the prayers of Mother Anne of Saint Bartholomew than with how many armies I may have there.”
On June 7th 1626, this valiant soul ended her course in this world to enter the joys of heaven, where, certainly at the side of her beloved Mother Theresa of Jesus, she continues to support those who watch over the glory of God and his Church.
Text extracted, with adaptations, from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 186, June 2017.
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