Ignatius of Loyola: sanctity and sainthood

The veneration of saints became a fraught issue as the confessional divides of the Reformation widened. Protestants claimed that the idea of sainthood had become abused, likening their veneration to idolatry, and attacked what they saw as superstitious medieval tales of miracles. The imagery of this small engraving, then, was making a series of contentious but powerful statements. With hands clasped in prayer, eyes fixed on Christ’s sacrifice, and a nimbus confirming his sainthood, it leaves the viewer in little doubt of the holiness of the man depicted. Engraved by the Flemish printmaker Hieronymus Wierix [1553–1619] it surely celebrates the beatification of Ignatius of Loyola [1491–1556], the founder of the Society of Jesus, in 1609. It notes not only Loyola’s age at his death, but also the thirty-five years since his ‘conversion’. In 1521 Loyola had been a soldier, but while recovering from injury he had begun to develop the new religious ideas and understanding that would lead to the writing of his most famous work, the Spiritual Exercises, and to the foundation of his new religious order. This image thus simultaneously venerates Loyola and the Jesuits, and celebrates the possibility of such spiritual renewal and transformation. CL

Portrait of Ignatius Loyola.

CUL: Morison, Jesuits.1

Further reading

Peter Burke, ‘How to become a Counter-Reformation saint’, in his The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 48-62.

John W. O’Malley, Saints or Devils Incarnate? Studies in Jesuit History (Leiden, 2013), ch. 15.

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