From the Archives: On the Feast of St Ignatius

POST BY MAllen

Main image: Pen and ink drawing of St Ignatius Loyola by a late 17th century Italian artist, from St Mary of the Quay, Bristol (ref: 48/2/5/1)

Every year, 31 July marks the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola. As co-founder and first General of the Society, this is a particularly important feast day for Jesuits in Britain and throughout the world to celebrate. In this blog post, we look at some of the items that celebrate St Ignatius and the early years of the Society in the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

Íñigo López de Loyola, as St Ignatius was baptised, was born in Loyola in the Basque Country of Spain, 23 October 1491. The youngest son of a noble and wealthy family, he became a page in the service of a relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer of the kingdom of Castile in 1506. In 1517 Ignatius became a knight in the service of another relative, Antonio Manrique de Lara, duke of Nájera and viceroy of Navarre. While defending the citadel of Pamplona against the French in May 1521, Ignatius was hit by a cannonball, sustaining a bad fracture of his right leg and damage to his left. This signalled the end of his military career and the beginning of his spiritual conversion. After treatment at Pamplona, he was transported to Loyola in June 1521 where he had surgery to reset his leg. During his long convalescence, he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints.

In February 1522, Ignatius bade farewell to his family and went to Montserrat, a place of pilgrimage in north-eastern Spain. He spent three days confessing his sins and hung his sword and dagger near the statue of the Virgin Mary as a symbol of his abandoned ambitions. After a night of prayer he went to Manresa, a town near Barcelona, where he stayed, living as a beggar, for almost a year. It was at Manresa that he began to work on his Spiritual Exercises.

(Image: Frontispiece of a 1606 edition of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. This volume was purchased or transferred to the Society in 1927.)

The remainder of this decisive period was devoted to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ignatius left Barcelona in March 1523 and, traveling through Rome, Venice, and Cyprus, reached Jerusalem in September. The next twelve years of his life were spent in study, first in Barcelona, then at Alcalá, and then Paris. During his long stay in Paris, Ignatius gathered the companions who were to be his co-founders of the Society of Jesus, among them Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, who became one of the order’s greatest missionaries.

Ignatius and most of his companions were ordained in Venice in June 1537 and in 1538 they moved to Rome. In 1539, the companions decided to form a permanent union, and in 1540 Pope Paul III approved the plan for the new order. Ignatius was the natural choice for the office of general. Under his leadership, the Society of Jesus developed rapidly so that by the time of his death on 31 July 1556, there were about 1,000 Jesuits divided into 12 administrative units, or provinces. Ignatius had also left his mark on Rome having founded the Roman College, precursor to the Gregorian University, and the Germanicum, a seminary for German candidates for the priesthood. Ignatius was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609 and canonised by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.

Below is a selection of items relating to Ignatius in the Archives:

Constitutions of the Society of Jesus

Perhaps the most important work of Ignatius’ later years was the composition of the Constitutiones Societatis Iesu (Constitutions of the Society of Jesus) in which he decreed that his followers were to abandon some of the traditional forms of the religious life. This included chanting the divine office, physical punishments, and penitential clothing, in favour of greater adaptability and mobility; they also renounced chapter government by the members of the order in favour of a more authoritative regime. The Society of Jesus was to be above all an order of apostles “ready to live in any part of the world where there was hope of God’s greater glory and the good of souls.” Ignatius insisted on long and thorough training of his followers, with the special vow of obedience to the pope “the cause and principal foundation” of his society. This copy of the Constitutions was printed in 1635 in Antwerp. The word ‘Stapehill’ has been written on the frontispiece: inscriptions such as this often indicate either a name of a previous owner or a place. In this case, it is possible that the inscription is referring to Stapehill in Dorset, which had a Jesuit presence from the mid-1600s up until 1800. Between 1802 and 1991 Stapehill was home to Cistercian nuns. It is possible that this volume belonged to the Jesuit mission at Stapehill.

Rules of the Society

This copy of the Regulae Societatis Iesu (Rules of the Society of Jesus) was given to Fr John Hungerford Pollen SJ by a Miss Gaisford in 1922. The bookplate is of Thomas Gaisford (1779 – 1855), a classical scholar and clergyman who served as Dean of Christ Church from 1831 until his death. The volume, published in 1580, is the first collected edition of the Rules, though they had been printed separately at an earlier date. According to a note by Pollen, it is thought that this copy might have been used by St Aloysius. Aloysius became a Jesuit in 1585 while the Society was still in its relative infancy but died at the age of 22 after tending victims of plague in Rome.

Ignatian Centenary Magazine (ref. 48/2/5/2)

This beautiful manuscript compilation was prepared by the novices at Harlaxton Manor to mark the fourth centenary of St Ignatius in 1956.  The magazine comprises three parts: the first deals with the life of St Ignatius, the second with the Spiritual Exercises, and the third with the various activities of the Society since its birth. Each section has a title page, often with a photograph or image affixed, and in many instances, the magazine seems to have been a chance for the young Jesuits to show off their calligraphy skills.

If you are interested in any of the items mentioned in this blog post, or in the work of the archives in general, please contact us. You can read more about the life of St Ignatius at the Jesuits in Britain website.