Contemplative School of the Heart
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Glass icons

created by Julienne Mclean and inspired by
‘The Third Spiritual Alphabet’
by Francisco de Osuna [1]

Francisco de Osuna was born about 1492, and was named after his birthplace, the town Osuna, in southern Spain in the province of Seville. He lived during the early period of sixteenth-century mysticism in Spain which was characterised by an extraordinary recovery and assimilation of the teaching of the ascetic and contemplative writers from the early Christian patristic tradition and later European mystics, both Catholic and Protestant. It was a period of religious renewal and reform that touched the lives not only of priests, friars and nuns, but also lay people throughout Spain. He belonged to the main branch of the Franciscan rule and lived a communal life passionately dedicated to prayer and meditation, and the practice of poverty and charity.

In his writings, Osuna combined elements of Franciscan spirituality, which emphasises the affective way of the heart, with the Augustinian philosophy of love. The Augustine way stressed that oneness between God and humanity is the essential starting point for spiritual life and that this communion, or friendship, is possible for all people. In his synthesis, Osuna saw mystical theology and mystical experience as a harmony of love and understanding, of the will and the intellect. He anticipated Carmelite theology with its emphasis on going beyond dependence on sensory awareness and the inner work of emptying the heart to become free from limiting compulsions and over-attachments.

He was a prolific writer on prayer, and wrote six ‘spiritual alphabets’, which created the structure for his series of treatises, each alphabet following a different spiritual theme – such as the passion, prayer and ascetic practices and most notably, the practice of recollection. Within each of these alphabets, he formulated maxims as memorable and pithy guides for meditation which he arranged alphabetically. He wrote his treatises to correct and clarify the controversy about the nature of prayer - between a false 'illuminism' and true mysticism.

His ‘Third Spiritual Alphabet’ enjoyed great popularity in the sixteenth century and was published in several editions. This particular alphabet describes in detail the complex psychological processes of recollection and offers advice and signs of progress along the way. His language is often warm and simple, using original and often charming images from ordinary life.

The extent of Francisco de Osuna's influence on St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross is a subject of much scholarly enquiry. It is difficult to make specific claims, but in style, imagery and in content there are many likenesses. Teresa spoke clearly of her reliance on the ‘Third Spiritual Alphabet’ as a guide for the practice of prayer from an early stage of her life as a religious. She was given the book to read by an uncle sympathetic to her need. It was a timely gift and Teresa speaks, in her autobiography, of how she began to follow the path of recollection. She went so far as to say that the book was 'her master'. It was a guide through the intensities of her religious experience and at a later stage a resource for her teaching others the practice of recollection. Scholars also see in Osuna a vital intermediary in the development of Spanish Mysticism through whom the ancient science of love was carried through to both Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross (see Tyler, P The Return to the Mystical, Continuum, 2011)

Osuna wrote for people in all stations and circumstance in life insisting that friendship and communion with God are possible, certain and open to all. By the same token the grace of recollection already belongs to all who learn to love it. He says: what we love ‘is ours through love.’ [ii] He emphasised that recollection is not only a gift received but something we participate in with others. It is a process of prayer which ascends from lower stages of recollection to higher or deeper ones.

In her introduction, Mary Giles sums up:

'For Osuna, recollection is prayer: It includes vocal prayer, to the extent that mental concentration is employed: mental prayer; and, more importantly, passive prayer. Given the ideal of one's total life being lived out in conformity with God's will, recollection is our constant alertness and receptivity to God, punctuated by moments of intense awareness of the divine, moments when recollection becomes immediate, experiential union between creature and Creator and wisdom is poured into the soul without our understanding how and whence’. [iii]

[i]  De Osuna, Francisco. The Third Spiritual Alphabet. The Classics of Western Spirituality Series. Transl. and introduction by Mary E Giles. 1981. Paulist Press, New Jersey.

[ii] In the dedication in the ‘Third Part of the Book called The Spiritual Alphabet’, Francisco de Osuna, page 35

[iii] Giles, Mary, 1981 Paulist Press, page 29


These glass icons have been inspired by the treatises
in ‘The Third Spiritual Alphabet’. They are composed of fused
spectrum 96 glass.

Click on the images for larger view



Glass Icon 1 (6 x 8”)
‘May the Person and Spirit Always Walk together’
(From Treatise One)





Glass Icon 2 (8 x 13”)
’Let All Your Works Abound in Fervent Thanks’
(From Treatise Two)







Glass Icon 3 (12 x 14”)
‘Safeguarding the Heart: Empty Your Heart and Pour out all Created Things’
(From Treatise Four)






Glass Icon 4 (8 x 13”)
‘Ten movements of Recollection in the Soul’
(From Treatise Six)






Glass Icon 5 (8 x 13”)
‘Do not Think to Attain Repose by Understanding, but Rather by Tasting’
(From Treatise Twelve)






Glass Icon 6 (8 x 13”)
‘Retire into Yourself often in Silence and Hope’
(From Treatise Eighteen)







At the London Centre for Spirituality, July 2013
   Printable leaflet






Glass Icon 1
‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’






Glass Icon 2
‘The Rising Sun and the Waters of Paradise’






Glass Icon 3
‘Window into Eternity’