As you may remember, one of the things I've been trying to do as often as possible is visit the tomb of saints buried here in Rome on their feast day. Today, July 31, is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola - the founder of the Jesuits and author of the Spiritual Exercises (which if you ever have the chance to make them - or even part of them, DO IT!!
So, today I went to the Gesù - the home church of the Jesuits here in Rome. It is a late Renaissance church, originally very austere, but opulently decorated starting in the 17th century. Now its frescoes, sculptures and shrines make it one of the foremost examples of Roman Baroque art.
In 1540, Saint Ignatius of Loyola needed a church to serve as the center of his newly founded Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), which the Farnese-family Pope Paul III formally recognized that year. One of the society's members was the priest of a church called Our Lady of the Way, which the Pope designated as the Society's official church. St. Ignatius, finding the church too small, began fundraising to construct a church worthy of the "Name of Jesus." It took him 10 years to get the necessary permits (yes, even then you needed permits to build) before he could break ground.
But the original site wasn't ideal, so new plans were drawn up with Michelangelo being involved in the design. A second ground-breaking ceremony took place, but this time wealthy neighbors fought the construction which would affect their houses. The Pope's relative, Cardinal Farnese, agreed to fund the church and the final groundbreaking took place in 1568, 18 years after the first. Unfortunately, St. Ignatius never lived to see the construction, but the church became his final resting place, making Il Gesù an important shrine for pilgrims to this very day.
Like many churches, Il Gesù has a transept that intersects the nave to create a footprint which forms the shape of a cross. In the left transept is the tomb of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Using silver, gold, bronze, rare marbles and minerals like malachite, lapis lazuli and porphyry, the Jesuit artist Andrea Pozzo employed over 100 craftsmen to create one of the wonders of Roman Baroque art.
Above the tomb there is a large painting of St. Ignatius receiving a "standard" (flag) from God (if you've made the Spiritual Exercises, you'll get that immediately). Behind it is a large statue of St. Ignatius. The original statue was made of pure silver, but unfortunately, when the church was confiscated during the occupation of Napoleon's troops, the Pope ordered it melted down to pay taxes to Napoleon. Pozzo created a "conversion machine" or macchina barocca to unveil the statue. During the day, the painting is seen. But daily at 5:30pm the macchina is employed, music is played, the story of St. Ignatius is told, and the statue is revealed: (I tried to hold steady, but I got tired. Sorry)
Also in the Gesù is the right arm of St. Francis Xavier. I paused to pray here for the people of St. Francis Xavier parish in Gettysburg.
|The blessed Sacrament Chapel|
Just to prove I really was there...
So, that was my visit today to the Gesù - the burial place of St. Ignatius of Loyola on his feast day.