Today July 31 is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Just a few weeks ago, we were in his birthplace in Azpeitia in the Basque country. It was on our "must-go-to" list of places on this last trip to Spain.
Loyola is a small town near Azpeitia in Gipuzkoa, a province in the Basque Country. It's less than
an hour by car from San Sebastian. For this trip to Loyola, we asked Tours by Locals guide Iker
to bring us there.
The main attraction in this quiet little town is the Sanctuary and Basilica of St. Ignatius.
The Basilica, constructed in 1738 is done in the baroque style and surrounded by the rest
of the complex. The cupola rises above the facade and is the first thing that I noticed.
Stone steps lead up to the massive doors. It is a graceful church but honestly, I had imagined something a bit grander.
The view from the Basilica is hilly, lush and green. Plane trees line the front of the churchyard forming that natural green canopy that is so restful to walk under. There are flower beds and gardens where one can walk in quiet contemplation.
Iker recommended that we visit the Sanctuary first which stands on the ancestral home of
Iñigo de Loyola who would later become St. Ignatius.
In the courtyard is this sculpture of Iñigo as a young soldier, wounded in battle. It was because
of his injuries that he was carried off the battlefield and brought back home to Loyola. This would
be the turning point in his life.
These walls are part of the actual house where Iñigo, along with his twelve siblings, was born
into a wealthy and noble family. The house was built along the lines of a fortress, ready to be
defended against attack.
Inside the house, Iker points out this small hole built into a corner. This where an arrow can be shot through, aimed at any would-be attackers.
This map shows the alignments between the two major families in the region. The castle of
Loyola belonged to the Oñaz side. It was in this setting that Iñigo developed his military interests
and he became a soldier at a very young age.
Jay, who studied in a Jesuit school from kindergarten to university told me that this coat of arms of the castle of Loyola was so familiar -- their grade school uniforms had a patch that showed certain features of the coat of arms, namely the red stripes and the foxes and kettle.
On the wall above a framed painting of the Madonna and child are the words, "Aqui nacio" --
this is the room where St. Ignatius was born.
And this is the room where as a young soldier, he recuperated from his wounds in battle.
While convalescing, he realised that his life was meant to be offered to God. Today, this room
has been converted to a small chapel where visitors can sit and pray and spend some time with
The Virgin of Montserrat was very special to St. Ignatius. After he had dedicated his life
to God, he made a pilgrimage to Montserrat where he offered up his sword as a symbol of
leaving his previous life. On the left side of the Virgin is a replica of St. Ignatius' sword and
on the right is a typical pilgrim's staff, symbol of the pilgrimage that he would undertake all
There is a small gallery of stained glass windows that depict the milestones in St. Ignatius' journey.
And here is the mark of the Society of Jesus, currently more recognisable and familiar thanks to
Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope.
As I walk through the sanctuary, Iker calls my attention to the wooden floors which he said were
all original, belonging to the castle of Loyola. I cannot imagine I am walking where St. Ignatius
used to walk.
After the visit to the Sanctuary, we headed next door to the Basilica.
Inside the Basilica is circular in shape and is bigger than what the exterior prepares you for.
There is a highly ornamented marble altar and arches on the sides where some of the smaller
We were lucky that the organ was being played when we visited, glorious music soared throughout
the church. Thank you St Ignatius for the musical welcome.
The most impressive part of the Basilica is this dazzling dome right over the centre of the
church. An exquisite, intricate chandelier floats above our heads, bringing light and a sense
of fragility. A mirror on a rolling stand is useful for taking that perfect shot of the dome.
These three Ateneans had a wonderful time in Loyola. It was both spiritually satisfying and
edifying -- thank you St. Ignatius for allowing this to happen!