ST. MARY’S, WIGAN
THE little incidents related in the last chapter give the picture of Teresa as she appeared to the eyes of her friends and companions. We must now turn to the more important events of this time, and Canon Snow1 supplies the clue which sets them in their true perspective. He says that Teresa was essentially a contemplative, and as such was being led along the path of Mystic union. He goes on to explain how, the closer the union to which a soul is called by God, so much the more intense is the purification to which it is subjected. Teresa, he says, during these months at Wigan, was being prepared for that degree of union known as the Mystical Espousals which was accomplished on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 1874. “During this period”, he says2, “she underwent many trials and much suffering. Our blessed Lord allowed her more fully than before to participate in the sufferings of His Passion. She suffered much from the obsessions of the Devil. She was also subjected to many trials and tests on the part of her director.
“To begin with the last of these trials”, he continues, “Father Thomas Wells, the rector of St. Mary’s and her director, was a holy zealous and devoted priest, faithful in the discharge of every duty and withal a humble man. Finding himself in charge of so gifted and holy a soul, a position so remote from any experience he had hitherto had, in his humility and diffidence he sought advice and considered it his duty to follow it in all respects. Hence he came to guide her soul by proxy. He consulted and was in frequent communication with the Rev. James Lennon, D.D., professor of moral theology at St. Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw. This is a situation that has often arisen in the lives of the saints and other holy souls, arisen no doubt by the Providence of God for the greater purification of the soul, but one which in itself can hardly be considered consonant with the principles which should guide the confessor in his dealings with his penitent. It invariably happens in such cases that the priest consulted is never satisfied, especially where he has no personal knowledge of the penitent. He is ever in doubt and orders one test after another to be applied, one humiliation and trial after another, until the penitent and director are robbed of all peace. This is precisely what happened in the present case. Father Wells was one of those men, and there are many like him, who think that when they ask advice they ought conscientiously to take it. Hence he appears to have imposed upon Teresa all the trials and humiliations that Dr. Lennon suggested. At one time, he insulted her in public and drove her out of the church. This little affected her for she and all who witnessed the event, knowing as they did the habitual kindness and gentleness of Father Wells, would know that he was only acting. The humiliation was too apparent. What proved to be a real trial and suffering was a much more simple thing. He put her under obedience to take off her scapulars and medals and carry no pious object on her person. This caused her very great suffering as she considered she must in some way have made herself unworthy to wear them, and, moreover, thought that they were means of grace which she had thought necessary for her salvation.”
Among the trials to which Father Snow alludes are the obsessions of the Devil. “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places”, says St. Paul, and the greater the saint the sterner will be the conflict. So we find Satan bringing all his forces to the attack against this unknown little teacher. He mocked and beat her, ill-used and tempted her, even as he had done to the great Fathers of the Desert, and to the saintly Curé d’Ars. She told it all in obedience to her directors, and her own account is fully borne out by the witness of her friends. There is no stronger proof of her rare powers of attraction than the fact that the young girls who were her companions should none the less have had the courage to remain with her, but their trust in Teresa was unshakable and as long as she was near they knew full well no harm could come to them.
The following letter describes some of her experiences in this respect.
“A M D G et in hon B V M et Bt. J.
“Bootle June 20 1880
 “Dear rev. Father
“In honour of the Seat of divine Wisdom and in the holy name of Jesus and Mary I will relate the principal temptations at Wigan by which the Devil by the permission of God assailed me.
“I think the first visible temptation which I had at Wigan was as soon as I went. I think you know that without any permission I used to rise as soon after twelve as I conveniently could (I had not a bed to myself) to make my meditation etc. and each time I commenced the Devil used to beat and ill use the body, and spit horrible filth upon me in the face and eyes, in fact, completely cover me which made me very sick, and the stench was almost poisoning. And this I told to rev. T. Wells who told me he thought I had a very fertile imagination, and as far as I can judge he did not believe me, but he told me to tell him each time I fancied it, and when he saw that it still continued he asked me could he write to some priest of great experience about it. But in the meantime, he said, you must not rise to make your meditation. Night is the time to sleep and rest so that you may be able to do your work as duty requires. And so I did not rise intentionally, but several times I found myself rising, and when I at once returned the devils would shriek and yell and laugh in a most dreadful manner and mock me and say: ‘Most obedient maid how firm are your words of promise to the King of heaven!’ But I did not notice him. Of course each time I found myself getting out of bed I told my confessor as soon as I could see him and he said if the will was really desirous of being entirely obedient he did not see how I could be so continually rising; but I begged and prayed our Lord and His b. Mother to help me to accomplish perfectly and promptly whatever my director would wish, cost it me what it would. And so by degrees I did not rise, but I seldom slept, I could not help myself making my meditation though I think I strove hard to resist, and so I told Father Wells. Then he said I must sleep a certain time, I forget now but I think he said four hours, and under obedience I did so, and when I slept the Devil would rouse me. Sometimes he cried as though some poor child were out upon the doorstep; sometimes he used to throw me completely out of bed, throw things at me that were in the room, and make awful noises, and I used to be afraid at first that Miss Gallagher or the people of the house would hear. And several times when I awoke I perceived a smell of something burning, and the house being filled with smoke and brimstone, I thought surely the house was on fire. And other times I saw the whole bed and room full of flames and heard the crackling and I am afraid in this case I proved a coward, for I was frightened more than I can tell at first for there was no holy water: the Devil threw something against the bottle and broke it. But Mary and St. Michael were ever near and when I called upon her I knew he had no power to hurt. But I thought the house might really be burnt and I think it was the Devil so I told Fr. Wells that I felt afraid and he said I must tell the Devil he must not do it again. And any temptation I always noticed stopped at the command of my director. Fr. Wells told me to ask our b. Lord to change the temptation.
“When Fr. Wells told me not to make my meditation I thought that was just what the Devil wanted, but I did not say so for I knew that obedience and giving up my own will was more pleasing to our b. Lord and more to my own good than anything else.
“Our Lord kept these temptations secret till we went to the school-house and then they were soon known. The Devil knew I did not like anyone to know these things and so he often told me he would let the other mistresses see and know all; but I knew he had no power of himself so I never heeded him, and I used to say to our dear b. Lord when he said these things to me: ‘Thou knowest best oh Lord what is good for me. I am Thine do with me what Thou pleasest.”
“At length Miss Ryland (who is now a nun) and Miss Woodward (at Burscough Hall) soon saw and heard everything almost; at least I don’t know what they knew, but as they were frightened Fr. Wells told them the Devil could not hurt them etc. I think I had temptations against every virtue while there and I seemed entirely abandoned by God and His holy Mother, and at these times Fr. Wells on more than one occasion would not hear what I had to say. He used to tell me to go to holy Communion as usual which was then only four times per week.”
Teresa always felt herself called in a special manner to make reparation for sinners, and she used often to beg to be allowed to take on herself the punishment due to them in order to secure their salvation. This seemed to infuriate the Devil, and at such times he would attack her with redoubled fury.
[55a] “I think the reason why the Devil used to spit and throw that abominable filth of such awful stench at me was because at that time I resolved to mortify the senses more rigorously and never to gratify them in the least, or rather to do all that I could that was disagreeable and hurtful to them. Certainly at times I was almost suffocated but the holy and strong God never forsook me and Mary was ever a tower of strength against all the wiles of the wicked one. And when ever our dear good God accepted my poor prayers and little nothings in behalf of poor sinners he, the Devil, used to be infuriated, and beat, drag and almost choke me. He used to tell me it was no use me trying to save souls when my own was lost, that God had already given him power over me, that it was far better for me to live a very ordinary life, that such things that I took upon myself were more than the greatest saints attempted, that it was mad presumption on my part to expect that God would work continual miracles in my behalf…
“When our dear Lord tried me with great desolation, he appeared with numberless demons and tempted me as I think they would tempt the poor souls whose guilt I took upon myself, with, I think, every description of sin — against charity, with envy — hatred I may say, and against holy Purity, against Faith and to a dreadful despair. For when I was really worn out with continual struggling and I knew not whether I had sinned or no and I cried out to God for pity and pardon, and to Mary, Joseph, and St. Michael for protecting help, the fiends laughed and cried as with one voice: ‘Where is now Thy God who has hitherto helped you? In what a true friend you confide, see now what effect your prayers have. Most compassionate friend, generous and charitable soul, perhaps now you will learn that charity begins at home. Learn wisdom if it is not too late; see what a reception you will have, angelical Teresa, humble and beloved Spouse of the Almighty One. Who will now help you? Where are the souls you have saved? Where is your loving Mother now? Where the God you thought to serve? Where is your God?’
“And bowing to the august and thrice blessed Trinity I answered the wicked One by saying: ‘Ah my Jesus, my God, my only Hope! Surely Thou art here in Thy Justice. Spare me not oh Lord, but save them whom You desire I should help. Remember Thy most Precious Blood is the price of each soul! Look on Thy gaping Wounds! See Thy Mother’s heart is breaking. Look on the work of Thy Hands, and when Thou lookest have mercy and spare!’
“Whatever temptation I had our b. Lord once told me to offer to the Eternal Father at once the sufferings and the Precious Blood that was endured for that particular sin, and make an act of the opposite virtue, uniting it to the perfection of that virtue in Jesus Christ and His b. Mother. Four or five times when I was fasting for sins of drunkenness and self-indulgence, and perhaps I fainted or so, the Devil would come as a friend to give me food and drink and tell me in a most compassionate manner I was too weak for such excessive mortifications. And I used at times to suffer greatly from a burning thirst and my tongue used to swell very much, and he often would bring me water and other things and wish me to slake my thirst and say: ‘You are really destroying your health, you are now in a burning fever’ etc. And he would make others notice it, and someone told Fr. Wells that I was so thirsty that I could not speak and I would not drink, and he asked me to take a drink any time Miss Ryland wished me so then I did. I know it is more pleasing to our dear b. Lord that we give up our will in little things than fast or mortify ourselves for years. The Devil used to make me strike myself as I have seen children playing with each other. He used to appear in hideous forms sometimes and also as man very often (I think he used the bodies of damned souls), and I remember particularly on two occasions him opening the bedroom window and talking as if he had a companion. Miss Ryland heard him too but she did not see him and she became much alarmed. It was in the night and she said she could not help listening, and I asked her to say the Little Office of our Lady with me and she did so and I asked her to offer it up for all who might be specially tempted at that time, in union with all the glory that ascended to Almighty God in the immaculate purity of the B.V. Mary and the awful purity of God in Unity. And the Devil was so exasperated that he commenced to throw the things about the room at me and make a terrible noise. Then it seemed as though a great explosion was taking place and he seemed to set the room on fire — she could smell the burning and she said: ‘Oh dear he is burning the bed, what shall we do?’ I told her to take no notice, to sprinkle a little holy water and let us get on with our prayers, or else try to go to sleep, he could not hurt her and the bed was not mine, he had no power over Fr. Well’s things. So he threw something against the holy water font and broke it. Sometimes he would follow me about as a fox, and sometimes as part a fish, part a fox, and part a pig, I mean a thing with a serpent’s head, a pig’s head and a fox’s head and tail and a bird’s wings and head with hooked bill, in church and out, but I never took much notice, I mean I appeared not to notice. I used to be much afraid at first, but Fr. Wells told me it was not sinful, it was the natural consequence of the supernatural coming in contact with the natural…
“I think I have now related the principal temptations, but they were many and seemed to my weakness to last a long time.”
The following is a letter written some years later by Miss Ryland to Father Powell in answer to his enquiries as to her experiences at Wigan.
“St. Paul’s Convent,
“June 27, 1880.
“REV. AND DEAR SIR,
“In reply to your letter received on Friday last, I must say that whilst living with Miss Higginson at Wigan I heard at times extraordinary noises and saw her ill-used; I never saw by whom.
“In the first place you ask me to state what I saw, giving examples. I found the holy water stoop and bottle broken in a strange manner, I did not see it done. I have never seen Miss Higginson thrown out of bed, I have found her almost out and unable to replace herself. I have seen smoke, not flames. The bed was not set on fire as far as I know for certain. I believe there were marks as if an attempt had been made to do so. I saw a strange light on the wall sometimes on the bed, and covering Miss Higginson’s face. I saw, though indistinctly, because of the dark, things hurled at her which I picked up; I have seen her own hands thrown violently against her face, I saw no one there to do it. I found water which I left by her for the purpose of washing her thrown over her. I did not see it done.
“You next ask what I heard.
“I heard noises as if everything in the room above was being dashed against the ground and on going up the noise then seemed to be in the room below where Miss Higginson was. I heard at times a rushing noise as if animals were in the room — sometimes footsteps, knocking, voices of people (once only) speaking in an undertone. I heard a noise made by Miss Higginson as though someone had hold of her throat. I have been wakened by hearing shrieks, but when fully awake did not hear them. Once or twice during the day I heard a noise as if she was struck by a hand.
“As to the effects on myself. It did cause me fear which increased until I spoke of it in the confessional and received advice about it. Afterwards it was much lessened. You ask me what I did myself and by whose advice, whether by Miss Higginson’s. I never asked Miss Higginson’s advice. I told her in the beginning I was afraid of that strange light, that I did not know what it was but I don’t remember ever asking her what I should do. I never asked anyone, I used holy water. I went at first once or perhaps twice, I forget now, to my confessor and hers in his room. I only told him what I had seen and heard the first and second nights and what I thought. I did not ask him what I should do.
“We had at that time a third person in the house who taught the night school. I told her also then, and I think asked her should I speak to my confessor, but I don’t recollect so as to be sure.
“Trusting my answers to the questions you put will satisfy.
“I remain, dear Sir,
“Yours very respectfully,
Besides this statement, Miss Ryland relates other instances of the ceaseless and petty attacks of the Devil during this time. Often there would come a knock at the door, and when Teresa went to open it she would receive a violent blow on the face from an unseen hand. When Miss Ryland went herself no one would be there. On one of these occasions Miss Ryland heard the blow, and Teresa came back into the room with a great swelling down one side of her face which gradually turned black and blue. One evening as they sat together in their house opposite the school they heard a child sobbing bitterly. Teresa, thinking it had been locked into the school by mistake, ran in great distress for the key and searched the whole building from top to bottom. No one was to be seen and suddenly the sobbing broke into mocking laughter. On another night when they were in bed, Teresa asked Miss Ryland if she heard anything in the room. She replied that there seemed to her to be two men whispering together at the foot of the bed as though they were hatching some plot. “Yes”, said Teresa, “it is the Devil and he is planning to send a man in at the window to attack us.” She then got up and fastened the window securely with a rope. A little later on there came a tremendous rattling and knocking on the pane. Teresa was always most careful on such occasions to use all human means at her disposal, and that done, she said the rest could be safely left in the Hands of God. She used to say too that it was best to pay as little attention as possible to the Devil when he tried to torment her — he just wanted to be noticed!
While Satan thus persisted in his futile persecutions, Teresa was undergoing other trials also in preparation for her closer union with her beloved Spouse. We have seen that from her infancy suffering had been her very life. This craving to participate in the pains of Christ was leading onwards to a special end. It is in itself the true seal of those on whom He chooses to confer the singular favour of the Stigmata, and the time was now approaching when He would stamp Teresa with His Sacred Wounds and, so arrayed, claim her as His promised Bride. Dr. Imbert who has made a special study of the Stigmata and of the lives of those who bore it, writes: “The life of those who bear the Stigmata is but a long series of pains which lead up to the divine malady of the Stigmata and then form an escort as it were, continuing with it up to the hour of death.”3
This was indeed proved true of Teresa.
The following letter to her director describes the penances she took upon herself in her attempt to control the flames of divine love which burnt so fiercely yet so sweetly in her heart — penances so terrible that they seem to us well nigh incredible, though to her they were but “little nothings”, filling her with great delight.
 “DEAR REV. FATHER,
“In obedience to your wish I will try and tell you all the little nothings I took upon myself without permission. Oh my dear good Jesus if these things were not according to your holy pleasure pardon me by Your obedience unto death…
“I could not adopt any method of mortification until after I had left the convent when I at first wore a cloth (in which I put twisted wire and tacks) but it was continually breaking, and I began to use a pair of goffering irons made red hot to burn myself and which I found very effectual, for when they would not really burn they would sear, and this I used in every part of the body that was not actually exposed to view. When I had a very sore burn I used to put on some cobbler’s wax on a piece of leather which I had for the purpose, and once I had two large holes into which I used to pour turpentine. Two or three times when I had crushed toes and felt them sore, I pulled off the nails by wedging in small splinters and so dragged them out. Then another time I saw some of that steel wire cloth that I told you of and I got a small piece and wore it round my arms, then I procured enough for the waist, but I think the heat and discharge from the sores rotted it, for it broke into small pieces and it was sometime before I was able to get enough to make another. One reason why I thought these things were pleasing to our b. Lord was this, that on several occasions (when I have been taken suddenly ill and others have undressed me) He concealed them so perfectly that neither chain nor sores have been noticed. You know I always spent as much of the night as I could in prayer and I used to fast frequently without leave, and I made a rule never to take anything on the happy day that I communicated without I was put under obedience to do so. At first I used to feel fasting extremely, I was naturally very fainty, and I used to think the more I felt it the more it was pleasing to Him who was the suffering crucified Spouse of my soul. I made a vow too never to go to any public amusement unless forced through obedience or charity (when I left the convent). And although I always tried to mortify the senses, yet when I went to Wigan I made a vow never to indulge any of my senses, in anything that was pleasing only in obedience etc.; never to ask questions about ordinary things, I mean news; never to show if I was hurt; try always to be the same under every circumstance. I made most, and often renewed all my promises before this altar, I made the vows I put into practice at Wigan here before I left, for you were the first to allow me to communicate daily and I loved this church on that account. But although I felt fasting very much at first, sleep was the hardest enemy I had to fight against and when I used to prolong my hours of prayer I used frequently to go to sleep, but this did not dishearten me. He helped me to overcome it by little and little, and now I seldom sleep at all. I told you about the wire stays I wore without leave and which ate into the flesh so deeply that, when I was told to give up all corporal punishment till I got strong, I could not get it all out for months, it broke in little pieces. And I must be candid with you and tell you you have mortified me far more than I could think it possible to feel, for, although I know your word as my director is His word, yet writing what you have desired has almost annihilated me; if it is pride or human respect that is the cause I know He will punish it here, and although I try to obey cheerfully, yet I feel that my will is mortified and therefore I think not in perfect unison with His.
“Now oh my Father I think I have told you all the principal little nothings I have taken on myself to punish the body, but with great delight. I have often been tempted to give up little things through weariness or weakness, but I don’t think He has ever allowed me, I have extended the time always instead of shortening it. These things are all His and I can truly say with the Psalmist: ‘Not unto us oh Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give the glory.’
“Oh my Jesus I considered all these things buried in Thy Sacred Heart, but since I am all Thine Thou canst do with me what Thou pleasest. May I accomplish Thy holy Will perfectly at all times and in the way Thou wishest. My will is Thine as my poor heart and soul are Thine. If I have not mentioned all it is in forgetfulness. I wish to lay all open to you even as I trust He will show you the very depth of my heart and centre of my soul. Never ask dear Father if you may do anything with me or about me. I have given myself entirely into His Hands and He expressly told me to do exactly what you desired me. I do not wish to be treated any other way than as a mother treats a very young child, she never asks its will. I do not wish to have any will but His, and now begging your prayers and blessing, I remain dear rev. Father
“Your obedient and devoted child in the sacred Head and loving Heart
“Enfant de Marie.
“I have written this first because I felt it most. Thank Him with me for this little humiliation.”
1. As the name of the Rev. Alfred Snow will figure largely in these pages, it may be well to explain at once that he later on became Teresa’s director, when, finding himself called upon to guide so gifted a soul, he set himself to make a special study of mystical theology.
2. Notes on the life of Teresa. Canon Snow.
3. Le Stigmatisme. Vol. II. 126.