Saint Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family origins have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born.
In 1528, when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the "most beloved of them all." She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years. Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, an early example of which trait occurred when at the age of 7 she left home with her brother Rodrigo with the intention of going to Moorish territory to be beheaded for Christ, but they were frustrated by their uncle, who met the children as they were leaving the city and brought them home.
At about 12 the fervor of her piety waned somewhat. She began to take an interest in the development of her natural attractions and in books of chivalry. Her affections were directed especially to her cousins, the Mejias, children of her aunt Dona Elvira, and she gave some thought to marriage. Her father was disturbed by these fancies and opposed them. While she was in this crisis, her mother died. Afflicted and lonely, Teresa appealed to the Blessed Virgin to be her mother. Seeing his daughter's need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.
On August 15 she fell into a coma so profound that she was thought to be dead. After 4 days she revived, but she remained paralyzed in her legs for 3 years. After her cure, which she attributed to St. Joseph, she entered a period of mediocrity in her spiritual life, but she did not at any time give up praying. Her trouble came of not understanding that the use of the imagination could be dispensed with and that her soul could give itself directly to contemplation. During this stage, which lasted 18 years, she had transitory mystical experiences. She was held back by a strong desire to be appreciated by others, but this finally left her in an experience of conversion in the presence of an image of "the sorely wounded Christ". This conversion dislodged the egoism that had hindered her spiritual development. Thus, at the age of 39, she began to enjoy a vivid experience of God's presence within her.