St. John of the Cross: his discovery of his love for music, painting, sculpture, and poetry in a Jesuit school

Juan de Yepes was the son of a poor silk weaver of Fontiberos, Toledo, and was born in 1542.  His father was of noble birth; he had married much beneath him, and for that offence had been entirely cut off by his family.  He had taken to silk weaving as a means of livelihood, but had never been able to make much of it.  Soon after the birth of Juan he died, worn out with the effort to keep his wife and three children.  the family were left in direst poverty; the children grew up always underfed, so that to the end of his life Juan remained dwarfed in stature.  St. Teresa, in one of her flashes of humour, speaks of him in one place as ‘half a man.’

Juan first went to a poor school in Medina, where the family then lived.  then he tried to learn a trade, but apparently could make nothing of it.  At fourteen years of age, since he had to earn his living, he found a post as an assistant in a hospital in Medina; at the same time he contrived to attend the classes of a school conducted by the Jesuit fathers.  Here at once the genius of the boy appeared.  He was a born artist, and every form of art appealed to him.  Music was his delight; not only the music of song and instrument, but also the ‘silent music,’ as he later called it, of the woods, and the waters, and the stars.  He had a relish for sculpture; he could paint and design; but most of all he revelled in poetry, and found in it the medium for the expression of his soul.  Of all things else Juan de Yepes was a poet born; with a poet’s vision, a poet’s ambition, a poet’s restlessness and dissatisfaction, a poet’s special field of  delight, last of all a poet’s need to find expression in rhythm and verse.  We have heard much of late of the relation between poetry and mysticism; in Juan de Yepes we find the two combined, the one expressed in terms of the other, as we may perhaps find them in no other mystic, not excepting Ramon Lull.

Source: Alban Goodier, S.J., “The self-portrait of St. John of the Cross,” in Saints for Sinners (Sheed and Ward, London, 1930), pp 95-110.  See p. 97-98.


About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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