A few years ago my wife and I were lucky to have taken a tour of Italy. Anyone who has gone knows that the trip itinerary is tight -- this is what you will see and you will get no sleep. But as my mother used to say "you'll sleep when you're dead."
A great vacation and a beautiful tour. As we neared then end of it I knew I had to get to the Jesuits' home Church Chiesa del Gesù -- the Church of the Gesu. As we're touring the Coliseum, which was a big deal for most, I told my wife I'm outta here -- that I'd never forgive myself if I didn't get there, so off we went.
The sacrament of Reconciliation is available in just about any language at the Gesu so I stopped by a confessional with a sign that said "English". I began with "Father forgive me for I have... do you speak English?" The Jesuit behind the curtain replied, with a British accent,"Do you?". Great... this will be a memorable one ;-) We chatted after, as I'm known to do with everyone, and he told me that I had to see the Rooms of St. Ignatius next door. Four rooms where Ignatius and the original Compania de Jesus had lived and said Mass. So off we went, Mrs. 44 in tow, almost being dragged. (Editor's note: To my knowledge the Jesuits have never covered this 'IHS' in black cloth)
Amazingly, they preserved these four rooms and built the current building around them. I started chatting with the guardian in the room, who I found out to be a young Jesuit from the Basque! As we talked I think he was impressed with my knowledge of the Jesuits and told me he would give me a personal tour! Four small rooms, 450 years of history, and he was kind enough to give us a three hour tour (the song from Gilligan's island should be playing in your head now). To say I was pumped would be an understatment ;-)
The same can't be said for Mrs. 44. Any casual reader of this blog or the 44 e-mail would know I love the Jesuits and I love basketball. Mrs. 44 isn't quite with me on either.
By the time we got to the beautiful room painted by Br. Andrea Pozzo, SJ, (known for his grandiose frescoes using illusionistic technique called quadratura, in which architecture and fancy are intermixed.) she was so bored that I think she contemplated jumping out of the stained glass window. Of course we weren't at the ground level, and when she peared out the window below was, drum roll please, the only basketball court we saw in Italy. Way too much irony there, so she stayed, a bit glassy eyed, the way she gets when I say the words "19th Annotation."
All kidding aside I felt privileged to be in the same rooms where Ignatius lived, wrote the Constitutions, said Mass with his fellow Jesuits, where he prayed, where he felt consolation and desolation. When I was visited the Jesuits in India last summer we attended Mass every day at 6:00 with John Deeney, SJ in a small chapel at the Jesuit Residence at St. Xavier's in Lupungutu. It was a perfectly simple chapel, with an astro-turf floor and ceiling fan, comfortably accommodating about 15 people, but just right for us six pilgrims (if not for the 100 degree heat!). No pews, but six chairs that were almost identical to the ones in St. Ignatius' chapel. An immense feeling of spiritual profundity washed over me.
The following article is from the magazine of the Maryland Province Jesuits.
By Thomas Lucas, SJ
For almost two years, more than 50 people worked to restore the rooms of St. Ignatius and the corridor that adjoins them. Here, the Jesuits’ founder dreamed his vision of service to God and to the Church, here he lived for the last 12 years of his life, and here he died on July 31, 1556. The rooms were the top floor of the residence built by St. Ignatius and Codacio in 1543-1544. That poorly built house stood until 1598, when a disastrous flood on Christmas Eve damaged its foundations. The rooms are all that remain of that first building.
An absolute master of perspective, Pozzo created on the flat surfaces of the walls and the gentle curve of the vault the illusion of immense space filled with complex architectural and human forms. Pozzo joined mechanical precision with playful confidence in his craft and deep love for his subject, St. Ignatius. Photo by Jeremy Langford
St. Ignatius wrote and revised the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus in this room. This fundamental document defines the shape of Jesuit life, mission and service. The small wooden desk was St. Ignatius’ own, in which he kept his private papers. The painting (ca. 1400) is called “La Madonna della Scrivania,” our Lady of the Desk, because it hung over St. Ignatius’ desk. Photo by Jeremy Langford
A pair of St. Ignatius’ shoes. Pilgrims seeking relics carefully cut away most of the soles of the shoes. Photo by Danny Costello
The chasuble St. Ignatius wore when he celebrated Mass and in which he was buried. It was removed from his bones when his body was moved in 1568, and has been preserved here ever since. Photo by Jeremy Langford
In the niche of a bricked up doorway that probably served as a private entrance to the rooms, a fresco of the seal of the Society was recently found under two coats of whitewash. It probably dates from ca. 1605 when the rooms became a shrine. Photo by Arthur Stern