Five hundred Years of Conversion: 1521–2021

From May 2021 until July 2022, the Society of Jesus celebrates an Ignatian Year. David Birchall SJ describes how a war-wound from a cannonball brought about the conversion of Iñigo de Loyola, and how the spirituality he later developed as Ignatius Loyola is still as relevant today.

Religious groups typically celebrate the birth or death of their founder, and when significant numbers ending in zeros are reached, the celebrations generally take place with extra enthusiasm. But the Jesuits, and those who consider their foundation to be centred on St Ignatius of Loyola, celebrate this year neither a birth nor a death, but an event that began with a life-threatening war-wound. This year, 2021, is 500 years since French troops with local Navarrese help attacked Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, held at that time by the Spanish Crown. Iñigo López de Loyola was the right-hand man of the Spanish Viceroy of Navarre who convinced the Spanish forces, against their better judgement, to try to hold out against a superior French force. In the process of the action, this rather hot-headed and determined Basque had one of his legs broken by a French cannon. And so began a great metanoia in the life of the man now known as St Ignatius Loyola.

Iñigo de Loyola, who later changed his name to the more common Ignatius, was a Catholic – as was almost everyone in Spain at the time. But his faith was of the cultural kind which apart from a few formalities of churchgoing didn’t impinge too much on how he led his life. After his injury in Pamplona, he was carried on a stretcher one hundred kilometres or so to his home in Loyola. Painful operations and fever followed. During May and June of 1521, his life hung in the balance. However, from the feast of Sts Peter and Paul on 29 June his slow recovery began. His conversion to Christ, which is the real event being celebrated this year, slowly took place during his period of convalescence.

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