Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

Pampeluna and Conversion

In 1521 Andre de Foix, the French general in Navarre, made a thrust towards Pampeluna, where the Spaniards lay under the, Duke of Najera. Being distinctly the weaker, the Duke at once retreated, leaving only a small garrison, which included our Inigo. The French drew on and the townsfolk were for submission; but our young soldier had sufficient influence with his companions in the garrison to keep them at their posts of defence while the French proceeded to bombard the old walls of the citadel. Inigo was everywhere, encouraging his men in the most exposed positions, when a cannon ball, passing between his legs, tore open the left calf and broke the right shin, and he fell helpless to the ground. It was Whit Monday, May 20, 1521.

With Inigo's fall the garrison lost heart and surrendered, but the French treated the brave captain with chivalrous consideration, and, sent him home in a litter. On his arrival, however, the hastily bandaged leg was found to be crooked. So the soldier had it broken. and set a second time. When the wound healed it was found that the bone protruded, and he had the exposed portion sawn off. Later on, when the limb appeared somewhat short and bent, he had it stretched out by heavy weights. All these pains he underwent of his own initiative, without uttering a cry or allowing himself to be bound. But the exhaustion which followed was so great that the patient began to fail. On the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, however, (June 29) a turn for the better took place, and he was soon out of danger, though the great weakness continued for many months.

Ignatius had so far shown only the natural virtues of the Spanish officer, courage, ambition and initiative, the power of organization, stoical endurance of pain, but as yet no thought of remodeling his life. An apparent accident now led his thoughts in a different direction. Being able to sit up, he asked for his favourite Romanceros;  but as it chanced no books could be found in the old castle except the Life of Christ, by Ludolph of Saxony, and an edition of the Flos Sanctorum, that is, the Lives of the Saints, both in Spanish. They were quite simple, pious books, of the widest circulation. Caxton has made the Flos Sanctorum  (also called Historia Lombardica, written by Jacopo de Voragine in the thirteenth century) familiar in England by his well-known translation entitled The Golden Legend.

With nothing else to do, Ignatius first began to nibble at these Lives and then to read. He went off in day dreams about his worldly prospects and his lady love, and then he returned to the Flos Sanctorum, and got quite interested in applying to the Saints the speculations he was accustomed to apply to the heroes of romance. Instead of imagining how be would have fought at the side of the Cid, he now fancied himself competing with the heroes of Christianity. "How would it be if I were to do this thing, which Saint Francis did, or that deed of Saint Dominic?" And so by degrees, and as it were out of competition, he became accustomed to a new standard of life, though of course it was all imagination, and merely boyish as a scheme of virtues.

St. Ignatius Loyola


The next step was to notice that, while worldly day dreams began so pleasantly, they ended less pleasantly, often with sadness and chagrin. On the other hand the company of the Saints ended in peace, hope and strength. It was this contrast which first opened Inigo's eyes to the reality of the heavenly kingdom, to the continued workings of the good and evil spirits.

The next step was to think more seriously of his past, and to atone for his sins by penance. For penance is the most fundamental of virtues for one who has sinned, and Ignatius did not yet know any other. At all events he measured all good works by their difficulty, that is, by their penitential value. He began to yearn for fastings, disciplines and abstinence, and he definitely resolved upon the most signal exercise of penance then in vogue, namely, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Having got so far as to wean himself from the evil that was past, and to look forward to a new and spiritual life, he received from heaven a signal reward. "One night as he lay awake," such are the words of his autobiography, "he saw clearly a likeness of Our Lady with the holy Child Jesus. With the sight of them for a notable time he received very intense consolation, and he remained with such a loathing for his past life, especially for the sins of the flesh, that it seemed as if all the phantasms heretofore impressed in his soul had passed away. Never again was there the least consent to a carnal thought."

His conversion was complete. All noticed the change, and that he could now converse upon spiritual subjects only. When he was about to leave home, his eldest brother, head of the family, begged him not to do anything that might reflect on their good name, so clear was it that some complete change of life would follow, even though Ignatius had not yet made any definite plans. Meantime, convalescence was very slow and Ignatius had found a characteristic way of passing his time. He had grown so fond of his spiritual books that he set about making some brief extracts of the principal matters in the lives of Christ and of the Saints. "He was a very good scribe," he says of himself in the autobiography, "and he copied out the words of Christ in red ink, and those of Our Lady in blue. The pages were burnished, the writing of the best. The book, [which is now unfortunately lost], was of about 300 folios in quarto, and written full."