A golden reliquary housing the hand of a mystic nun – accessed by a key – and dessert orders placed with unseen voices before goods are exchanged on a rotating cabinet. This is part of what I experienced upon entering the Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Ronda, southern Spain – possibly the most curious little church I’ve ever visited.
I was here to see a famous nun, Saint Teresa of Avila, who founded the Discalced Carmelites (a Catholic order dedicated to a life of prayer). She was also a prominent Spanish mystic, a Roman Catholic saint and an author who died in 1582. My partner owns one of her books entitled El Castillo Interior (The Interior Castle), which is a guide for spiritual development, and I knew nothing of this lady prior to my visit.
Now, however, I found myself inside a church being handed a key via a revolving cabinet, all to see this lady’s ancient, lifeless hand. No faces were seen. I grabbed the key, opened the nearby door and stood staring at the reliquary encased hand that was once Saint Teresa of Avila’s, a lady that was (and still is) revered in Spain and around the world.
Now just why is her hand sitting encased in a church? After her death, Saint Teresa’s body parts were found to be incorrupt and so, as was the custom during her time, they were removed and sent to various parts of Spain. Her left hand eventually came into the possession of the Discalced Carmelites in Ronda just before the Spanish Civil War.
In fact, Saint Teresa of Avila struck the heart of people such as Spanish general and dictator Francisco Franco, also a devout Catholic, who stole her hand from the church and slept with it during his entire tenure as ruler of Spain. Upon his death, the Discalced Carmelites requested its return, which took place in 1976. Ronda then held an enormous party.
What of the secret Bakery?
The Carmelite nuns at the convent are part of a cloistered order, entirely devoted to prayer, abstinence and penance. They remain out of sight, hidden behind walls as part of their faith. They do, however, make a variety of desserts which are displayed for the public. If you want some, you merely place your order, put your money on the rotating cabinet, spin it around and wait.
When the cabinet spun back with the goods, I felt like I was in a James Bond film. Apparently Jamie Oliver raves about these particular desserts, although I thought they were nothing special. Perhaps I ordered the wrong things. However, I thought the customer service here was most interesting.