This church is dazzling; it’s so beautiful that silence is the only response. On the outside, it’s just an unimposing, simple building in the shadow of the grander and more stately duomo that’s just around the corner.
The church touched me because its beauty was softer than some of the cathedrals, it didn’t have as much dark marble, but instead had more color and more paintings, there are 8 Rubens and 15 from the Old Masters; unfortunately, I had technical issues and lost a lot of my Geneva pictures, including the descriptions of the paintings. The beauty draws one into the building rather than standing aloof, stark, majestic and imposing. It was commissioned by one of my favorite saints, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and built by his friends and disciples, Giacoma Barozzi da Vignola & Giovanni de Rosis. The church is built on the principles of St. Ignatius’ spirituality; Ignatius believed that we could become closer to Jesus by using our imagination. For example, if we think about how much Jesus loved a Bible character we can relate to, say the woman at the well, we can imagine the expression of love that was on his face when he spoke with her; then we remember that He loves us as much as He loves her, we imagine that same expression of love turning to us with the same smile, the same beckoning, the same joy; we can, then, get a sense of how much Jesus loves us. St. Ignatius wants everyone to be intimately aware of the love Christ has for each of us. This church was designed to demonstrate, in beauty and art Jesus’ great love. It is intended to make us smile, to lift our spirits, to enfold us in beauty, peace and joy. I think it succeeded, it is one of the most beautiful and heart-warming places I have ever seen. St. Ignatius’ spirituality has become so popular it is taught and practiced in Protestant and Catholic churches; many have retreats in which people focus on learning to trust Jesus’ love for them. I think this church would be a perfect place for such a retreat; it’s a shame it’s so far away.
The altarpiece in the Church of Jesus is “The Circumcision of Jesus”, (see Mary turn away), it also represents the Presentation at the Temple.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
This is an image of the Virgin Mary that Saint Ignatius prayed before after he gave up his romantic dreams of heroism and devoted his life to serving God.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) has an interesting story, he was born to minor nobility with dreams of grandeur and heroism; he was a swashbuckling woman’s man who saw himself as a romantic gentleman and heroic soldier, I imagine him looking like a character from a Three Musketeers movie. Because he frequently provoked other men over various women, he was granted permission to wear a sword. One can imagine him strutting through the streets of Spain in foppish clothing with his sword swaying at his side. He became infatuated with a woman whose station was so high above his that he had no hope of winning her hand, although he dreamed of the possibility. In order to earn recognition in battle and maybe gain her notice, he joined the army and went off to war. He was a valiant fighter, but he was grievously wounded during the Siege of Pamplona; a cannon ball smashed its way right between his legs. One leg was broken and required a long recuperation. The doctor set the broken bones without the aid of any anesthesia; Ignatius didn’t cry out and tolerated his painful rehabilitation without complaint. Once his leg was healed, he was unsatisfied because the bone jutted out from his leg and gave him a deformed appearance. He wasn’t willing to go back out into public or social life while he felt his appearance was so unacceptable, so he had the doctor break his leg again and set it again so that it would be straighter. Again, this was done without anesthesia and Ignatius did not cry out from the pain.
A close relative kept him at her home while he recovered; she had two books, a Bible and a book on the lives of the saints. Ignatius entertained himself with romantic fantasies of heroic victories and earning the affection of his unnamed love. At other times, he read about the saints or the Bible. Over time, he started to notice that when he read or meditated on the Bible or the lives of the saints, he had a sweet sense of peace and contentment, that he called a consolation. But, often when he fantasized about his true love or conquering his opponents in battle, he felt anxious and ill at ease, he called this desolation. This eventually led to his lifetime pursuit of God and the love of God. He learned and taught that when we focus on God, His great love for us and pleasing Him, we are more likely to have consolations; a sense of comfort and peace; but when we focus on worldly endeavors, we are more likely to be anxious and agitated or have desolations. He also noticed that even when he was pursuing God with his whole heart, sometimes desolation would come. With practice and experimentation, he learned to recognize the signs of the desolation and came up with methods of countering them so they wouldn’t lead us away from our relationship with Jesus. He called these spiritual exercises; they involve being aware of our feelings and to act quickly when desolations begin to descend. If we are in a habit of praying first thing every morning, it is essential that we keep praying even when we don’t sense God is listening or we feel agitated and uncomfortable. If we have a plan to fast or read scripture, we must not change those plans even if the desolation causes us to want to do anything except focus on God. We need to exert additional effort in prayer and holy reading in order to counter the desolation and shorten its duration. By our constant vigilance over our feelings, we can learn to discern God’s will. When we earnestly pray for God’s guidance, He will offer consolations when we are in obedience; we can become attuned to hearing God’s voice and become more equipped to follow and obey God’s call in every aspect of our lives, he called that, “Finding God in all things.”
More pictures from the church:
The Assumption of Mary