Friday, July 31, 2009

Ignatius of Loyola: The Crooked Legged Warrior Who Became a Saint

I snapped the picture of the altar of St. Ignatius of Loyola (on the right) in the Church of the Gesù in Rome in September, 1998. To be honest, I wasn't much interested in the good Jesuit, Ignatius. My interest was on the altar and relic in the chapel directly opposite, that of St. Francis Xavier. It was to this altar and before this relic that the mother of the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, St. Gaspar del Bufalo, brought him. At a year and a half, in 1787, Gaspar contracted a disease which threatened to blind him. Annunziata del Bufalo, who with her husband, Antonio, lived and worked in the Palazzo Altieri, adjacent to the Gesù, prayed to St. Francis Xavier, and to all appearances something miraculous happened and Gaspar's condition cleared up.

In the course of my studies with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood later, we became nominally familiar with Ignacio López de Loyola, a.k.a. St. Ignatius of Loyola, with his role as founder of the so-called "storm-troopers of the Vatican", the Jesuits, and with his famed Spiritual Exercises. The latter, though I've studied them briefly, but have never "done" them, generally leave me somewhat cold. Typical reaction, probably, for an ENFJ! A number of my colleagues have done the Spiritual Exercises and have good things to report. Nevertheless, I remain stuck in my Benedictine/Cistercian mode. To each his own, I guess.

The link between the Jesuits and service to the Pope may have had its origin in a vision which Ignatius apparently experienced around 1538. While praying in a little rural chapel, Ignatius saw a radiant Jesus carrying the cross, with the Father beside him. The Father said to the Son: “I wish you to take this man for your servant.” Jesus then said to Ignatius, “My will is that you should serve us.” Since the Holy Father is considered the "Vicar of Christ", it's logical that Ignatius and his new Society of Jesus would become loyal supporters. Indeed, through the centuries, the Jesuits have made a truly monumental contribution to the Church through their scholarly, educational and spiritual ministries.

Only today did I become aware of the artist responsible for the altar of St. Ignatius in the Gesù: well, more accurately, one of the artists. Andrea Pozzo (b. 1642,Trento, Italy - d. 31 August 1709,Vienna) -- on the left above -- was an Jesuit brother, Baroque painter and architect, decorator, stage designer, and art theoretician. He was best known for his grandiose frescoes using an illusionistic technique called quadratura, in which architecture and fancy are intermixed. His masterpiece is the nave ceiling of the Church of Sant'Ignazio in Rome.

In 1695 he was given the prestigious commission, after winning a competition against Sebastiano Cipriani and Giovanni Battista Origone, for an altar in the St. Ignatius chapel in the left transept of the Church of the Gesù in Rome. This grandiose altar above the tomb of the saint, built with rare marbles and precious metals, shows the Trinity (I also got a picture of that, but it came out blurry), while four lapis lazuli columns (these are now copies) enclose the colossal statue of the saint by Pierre Legros. The altar was the coordinated work of more than 100 sculptors and craftsmen, among them, besides Pierre Legros, Bernardino Ludovisi, Il Lorenzone and Jean-Baptiste Théodon. Andrea Pozzo also designed the altar in the Chapel of St Francesco Borgia in the same church.

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