By JOHN DUNNE
THE brilliant sunshine of
San Sebastian tempted me to devote my every remaining moment in Spain to the golden beach where, in a deckchair. one could linger over a cool drink and lazily watch the birds that swooped and fluttered over the pastelcoloured villas that climb the hill towards Monte lgueldo.
But a stronger call beckoned, and 1 left my sun-baked deckchair for a day. in order to make what was a sort of personal pilgrimage.
You see, I had been born in a house called Loyola, and I was determined not to leave Spain without visiting that tiny village in the foothills of the Pyrenees. which had given to my own boyhood home a name, to the Jesuit order a founder, and to the world a well-loved saint.
I did not know much about how one got to Loyola. so I simply went to the railway station at San Sebastian and bought a ticket. The train to which I was directed was a local-looking
affair, decidedly primitive when compared with the Madrid rapichr, but 1 set off upon my pilgrtmage confidently, as my somewhat rickety train moved through the green Basque countryside.
For more than an hour I stared happily enough at the passing valleys and vineyards and villages, content that soon should see the house where St. Ignatius was born, and the green valley that he knew as a boy.
Eventually I reached Loyola and made my way towards the dome which was the focal-point of my pilgrimage. As one approaches along the sun-baked pathway. the sanko corr of Loyola is not visible, for the actual house where St. Ignatius was born has been incorporated with the fine buildings beside the basilica.
One enters through a doorway into a courtyard, one side of which is formed by the halfstone, half-red-brick facade of the original dwelling-place of the seigniory of Loyola, where St. Ignatius, the most illustrious scion of the ancient family, was born in 1491.
A young Jesuit guide led me into the sestibulu, where, owing to electricity restrictions, we examined with the aid of a large car-torch the wonderful designs in marble on the walls and floor.
On a wall is an inscription in Basque which reads: "In this seigniorial house of Loyola was born in the year 1491 our holy father Saint Ignatius and in this same house. cured by the Apostle Saint Peter. enlightened by plus reading, by the apparition and the message of the Virgin Mary, through a wonderful change of heart, he was converted entirely to God in the year 1521," Today, very little of the mediaeval home which Ignatius knew as a boy survives in its original form. Each room is now a chapel, ornate with marble
and mosaic and gilt.
But one soon becomes confused and bewildered by the beauty of these chapels: one carries away from Loyola memories of gilded bronze grilles, of breathtaking ceil ings of cedar panelling. of stained glass windows that hold in miniature the glory of a summer day in Chartres.
There is something intimate and domestic in the smoke stain on the wall of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception that is said to have survived since the days when the apartment was the kitchen of Loyola.
Everywhere are mosaics and paintings and tableaux showing scenes from the life of Ignatius and outstanding events in the lives of many of his illustrious contemporaries, like St. Francis Xavier, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, St. Peter Canisit1S, Si. Francis Borgia and St. John Berchmans.
Foremost in one's memory, perhaps, remains the Oratory, erected for family use during St. Ignatius' childhood as a fitting repository for the tiny miraculous painting of the Annunciation which was given by
Queen Isabella the Catholic to a brother of Ignatius on the
occasion of his marriage, and considered miraculous because the newly married couple, upon examining the painting a few days after they had received it. are said to have found it bathed in perspiration.
The painting survives today above the small altar where St. Francis Borgia celebrated his first Mass in 1551.
In this chapel, too, St. Ignatius himself must have prayed as a boy, and it is here that he is thought to have come frequently during the period of his conversion when he was recovering from ihe wounds received at Pampeluna. Incidentally, the original fifteenth century altar is still in use.
Finally, we reached the Chapel of the Conversion. Here, an iron grille cuts off the portion of the room in which Ignatius lay ill after his return from the defence of the Castle of Pampeluna.
It was here that he spent the
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long and painful hours of his illness. here that he experienced that spiritual rebirth that eventually led to his founding of the Jesuit Order, and it was here that he saw the apparition of the Divine Infant and His Virgin Mother.
I eventually took leave of my kindly guide on the doorstep beside the fountain. Around me lay the green valley of Iraurgi, and, in the distance, the rolling line of the Pyrenees.
I had come a long way to find this valley, a lonely valley from which a message and a mission had been given to the world.