Life of St Ignatius - Part 1, Pilgrimage

Ignatius and his companions

Iñigo Lopez de Loyola, son of the local landowner, was born in 1491 in the castle at Loyola. Here, in Spain's Basque province, he was brought up in the cottage of the blacksmith's wife, Maria de Garian and had little formal education. As page at court he served first the treasurer of the Kingdom of Castille, then the Duke of Najera. Up to his twenty-sixth year Iñigo was, in his own words, 'a man given over to the vanities of the world, and took a special delight in the exercise of arms, with a great and vain desire of winning glory'.

'a great and vain desire of winning glory'

In the pursuit of such glory, this courtier was stirred to defend the town of Pamplona in the name of King Ferdinand of Spain from an attacking French army. The town's Governor saw the futility of resistance to the vastly superior French forces and advised surrender. But the foolhardy Iñigo rallied a handful of men to defend the town's citadel. On 20th May 1521, during this desperate action, French cannon fire smashed into both his legs. Iñigo and Pamplona fell.

Dreams and discernment

St Ignatius is wounded a PamplonaAfter his legs were set - badly - the invalid was carried on a stretcher to his native Loyola. For eight months Iñigo languished in bed. At his own insistence his leg was broken twice more by doctors in an attempt to correct a limp which had developed - for how could a cripple win the affections of a high born lady? This treatment brought the patient close to death, but recovery began on the feast of St Peter.

As he lay on his sickbed, Iñigo dreamt of the noble deeds he would undertake, the feats of great daring, the romance of winning the lady he admired. This daydreaming brought respite for a time to the bored convalescent, but it soon left him feeling empty and disillusioned. Then, inspired by the only reading material available – The Lives of the Saints - he dreamt of doing great deeds for God, imitating the great saints like Francis and Dominic and walking barefoot to Jerusalem. These dreams too inspired Iñigo but, unlike the dreams of romantic gallantry, they left him feeling contented and joyful. Slowly he began to realise that joy and contentment came in the following of Christ.

From vanity to poverty

Ignatius travels to the Holy LandAs soon as he regained his health, Iñigo left home on pilgrimage with a determination to serve Christ and the Virgin Mary. Before the statue of the Black Madonna at the shrine of Montserrat, the pilgrim renounced his former ways with all its vanities and dedicated himself to his new Master. From this time on he lived a simple lifestyle, embracing poverty.

From the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat high among the wild and jagged peaks, the pilgrim descended to the bustle of the nearby town of Manresa, and for ten months Iñigo learned to interpret the way in which God deals with the individual soul. He first punished his body. Reacting against his former tendency to vanity he gave away his fine clothes in exchange for rough sacking. He cut neither hair nor nails and took no care of his appearance. He begged daily for his meagre food.

Learning from prayer

This way of life brought him to the edge of despair, tormented as he was by guilt. But gradually he began to see that this was the work of the Tempter. So he gave up his self-punishing exercises. He was discovering for himself that the acceptance of the Lord is total, the forgiveness of the Lord is free, not bought with self-inflicted penances.

Sitting in his cave by the banks of the Cardoner river, Iñigo prayed. The fruits of his meditation laid the foundations for his Spiritual Exercises. He then put his own hard-won experience to work and sought to help others in interpreting the ways of the Lord for themselves through the Exercises.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

From Manresa the pilgrim set out on the long journey to Jerusalem. Braving the dangers of a war-torn Mediterranean, he begged his way to the Holy Land, in 1523. In Jerusalem he spent time devotedly walking in the footsteps of Our Lord.

He expressed a desire to stay and convert the Muslims, but the more prudent Franciscan keepers of the Holy Places ordered him home. This dream shattered, he returned to his native Spain in order to find Christ, not in the romantic notion of converting the world, or living in the land trod so long ago by Jesus, but in the mundane events of daily life in his own country.

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