Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 18, 2005
Painful injury led to conversion
St. Ignatius of Loyola rejected wealth and followed God's path
St. Ignatius — Feast Day — July 31
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
He is said to be "the most universally known Basque," raised during a period of great unrest and destined to become the founder of one of the world's great religious communities.
This is St. Ignatius of Loyola, where his intact home can be visited in conjunction with tours of the enormous basilica there that commemorates the originator of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
What better place to seek out this Church stalwart that at his home between northern Spain's Cantabrian and Pyrenees mountains, close to France and the Bay of Biscay. The estate of Loyola where Inigo Lopez was born is not far from the Guipuzcoan provincial capital of San Sabastian and is on the outskirts of the little town of Azpeitia.
What was originally a family holding is now a large religious complex, the Santuario de San Ignacio de Loyola and an important objective for pilgrims and tourists.
Inigo, the youngest of 13 children born a year before Columbus' first voyage to the New World, was brought up in more of a tower than a house. His family belonged to one of two intermittently warring Basque groups seeking control of this sub-Pyrenean area.
After a youth of relative ease spent at court, he joined the army, was wounded at Pamplona, endured a painful recovery and was left with a deformed leg. This misadventure, which caused him to begin reading about Christ while recuperating at home, ultimately led to his conversion.
A tour of the saint's home, now enclosed within the walls of the sprawling religious complex, is a must for visitors. Basically a multi-storey museum, Loyola tower house is spacious and a marked, proscribed route is easy to follow. Furnishings are elaborate, augmented with fine statuary, and the walls display impressive artworks - a diorama illustrating the entire life of the saint for example.
A prized 18th century polychrome panel that shows Ignatius preaching to the people of Azpeitia occupies a place of honour outside the Chapel of the Conversion, Inigo's recovery room.
After his convalescence here and a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat near Barcelona where he did penance for his sins and vowed to spend his life in the service of Christ, Inigo gathered like-minded men in Paris and with them founded the Society of Jesus in 1534.
Three years later, he and seven comrades were ordained and in 1540 had their society approved and placed under his personal direction by the pope. Aims of the Jesuits were to use education and frequent reception of the Eucharist to reform the Church, to undertake missionary activities, and to resist the Reformation.
Patron of retreats
Famed for the publication of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius was canonized in 1622, and named patron of retreats.
The saint, sculpted in stone above the Latin words Sancti Ignatii Basilica, welcomes pilgrims passing through the entrance of the 1738 baroque church.
Once inside, all are bedazzled by a wealth of religious ornamentation, from the embossed silver statue of Ignatius above the high altar to the delicately decorated dome. A gallery of large portraits of Jesuit saints lines the nave side walls and provides a visual history of the congregation.
The society Ignatius founded went on to expand worldwide, numbering its members in the tens of thousands and represented in more than 100 countries. They became the schoolmasters of Europe, were martyred in the New World and survived periods of suppression to remain a moving force in the universal Church.
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