Born in Fantiveros, Castile, in Spain, John became a Carmelite monk in 1564. He studied philosophy and theology at the Carmelite college in Salamanca, one of Europe's leading universities. In 1567, the year he was ordained, he met with Teresa of Avila. Teresa saw great potential in John and put him in charge of the order. She admired his rigorous life-style and leadership ability. She was not disappointed, as John was able to establish several new orders.
It was during this time that he was name "John of the Cross," as a result of his suffering and commitment. He spent the rest of his life in the service of the Catholic Reform through his leadership and many writings. He was eventually arrested and put in confinement by those who opposed the reform. It was in confinement that his most famous work, The Dark Night of the Soul, was written. It describes the work of God upon the soul—not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness. The concept of "dark night" has become an integral part of understanding the spiritual journey. Though he died centuries ago, John of the Cross continues to exercise a significant influence on Christian spirituality.