Teresa de Cartagena
Teresa was born at Burgos, after 1423, to Pedro de Cartagena (1387-1478), a royal counselor. She was one of seven children; traditionally, with her two sisters she would have educated at home and then perhaps sent to a convent school. She entered a Franciscan monastery in Burgos, probably as a teenager. She tells us that she was “at the University of Salamanca” for a few years; no woman could have been officially a student, but she may have received tutoring there, perhaps at a Franciscan house of study. In 1449 she transferred from the Franciscans to a Cistercian monastery, probably also in Burgos. However, she never speaks of her fellow religious in her writing; rather, she sees herself as belonging to a “convent of the suffering.”
At some point, perhaps after 1449, Teresa lost all of her hearing, apparently through illness. Twenty years later, she wrote Arboleda de los enfermos (Grove of the infirm), in which it is clear that she was still struggling to accept her loss and make some sense of her experience. The work was addressed to a “virtuous lady,” but its larger audience was all who suffer serious illness or physical infirmity.
Her treatise was widely enough read to prompt a reaction — from those who were surprised that she could write anything worthwhile and from those who, since it was in fact well written, assumed that someone else must have been the author. This reaction brought Teresa’s second treatise, Admiracion operum Dey (Wonder at the works of God), in which she defends her authorship by suggesting that her critics are denying God’s power, which she then goes on to illustrate.
According to the manuscript’s copyist, this second work was written at the request of Juana de Mendoza y Gomez Manrique (d.1498), an attendant to a princess and the wife of a major political and literary figure. She may also have been the “virtuous lady” of the first book, but that is not certain.
The extant manuscripts were made in 1481; the brief introduction by the copyist doesn’t indicate whether Teresa was still alive at that time.