By Anne Leader

31 July is the Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), who was the founder of the Jesuit Order (Societas Jesu).  He died on this day in 1556 in Rome and was beatified on 27 July 1609 by Pope Paul V; later canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. The son of a minor Spanish nobleman, Ignatius planned on a secular career that was interrupted by a war injury incurred in the Battle of Pamplona in 1521. During his convalescence, he passed his time reading various devotional texs, including Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ, The Golden Legend, and other saints’ biographies. His studies inspired him to pursue a religious life, and he wrote his Spiritual Exercises while on retreat at the monastery of Montserrat. This text became one of the most influential books of the Counter-Reformation and had a great impact on religious art of the late Renaissance and Baroque periods. After earning an MA in 1534 at the University of Paris, he joined with several friends to form the Company of Jesus, later known as the Jesuits. Pope Paul III approved the new Order in 1540 as part of a counterattack to the Protestant Reformation. Ignatius was elected Superior General, and spent he last sixteen years of his life in Rome leading the order in its missions to spread the Word and form colleges in support of Christian education.

The Jesuit’s mother church, Il Gesù, was built in Rome at the behest of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta (1568-84). A second Roman church was dedicated to St. Ignatius in the early 17th century. Designed by the Jesuit Orazio Grassi, Sant’Ignazio was decorated with magnificent ceiling frescoes by Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay brother and master of tromp l’oeil illusionism. The entire ceiling celebrates the ministry of the Jesuits, showing the apotheosis of St. Ignatius surrounded by allegorical representations of the continents on which Jesuit missionaries worked to spread the Christian message.

References: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph, translated by Louis J. Puhl; The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture by Peter and Linda Murray (Oxford University Press, 1996).

Andrea Pozzo, Altar of St Ignatius Loyola, detail and full view, 1695-99, marble, bronze, Il Gesù, Rome

Andrea Pozzo, Allegory of the Jesuits’ Missionary Work, 1691-94, Fresco, Sant’Ignazio, Rome, full view and details

Vignola and Giacomo della Porta, Il Gesù, 1568-75, facade, Rome

Andrea Sacchi, Filippo Gagliardi, and Jan Miel, Pope Urban VIII visits Il Gesù on 2 October 1639 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Jesuit order, 1640-41, oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

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