The manor house, Loyola, lies in a beautifully fertile valley between two towns [Azcoitia to the north and Azpeitia to the south] in the Basque country of northern Spain. Mount izarraitz, a deceptively imposing mountain, rises over the valley, and the Urola river flows through the two towns and alongside Loyola, emptying its waters some 17 kilometres from Azcoitia into the Cantabrian Sea in the southern part of the Bay of Biscay.
It was at Loyola, a house and estate with hundreds of years of ancestry, that Iñigo López de Loyola, later to become Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of Society of Jesus [Jesuits] and creator the Spiritual Exercises, was born circa 1491. Iñigo, one of thirteen children, grew up surrounded by lavish farmlands, full of many fruits, including apple orchards and chestnut groves. He also grew up among seven brothers who, except for one, like their ancestors, were either in the military service of the kings of Castile, or else participating in the conquest of the Americas. News of his brothers exploits at arms filled the young Iñigo with dreams of following in their footsteps and bringing fame and glory to the name Loyola.
However, this was not to be. At his only major conflict in arms at Pamplona in 1521, he was seriously wounded and was brought back home to Loyola to convalesce. His days of military conquest, fame and glory now behind him, through reading some religious works and attending more closely to his daydreams and their impact on the inner landscape of his life, he began to recover gradually not only physically, but also spiritually. It was during this reflective period at Loyola that he discovered the first inklings of what would later become the Ignatian discernment of spirits, one of his best legacies to the Church.
Casa Loyola was Ignatius’ home. Here, he learned about chivalry, valour, ambition, and sacrifice. He also learned about a God who drew him from a predominantly affiliative faith bound up in family and ancestry to a personal journey into the mystery of God and a consequent new orientation of his life.
Loyola not only nurtured Iñigo’s spirit, but also enabled the process of converting his spirit. Contemplating Loyola, then, invites us to contemplate our own place and process of conversion.
Thank you to Brendan J Kelly SJ for this contribution to our Erromeria Pilgrimage. Brendan is a Spiritual Director and a Giver of the Spiritual Exercises ministry with Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia in Sevenhill, South Australia.