Saint Ignatius was born in 1491, the year before Christopher Columbus was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to go to the New World, in thanksgiving for Spain having been liberated from the yoke of the Saracens. For nearly 700 years, Spaniards could not worship in Catholic Churches; they were deprived from receiving the Sacraments; religious and clergy were exiled, imprisoned or killed; all mention of Jesus was forbidden under the penalty of death. How did the people from whom our Saint comes, preserve their faith with this persecution going on for most of seven centuries? How did Spain and the Catholic Church raise up such powerful soldiers as the much maligned Catholic Queen Isabella, Saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Paschal Baylon and Ignatius of Loyola to mention a few? We believe the answer lies in the stories of Saints and Martyrs, and others not yet proclaimed.
Spain had survived this scourge of physical and spiritual domination which had covered her plains from North to South and East to West; it was a time for rejoicing and thanksgiving. What they did not know was that another attack would be leveled at this faithful nation of Saints, a new attempt to destroy the Church which Jesus founded. But God, all-Omnipotent, He Who is, was and always will be, He Who is beyond time and space, He Who sees all and knows all, and upon knowing all, does all to save His Church, raised up a powerful army of Defenders of the Faith, to save this faithful nation and others which would fall under another type of tyranny.
As the enemy of God’s holy Church is raising up men who would bring about a revolution called the Reformation, God is calling forth soldiers to counteract this revolt, an army which will bring about a true Reformation, a Counter-Reformation. This is the story of one such Saint!
A child is born who will change the course of history!
History brings us to the part of Spain, known as the Basque country, to the Castle of Loyola in Guipuzocoa. A child is born; Ignatius (baptized Ignio) was of noble blood, his family from a long line of nobles. His father was Don Bertram Tañez, lord of Oñaz and Loyola and head of one of the oldest families of Spain. The lineage of his mother Doña Marina of the House of Saenz, equalled that of his father. God had blessed his parents with eight daughters and three sons, Ignatius being the youngest of the sons.
Right from the beginning, God had a plan for this child. Ignatius was sent to his aunt’s castle where he received a solid Christian education and was prepared to enter King Ferdinand’s service initially as a page. It is in the King’s castle that Ignatius would lend his services to a young lady of the court as her knight. A gentleman, he never mentions her name in the poetry he writes at this time, but refers to her as “more than a Countess or Duchess.” Some historians have conjectured that possibly the lady was the very young widow of King Ferdinand. Of course, marriage was out of the question, so our young knight loved from afar, serving in the noble way befitting his and her station. He wrote his most beautiful poetry at this time.
He was an avid reader, his taste leaning toward books on chivalry, knights and ladies of the court, recounting tales of glorious times of valor and honor. So, it is no surprise, we find him, in 1517, at twenty-six years of age, leaving to engage in his first battle, the defense of Navarre of which his uncle was Viceroy. The attack was suppressed by the Spaniards; but the French renewed their offensive and this time captured Navarre, and laid siege on Pamplona. Ignatius and the other Spanish soldiers were in the garrison, heavily outnumbered. Victory was impossible; but Ignatius was able to convince the others to remain with him and defend the fort.
The walls of the fortress began to crumble beneath the furious battery of cannon balls striking at its ramparts, quickly tearing down the soldiers’ defenses and with that their hope of victory. Knowing the end was near and they would die, Ignatius turned to a good friend and asked him to hear his confession. He fought courageously, right up to the moment a heavy cannon ball pierced the wall where Ignatius was fighting, shattered the bone of his right leg and seriously injured the other. When he fell, the others surrendered and the French soldiers captured the fort. But seeing how bravely he had fought, the French carried him to his rooms in town and had their physicians attend him for close to fifteen days. When they realized they were limited, the French had a litter made to carry the brave little soldier home. His small frame bobbing up and down on the litter (Ignatius was barely 5’2″), his red hair matted by the sweat pouring down his face from the intense pain, Ignatius never let out a cry!
It is not known why the bones did not set properly. Was it that he had been moved too soon or was it the arduous trip back home? Back at the Castle of Loyola, the doctors decided that the bones had to be broken again. Again, brave and noble knight, he asked for no form of anesthetic and went through the operation with his hands and teeth clenched. He grew weaker and weaker. The doctors advised him he was dying. Ignatius called for a priest and asked to receive the Last Rites of the Church. Ignatius would not last the night.
But again, God had another plan. The eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, at midnight, Ignatius passed the crisis. Now, he had always had a devotion to St. Peter, and historians all agree that Ignatius had an apparition of St. Peter who told him he would be cured, and he was!