Azpeitia and S. Ignatius Loyola
One of the attractive feature of the Royal English College in Valladolid is its excellent location for reaching many parts of Northern Spain. A small group of students from the College recently visited Bilbao in the Basque country. From there, it is only a short journey to Azpeitia, the small town where St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was born and lived for most of the first thirty years of his life.
A broken leg. Many of us know the experience all too well. Even if it’s not something we’ve had ourselves, it’s likely we’ve either had a broken limb of some sort or had someone we live or work with suffer one. There’s the pain of the injury itself, then the weeks, or perhaps months of inconvenience whilst recovering from it. Time normally spent going out doing things that are a part of ordinary life becomes time spent sitting with a leg supported by a chair whilst we rely on someone else to help with doing daily tasks. A lot more time spent in front of the television, or perhaps on the laptop, phone, gaming or reading. The pace of life drops off, but in a manner that is not welcome and with it a longing for a return to normality. Imagine then receiving the news weeks into this that the break hasn’t set properly so the bone needs resetting and the healing process has to start over again.
This experience which many will have had is one that St. Ignatius Loyola went through, however for him, he faced the additional challenges that came from coping with this situation nearly five hundred years ago in 1521. After having the bones in his left leg badly broken by a cannonball during fighting to defend Pamplona, he had a difficult two week journey on a stretcher back to Azpeitia. There he had the great good fortune to come from a family of significant means, so he could be taken up to a large fourth floor room in the family house to spend months recuperating. During that time there was the unwelcome news of needing to have his leg reset, without anaesthetics, in order to be able to make a proper recovery. A long, painful, but most of all deeply dull and frustrating stretch of time for a fit and active man of thirty to endure. But that period of nearly a year, what a remarkable year it was. The photograph shows the room in the Loyola family home where Ignatius convalesced, now converted into a Chapel and used for Daily Mass by the resident Jesuit community. It was in here that having asked for reading material, he was brought a book on the lives of the saints and the Life of Christ. In reading these and doing daydreaming during the many hours, he began to notice a pattern. Thoughts on Christ and the saints gave him a sense of uplifting, whilst thinking about more temporal ambitions that fitted with the life he had lead up to this point left him feeling empty. From these early thoughts and observations he began to reconsider his life and what he would do with it in the future. Once he was mobile again, he set about the task he had settled on of better shaping his life to the path that Christ called him to follow, a route that over the coming fourteen years ultimately lead to the formation of the Jesuit order. His thoughts on the process of recognising God’s call that he had gone through he wrote down as the Spiritual Exercises. Many Christians find them an invaluable guide for seeking the hand of God guiding them in their life. To this day, the Jesuit community at St. Beuno’s in North Wales are noted for their work guiding pilgrims in Ignatian Spirituality. St. Ignatius’ life is a remarkable tale of how from adversity much good can come for those open to finding a place for God within their life even when it may be challenging to do so, and how from such apparent misfortune as a serious injury, over time there is the potential for immense benefits to flow not only for the injured, but for all society.