St. Ignatius in Barcelona, Montserrat and the Manresa Cave
FOLLOWING THE TRAIL OF IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
We are closing the year 2022 with a post dedicated to something that happened not far from Barcelona (Spain) 500 years ago. It was in 1522 that Saint Ignatius of Loyola visited Catalonia on his way to Holy Land, and after several mystical experiences he compiled the ideas that would form his famous Spiritual Exercises. Let’s follow together his trail and be fascinated by this magnetic character, founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuit order.
Born in Loyola (Basque Country, Spain) in 1491, Ignacio (also known as Iñigo) was the youngest of 13 siblings. He became a knight, and he was seriously injured in one leg by a cannon ball at 30 years old, during a battle in Navarra against the French. He was sent back home to die, but he survived even if he would limp for the rest of his life. Apparently, during his recovery he couldn’t find chivalry or romance books to entertain himself, so he read catholic books instead. And they inspired him to live an exemplary pious life, now that his military career was over.
So he started a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and on his way he stopped over the Monastery of Montserrat and the cities of Manresa and Barcelona. Those stops and what happened during them were key in his spiritual transformation and the later foundation of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuit order. His forward thinking, hands-on personality and spirituality vision made St. Ignatius of Loyola one of the most important thinkers of the Spanish Renaissance.
What did St. Ignatius do in Montserrat?
Saint Ignatius arrived to the Monastery of Montserrat attracted by the fame of its statue of the Virgin of Montserrat - it wasn't unusual that pilgrims would stop in significant religious sites on their way. His pilgrimage had taken him first to another Catalan town, probably Igualada with an important textile tradition (but some state it was Lleida instead), where he purchased a pilgrim dress - basically a very humble monk habit made of sack fabric, and a pair of espadrilles. Once in Montserrat he found a confessor, Father Xanon, and he spent 3 days with him confessing his sins and receiving counseling.
The Benedictine monk possibly introduced him to the texts that the Montserrat novices had to study before being ordained – mainly the Compendio Breve del Ejercitatorio de la Vida Espiritual, a sort of guidebook of Christian spirituality that could have influenced Saint Ignatius Spiritual Exercises. He also probably introduced him to a new prayer practice called the Devotio Moderna. After three days, his confessor told him to get rid of the mule Ignatius used to travel and to send his servant home (he came from a wealthy family, so he had started his pilgrimage “in comfort”).
Ignatius did so, and decided to blend in with the poor crowds, he found a beggar and gifted him with his knight clothes (it is said that such beggar got in trouble when other people accused him to have stolen the clothes, and Ignatius had to claim his innocence and felt terrible to have landed him in jail…). Then Saint Ignatius went to the Basilica of Montserrat and spent the night kneeling and praying in front of the image of Our Lady. With the sunrise, he attached his sword and his dagger to the fence around the altar where pilgrims left their vows and exvotos.
In those times, pilgrims were only given shelter for three days at the monastery, but often people would decide to stay in the vicinity, sleeping in cavities on the mountain rocks or in the woods. It is possible that St Ignatius decided to do so, in order to continue receiving a spiritual education from father Xanon, who probably considered that Ignatius wasn’t ready for the challenges of a pilgrimage to Rome.
But eventually, his leg hurting, he asked where was the closest hospital for the poor, and a lady named Ines Pascual recommended him to head to the nearby town of Manresa rather than heading to Barcelona right away. Other sources say that he might have wanted to avoid Barcelona, which was struggling from the Black Plague, or that he got word that some of his former military peers where there and he wasn’t ready to confront them, or even that he wanted to avoid crossing some of his former love interests from his past knight life.
Ignatian sites in Montserrat
Following the same direction, a bit further on the side wall of the plaza you’ll see the door of the Romanesque monastery. While not in its original location anymore, it’s the stone frame that Saint Ignatius crossed to enter the church in those times. Very close you’ll see the access to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary – the Cambril, where a hostess controls the number of visitors inside. The way to the Cambril is through the side chapels of the Basilica. The second one you’ll cross is dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola. You’ll see there a painting about the Vision of La Storta, that inspired him to found the Society of Jesus, and a replica of the sword he deposited in the Montserrat Monastery.
Continue down the aisle and climb the stairs to the Cambril: the golden statue of Saint Mary worshipped there is the same one that Saint Ignatius venerated during his nighttime prayer. If you pay attention, to the left of the exit door you’ll see a portrait of Saint Ignatius as part of the mosaic decorating the room, and recognizable by the blue halo around his head. After leaving the Cambril you’ll reach a small hall where there’s a big shell for the holy water: the opposite wall is decorated with several stained glass windows – one of them of Saint Ignatius of Loyola holding his sword.
What did St. Ignatius do in Manresa?
St Ignatius spent 11 months in Manresa. He stayed at the Hospital of Saint Lucia, but went often to a small cave over the Cardener river to pray and study, and it is said that it was there that he started compiling what later on would become his most celebrated book: the Spiritual Exercises. During his stay in Manresa he was helped by a group of pious ladies, nowadays known as the Iñigas (from Iñigo, a nickname for Ignatius in Spanish). Nevertheless, he neglected his physicals appearance and hygiene, going through extreme fasting. Many locals thought he was a mad man and called him the “man of the sack” due to his humble clothes.
During his stay he went through three distinct stages: at first one of inner peace, then one of terrible doubts, despair and thoughts of death, until he finally experienced a series of mystical experiences, revelations and visions, that guided him through his spiritual growth. He cultivated relationships with friars, monks and priests of the local monasteries and the city Basilica. And it’s also possible that he continued to visit Father Xanon in Montserrat for further spiritual guidance.
An itinerary of Saint Ignatius in Manresa
- Old Bridge over the Cardener river and Mare de Deu de la Guia cross. Saint Ignatius arrived from Montserrat through a path that run next to the Chapel and the Cross of Our Lady of the Guide. The chapel was moved to another location, but the cross continues to stand where apparently the Virgin Mary appeared to Ignatius on his arrival, to encourage him in his choice of a penitent life. Then he crossed the river through the bridge to reach the town.
- Basilica of La Seu. This impressive Gothic church on top of a hill overlooking the river still looks pretty much the same way it was when Ignatius arrived to Girona, except that the bell tower and the western façade were still under construction. It was the first place he visited upon arrival to Manresa, and he continued to come every day to pray in a side chapel (now called Capella de Sant Josep, but then dedicated to St. Anthony Abbot. During one of his most turbulent times in Manresa, a canon of this church suggested him to write down the thoughts that tormented him. And that led him to compose the famous Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. You might also want to check out the stained glass windows, which are from a later period: the ones on the first and fourth chapels of the wall opposite to the entrance door represent Saint Ignatius, praying in Montserrat and during his vision in La Storta (Italy).
- Chapel of Saint Ignasi Malalt. During his stay in Manresa, Ignatius fell sick twice, and the Amigant family took care of him. The building where the Amigant used to take care of the sick became in 1703 a chapel decorated with a painting that shows the Amigant family around Ignatius in bed.
- Pou de la Gallina (Well of the Chicken). Not a place that Ignatius visited during his life, but according to the tradition a girl lost the chicken that her stepmother had told her to look after. The chicken fell on the well and died, and the girl started crying and prayed to Saint Ignatius to resuscitate it, so she wouldn’t be punished. The chicken came back to life and the miracle became so famous that a small chapel was built next to the well.
- Capella del Rapte. This small chapel (usually closed to the public) is the only structure left from the Hospital of Saint Lucia where St. Ignatius lived during his stay in the city. Here he worked feeding the poor and taking care of the sick. Here one night during the Complines prayer Ignatius entered a state of rapture, falling to the floor and staying immobile for entire 8 days.
- Creu del Tort. This cross next to the house of the Tort family that used to welcome Ignatius when he visited, was a favorite spot where the Saint came to pray and where he had several visions. The most powerful one is known as “Eximia Illustration”, that inspired him to leave his life of lone pilgrim and work for the salvation of the people’s souls.
The Cave of St Ignatius in Manresa (Spain)
Instead, a cave offered him the silence and isolation he needed, and caves have that kind of magical appeal of a mother uterus. Plus from there he had direct views over the church of La Seu, the Mountain of Montserrat in the distance, and the Cardener river at his foot. In any case, don’t imagine it as a dark deep grotto: it was more of a small cavity, a shelter that the water had excavated in the rock millions of years ago. Here St Ignatius of Loyola spent hours every day writing the texts that later on would become his famous Spiritual Exercises.
Nowadays the space has changed enormously: the Jesuits transformed it in a monumental ensemble, that immediately catches the eyes of the travelers arriving to Manresa. You can’t miss it. It’s a long façade overlooking the river, on the hill opposite the church of La Seu. The first section of this façade is the International Center of Ignatian Spirituality run by a community of Jesuit monks that live there permanently and organize retreats. The second part is the Sanctuary of the Cave of St. Ignatius. To enter it you need to walk all the way to the end, and access through the gate of the Baroque church.
Once inside, the space is divided in two sections again: in front of you, a church built in the 1700’s but now decorated with mesmerizing mosaics by the monk Marko Rupnik. Take your time to observe them: they explain different passages of the Old and the New Testaments, and are full of symbols. The sculptures of the baroque altarpiece represent the Immaculate Conception, Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier, another prominent Jesuit saint and one of the first members of the order.
Then to the left you’ll find the access to the corridors that lead to the Cave of Saint Ignatius. They are intentionally divided in different sections, to prepare your soul as you approach the holy space of St Ignatius Cave. The first room displays a stone gate that used to close the actual cave until some years ago, the Cross of Tort where Ignatius experienced visions, and a series of medallions about the Ignatius’ life. The second room displays the bowl that St Ignatius used to eat during his stay in Manresa: he donated it to the Tort family, and they preserved it and passed it down until the last members of the family donated it to the Cave.
Next you’ll walk down a few steps and enter the Avantcova. Symbolically, these steps are a subtle way to slow down and focus. The Avantcova is an impressive antechamber that ends at the cave of St Ignatius. It’s profusely decorated with mosaics, stained glasses, bronze reliefs and a spectacular coffered ceiling. At the end, two sculptures of the angels of Silence and Ascetism flank the access to the cave, and a mosaic on the floor reads “Locus in quo stas terra sancta es” (The place where you are is Holy Land, in Latin).
The Cave (also known as “Coveta“, small cave) isn’t open to the river anymore: in 1603 the Jesuits decided to protect it from the elements by building a wall alongside it and closing it with a door (the one you saw at the entrance replaced that one 20 years later). The original space was too short: only 10 people fitted in, and they couldn’t stand. Through the years the floor level was lowered to gain height, and extended for capacity. Artwork and decorations were added. But nowadays the distractions have been minimized and the rock has been freed of visual elements, to bring back the spirit of the Cave. A small altar, a a retable of Saint Ignatius writing the Spiritual Exercises and a few chairs invite to seat and pray and meditate.
More about St Ignatius Cave:
What did St Ignatius do in Barcelona?
Ignatius idea was to travel alone, so he rejected any offer of company for the trip, even when they offered to pay for the ship tickets. He wanted God to sustain him. Eventually he convinced the captain to let him travel for free. The only condition he was given was to bring some food for himself. And while Ignatius didn’t like the idea because if felt like cheating, his confessor convinced him that it was OK as long as the food was an alms. He then met a lady named Eleonor Ferrer, who first reprimanded him for begging in the streets, but then took pity on him and donated him some bread, wine and other food items for the trip.
On March 1524 St. Ignatius is back to Barcelona. He hadn’t been able to stay in Jerusalem, and he decided to study, so he’d have a stronger base to help the fellow. He asked Ms. Roser and Maese Ardevol to be his tutors, and he studied two years in college. Ignatius was still wearing the same clothes and shoes that he wore in Manresa, which were already broken and ragged. Ms. Pascual made him get rid of them and provided him with a humble black habit that he used during his stay and until his trip to Paris.
Ignatius insistence to live a life of penitence and make his physical body suffer led him to fall sick, and the Pascual family, that was again hosting him in their home, took care of him until he healed. During his second stay he also worked to reform the local female convents, where the religious standards were quite loose. He frequented with this purpose the female monastery of the Hieronymites of St. Mathias (from which only the Chapel of St. Llatzer continues to stand in El Raval), the Benedictines of St. Claire (which convent was located in the current grounds of the Ciutadella Park), and the Dominiques of Nostra Senyora dels Angels (also located near the Gate of St. Daniel and now disappeared).
Actually, due to his success convincing the nuns from this last convent to return to a decent way of life, some men that used to “visit” the convent decided to take revenge and sent a slave to kill him. He was severely beaten and considered dead by his assailant, who abandoned him in the streets. Some people found him still breathing, and once Ignatius recovered his consciousness he was taken back to the Pascual home. He took 53 days to recover from the injuries, and still afterwards he went back to the convent and got the instigator of the attack to ask for forgiveness.
Eventually on July 1526 St. Ignatius finished his grammar studies and decided to move to Alcala to study arts in its renowned university. However, his stay in Alcala first, and then Salamanca wasn’t successful. The people there didn’t accept his eccentrically poor clothes, and his efforts to preach while he was still a student. He was rejected and even spent a short time in jail. So he decided to head to Paris to continue his education, and for that he needed to get back to Barcelona first.
And that’s how Sant Ignatius spent some three months there again, between the end of 1527 and the beginning of 1928. He was again hosted by Ines Pascual. This time he accepted his Barcelona friends’ help to pay for his trip to Paris, and they would continue sending him money while he was there.
Unfortunately, the Parisian weather didn’t do Ignatius good, and he was recommended to go back to Spain. After briefly visiting his hometown, he crossed Castile on his way to Valencia, where the embark towards Italy in late 1535. It is possible that his ship stopped over in Barcelona, where he arranged for his supporters to send him funds to Italy, where he intended to continue studying. It would be his last time in the city, but it was so brief there isn’t much information about it.
St. Ignatius' Barcelona sites
First stay of Saint Ignatius in Barcelona (1523)
- Following his steps at his arrival. When Saint Ignatius arrives to Barcelona, the city is still surrounded by the medieval walls. The records suggest he entered through the Portal Nou (the actual gate isn’t there anymore, but a street still bears its name) towards the heart of the Old Town, probably walking past the arches and the fountain on Plaça de Sant Agustí Vell. And he might have stopped by the Capella de Marcus to visit the image of Our Lady of the Guide inside, which traditionally protected the travelers.
- Street of Sant Ignasi. This street is named after Ignatius of Loyola, because he lived in a building (now gone) located approximately at the corner of Carrer Princesa (which didn’t exist in Ignatius times). It was the home of Ms. Ines Pascual, where Saint Ignatius stayed during all his three stays in Barcelona. At the entrance of the house there was a trellis where Ignatius used to donate to the poor food and alms that he had obtained begging.
- Basilica of Sants Just i Pastor. In March 1523 while Ignatius was listening to a sermon in this church, a lady called Isabel Roser advised him to avoid taking the ship he had planned to imbark, as it wasn’t in a bad state of conservation. Thankfully Ignatius followed her advice, as that ship sank and never reached its destination.
- Palau Moxo. Ms. Roser lived in this lordly mansion in the number 4 of the square in front of the basilica. And here Saint Ignatius celebrated several meetings with ladies of the local upper class that helped him.
Second and third stay in Barcelona (1524-1526)
- Corner of Sombrerers and Mirallers street. Here lived Maese Jeroni Ardevol, Latin teacher of Ignatius in Barcelona. The Saint promised to work hard on his lessons and even asked to be punished if he didn’t learn enough every day.
- Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. Ignatius used to beg alms there, seating on the steps of the chapel next to the lateral gate closest to Maese Ardevol’s home. Nowadays a plate indicates the exact step where he used to seat, and a contemporary sculpture reminds us of him.
- Plaça de l’Àngel. This is the approximate location of the headquarters of the Estudis Generals, the college where Ignatius attended the lessons of Maese Ardevol after October 1525. The building disappeared with the opening of Via Laietana in the 1900’s.
- Passatge Mercantil. Although the exact location is unclear, somewhere nearby, between the now gone Gate of St. Daniel (located in the current grounds of the Ciutadella Park) and the later structure of the Mercat del Born, Saint Ignatius is said to have found a man hung during a fight. He started praying in front of the body, until the man resurrected just for long enough to confess his sins before dying again.
- Crypt of the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia. St Ignatius spent many hours praying in this chapel, then dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament.
The location of the sword of St. Ignatius
It is known that Ignatius left his sword as an ex-voto in the Monastery of Montserrat during his visit 1522. It might sound strange that in a place that received so many pilgrims, all of them wanting their own ex-voto to be as close to the altar as possible, the sword would remain where he left it for several decades… It would have been reasonable to think that it could have been removed and consequently lost. Or mixed up with other swords. But according to the records, in 1603 (Ignatius already dead and in process of being canonized) the monks of Montserrat retrieved it from where it was and stored it in a cabinet in their sacristy.
In 1672 an exchange of relics happens between the Montserrat Monastery and the Jesuit community of Our Lady of Bethlehem in Barcelona. The Jesuits sent a reliquary with part of the cranium of Saint Gertrudis to Montserrat, and the Benedictine monks of Montserrat gave them the sword of Ignatius in exchange. The sword remained in that church even after the Jesuits left, until in 1907 the Bishopric approved giving it back to the order. It was placed in a chapel of the church of the Sagrat Cor of Barcelona on Casp street, in an altar erected with that purpose.
An archaeological study of the weapon points to the fact that it could really have belonged to Saint Ignatius: its execution, manufacturer and place of origin engraved on the leaf confirm it’s not a modern copy. And the sword incorporates two “Y” as a form of signature stating the owner: Ignatius original name was “Yñigo Yañez”.
BONUS: Are you curious about the Spiritual Excercises of St Ignatius? Check this out:
What are your favorite stories about St Ignatius in Manresa, Montserrat and Barcelona?
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
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Last update on 2023-02-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API