Sanctuary of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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Azpeitia is a region located in the province of Guipuzcoa in the Basque country, Spain. It makes up part of the Urola Coastal stretch which has a population of around 16000 people.  It is a small and beautiful area where God´s presence is constant and clear. However, are these the only facts about Azpeitia that capture just how special and extraordinary this small Basque area is, or is there something more? 

There is more! Azpeitia is the birthplace of Saint Ignacio Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, also referred to as the Jesuits. He was born in 1491. He initially began his career as a soldier, but ended up dedicating himself only to God through founding this special congregation of Jesuits who today serve humanity first and foremost, and spread the Word of the Gospel around the world.

Ever year thousands of tourists and pilgrims visit Saint Ignatius de Loyola´s sanctuary which is located in a small town within Azpeitia named “Loiola”. Today we will delve into the birthplace of this incredible Saint who has left his mark on humanity thanks to his true love and faith for the Lord and Deep spirituality. Together we will feel the presence of the Lord and the Holy Spirit within Saint Ignatius of Loyola´s Sanctuary.

Welcome to the heart of the Sanctuary of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Holy House. The Holy House is this 16 meters squared cube. It is here that Iñigo Lopez de Loyola was born and it is also where, at thirty years of age, he was converted to God. Saint Ignatius is the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits); and the author of the book of the Spiritual Exercises.

With regards to the construction: The lower half is of stone, with hardly any windows and has a width of 2 meters.  The upper half is of brick, has many windows, and of mudejar (Moorish) architectural style. It is a reconstruction of 1460 on the part of Iñigo’s grandfather, Don Juan Pérez of Loyola.

This group sculpted in bronze, represents the moment in which Iñigo of Loyola, severely injured in battle while defending the citadel of Pamplona, returns to his birthplace. There are three other such similar statues in Spain. The original piece is in Manresa. It is also cast of bronze but predates the Loyola one. The third one in Pamplona, was originally of iron, but whose head and feet were damaged. Much recently it was replaced with a bronze one similar to the other two.

On this ground floor we can contemplate 7 portholes, an old bombshell, 4 sturdy central pillars and so forth. A curious map dotted with red and blue towers, shows the Guipuzcoan territory of the feudal lords called ‘parientes mayores’. Divided in two irreconcilable bands: The OÑACINOS (the red tower houses), were of the lineage of Oñaz and Loyola’s; while the GAMBOINOS (the blue tower houses), were of the lineage of Gamboa.

Henry IV, the king of Castilla, with good reasons, banished some nobles (along with them Iñigo’s grandfather), and ordered that their fortresses be dismantled.

The headstone we see on the floor, next to the canon, tells us that between 1717–1867, Jesuits who had passed on were buried here.

Before 1990, the Holy House was divided into 12 different chapels. But in the same year, 1990, the Jesuits living in the house as a community had a serious problem with termites, which devoured almost all the interior of the house. They therefore felt obliged to carry out a complete restoration of the house. Consequently, they removed all the chapels apart from two, which exist to date, that is, the family Chapel or the prayer room of the Holy House, and the Chapel of the Conversion.

In this part of the house was the Chapel of the Immaculate. As they were removing this Chapel, they came upon this kitchen, which was the original one. In this Kitchen, parents and children, masters and servants, coexisted around the fireplace. Above all, it is here that they transmitted the collective family culture and values. Around the kitchen could be found the rooms of the servants.

The graffiti of a ship (sketched on the wall), a model ship, and a letter of all of the maritime ports of Europe that is found on the other wall remind us on the one hand, of the itinerant and maritime vocation of the Oñazs’ and Loyolas’. On the other hand, it reminds us that the older brother of Iñigo Loyola, Martín Garcia of Oñaz, was a sailor, and participated in the second voyage of Christopher Columbus to America. In fact, one of the boats that was used in the said journey was armed with iron, forged in the Loyola foundry.

And Iñigo, ¿Where would he have ended up? In 1508 he was sent to the small town of Arevalo. At the back, on the upper part of the column we see its shield. While on the wall on the right we see the family castle. The lord of this house, Don Juan Pérez de Cuellar, the chief treasurer of the Castile estate, had requested the father of Iñigo, Don Beltrán of Loyola, to send one of his sons to be initiated at the court. Iñigo was there until 1517, the year in which Don Juan Velázquez de Cuellar died. And so Iñigo, in re-launching his career as a knight, moved to the court of the duke of Najera, Don Antonio Manrique de Lara, viceroy of Navarra.

In this illuminated glass case, we find a model of the city of Pamplona in 1521. It evokes the presence of Iñigo in Navarra, in the defense of the Castle of Pamplona, on the side of emperor Charles V, against a French army sent by Francis I. In the first day of the battle, on 20th May, Iñigo was grievously injured on both legs by a canon ball. The opposing army, on seeing that he was badly wounded, decided to help him by taking him to his native home to recover. The journey lasted 15 days.

This room where we are now was the room of the lady of Loyola, Doña Marina Sánchez de Licona y Balda. It is here that she gave birth to her last and 11th born son, Iñigo. IT IS HERE THAT HE WAS BORN. Doña Marina died when Iñigo was only 7 years old. As a result, the person who depended on Iñigo’s education, and who played the role of a mother to him, was his sister-in-law, Doña Magdalena of Araoz (the wife of Martin Garcia of Oñaz, a friend and lady-in-waiting, Isabella the Catholic).

This oratory or family chapel is the second most venerable place in the Holy House. The Flemish gothic altarpiece is divided into two parts: The upper part, consisting of a pious group. The lower part – on the left has Saint Catherine of Alexandria; St. Catherine of Siena on the left; and in the middle, a Flemish board of the Annunciation.

This parlor of honor was the room designated for the main occasions and for the most important guests. But the most important things it contains are those two books displayed in the cupboard. The books are ‘The legend of the saints’ and ‘the life of Christ’. They fell into Iñigo’s hands during his convalescence. God was waiting for him between their pages.

The uppermost floor in the days of Iñigo, were designated as rooms for the family’s children and guests. Iñigo, when he arrived from Pamplona wounded, was put up here (in the northeastern wing of the floor), where there is the statue of Iñigo seated, with a book in his hands. The beams on the ceiling are the ones he contemplated. Above all, the windows are those he would look out of at night, to look at the sky and the stars. It is in this very room where Iñigo was repeatedly operated and in which he was at the point of death. In order to distract himself he asked for books of chivalry, but as his sister-in-law did not find any of such books in the house, she gave him others, that is, ‘the life of the Saints’ and the ‘life of Christ’. 

These readings began to open up a new world to Iñigo because he began to ask himself whether he could also do what the Saints had done. Slowly he was converted into something new and distinct: It seemed like God was falling in love with Iñigo and Iñigo was falling in love with God. Furthermore, Iñigo surrendered and gave himself to God. Like it is written on the wooden beam of the ceiling: HERE IÑIGO OF LOYOLA GAVE HIMSELF TO GOD. And to seal this surrender, he received here a visit from Our Lady. For this reason, an image of Our Lady of Aranzazu is hung in this Chapel of the Conversion. Iñigo would visit the Sanctuary of Aranzazu after his Conversion. Iñigo, after his conversion, wanted to follow the footsteps of Jesus and he began a pilgrimage.

In Montserrat, Iñigo confessed his sins, abandoned his knightly vestments, and embraced a new life of penitence and pilgrimage towards Christ. On the night of 24/25 March, 1522, he hung his sword before Our Lady of Montserrat and held a nightlong prayer vigil. Within one year, Iñigo managed to reach Jerusalem, although he regrettably did not manage to stay there permanently as was his desire. Iñigo, during the first years of his conversion, developed a method of prayer that would in the future be called the ‘Spiritual Exercises’.

The second floor houses the exhibition of dioramas that represent, show lighted in their true glory behind glass cases, the most significant moments of Saint Ignatius of Loyola´s life.

If the Holy House is the inner heart of the Loyola Sanctuary, then the basilica is the outer part. Located in the center of the Royal College building, it dominates the whole façade with its large dome and sweeping staircase entrance which reaches the wide porch entrance and three grand openings. The porch itself is a Churrigueresque variation on the otherwise dominant baroque architecture, with its walls adorned with a multitude of ornaments. 

The House of Austria was the driving force behind the sanctuary´s construction, however it was carried out to completion under the Bourbon dynasty. Due to this a large Bourbon shield is located on the porch. Under the roof of the porch are statues of Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis of Xavier, Saint Francis of Borja, Saint Luis Gonzaga and Saint Stanislav of Kostka.

The temple was inaugurated in 1738 and then consecrated in 1888 and 1889. Bearing witness to these consecrations are two tombstones located on either side of the main door. The temple of the Loyola Sanctuary was declared a minor basilica in 1921 by Pope Benedict XV.

The main altar is Churrigueresco architectural style, designed by Ignatius Íbero in marble, and flanked by two large Solomonic columns.

These columns frame the temple of the Santisimo exhibit and the silver statue of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The altar is decorated with images of Saint Joseph and Saint Joaquin.

There are six further altars also dedicated to the Heart of Jesus, to the Virgin of the Sponsorship, Saint Francis Xavier; Saint Francis of Borja; Saint Peter Claver and Saint Alonso Rodríguez, these last four were Spanish Jesuit saints.

Next to the Sanctuary is the center of spirituality Cogarte Etxea.

To the east of the sanctuary, behind the basilica extend the private gardens. These consist of 25 hectares of park space for private use for both the community and spirituality center users.

The cemetery pertaining to the monastery also forms part of the gardens and is situated on the hillside of Mount Erle Pater. In 2000 several roads were redesigned and a bronze monument designed by Antonio Oteiza was erected to honour the memory of Saint Ignatius of Loyola´s faithful pilgrimage to the Aranzazu Sanctuary.  

Since 2003 the garden has been decorated with different items that had been previously stored in the sanctuary, such as columns similar to those of the main altar and vases of holy water. 

The whole area is set against the backdrop of a beautifully lush natural landscape full of native beach and oak trees.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola´s life gifts us a great example of how to surrender our love to the Lord and live according to His will. The path Ignatius took in his quest to reach the glory of God´s Kingdom, his simple and humble life, the way by which he helped the poor and vulnerable people, all should join together to make us question our own faith. Are we also achieving God´s purpose in our lives? When we leave Saint Ignatius of Loyola´s Sanctuary let us reaffirm our bond to the Lord above and remember that we are here on Earth to serve His will and not our own. Long live Saint Ignatius of Loyola! Amen.

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