In the Summer of 2018, Rinald D’Souza SJ undertook the Camino Ignaciano — an Ignatian pilgrimage that traverses history, culture and spirituality through some of the most beautiful regions of Spain. The pilgrimage is walked with one’s feet, but takes a heart — as much as a mind — to see the world and journey with it. Here Rinald reflects on his journey with his lens.
For a more narrative experience of the Camino Ignaciano, read “Walking the Camino Ignaciano”.
The Smiling Christ, happy in death. Francis Xavier (1505-1552), along with his family, is known to have prayed before this crucifix. Housed in the “Tower of Christ”, a gothic chapel within the Castle of Xavier in Navarre, Spain, popular legend believes that the crucifix sweated blood when Francis Xavier died off the coast of China. The crucifix, carved in walnut wood, dates back to the thirteenth-century. The walls of the chapel are decorated with fifteenth-century murals that depict the “Dance of Death”.
Basque kids play in the evening in front of the Sanctuary of Loyola, within Azpeitia, Spain. Situated along the Urola river and picturesque hills, the Sanctuary is an impressive shrine and basilica built in churrigueresque baroque designed by Italian architect Carlo Fontana (1634-1714). The family house of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), which is now a museum, is situated within these premises.
The Basque country (Euskadi) contains some of the most beautiful and green walking routes of the Camino Ignaciano. Pastoral scenes like these are very refreshing to the otherwise hot summers of Spain. It is also interesting to note that the Basque language (Euskara) is a language isolate, that makes the Basques among the oldest ethnic groups in Europe. Consider that Ignatius of Loyola grew up in these surroundings.
Situated some two kilometres from Zumarraga, the Ermita de la Antigua, is known as the cathedral of all hermitages in the region. The Church dates back to the fourteenth century and apart from the gothic statue of Madonna, has a quaint Romanesque entrance to it. Its interiors are built in oak, typical of Basque medieval architecture. Miguel López de Legazpi, the Basque navigator who established a Spanish colony in the Philippines, was baptised in this Church.
Oñati is a small but attractive medieval town that contains some striking architecture like the San Miguel Church, Sancti Spiritus University and the Bidaurreta Monastery. As one walks through the town below in the foothills, a pilgrim’s gaze is usually directed ahead towards the mount of Arantzazu. I happened to take this route on Sunday morning and I was blessed with a number of pilgrims visiting the Sanctuary of Arantzazu.
The apse of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Arantzazu is a fine mural in wood carved by the Spanish abstractionist artist Lucio Muñoz (1929-1998) in the year 1962. Muñoz borrows elements from the Gipuzkoan countryside and sees his work as a movement towards peace that is mediated to the Basque people through Our Lady of Arantzazu. The mural gives the Sanctuary a very earthy atmosphere.
The Our Lady of Arantzazu has been a popular devotion in the Basque country since the fifteenth century, a few decades (c. 1468) before Ignatius was born (1491). According to legend, a shepherd named Rodrigo de Balzategi saw the Virgin appear on a hawthorn bush, and exclaimed, “Arantzan zu?” (Is it you among the thorns?). In his Autobiography, Ignatius particularly recounts his visit to Our Lady of Arantzazu through Oñati. Our Lady of Arantzazu and Ignatius of Loyola are considered patrons of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa.
An important element of Basque culture is cuisine, but here on a Sunday morning it was perfectly ok that there was only snack and pastry to feed a hungry pilgrim. Be it the “Euskal pastela” (Basque cake), some spicy “txoripan” (bread stuffed with chorizo) or some sweet “bombas”, tasting new foods has been a delight during the Camino. It is amazing how food can be a conversation starter or an act of love itself. Our kitchens in our own homes are acts of love.
A story of two royalties. One, from the House of Castile that provided for the Santa María de la Redonda, a richly endowed gothic and baroque church that was meant to honour Mary, the mother of Jesus. The second, from Jesus, who relinquished everything and chose the path of humility and death, in order to bring life. Both these stories are in marked contrast. Which one would you prefer?
Devotees pray before a more humble altar at the Church of Santa María de Palacio, in Logroño. The more impressive main altarpiece by Arnao of Brussels remains hidden on the left. For all the empty spaces that one finds within the once flourishing Spanish churches, elements of faith and devotion still remain alive. And that can be very inspiring for one’s own faith.
Another of the Camino Ignaciano’s experiences is to gaze at the friezes of the many churches you encounter along the way. This detail from the twelfth-century romanesque Church of San Bartolomé in Logroño depicts scenes from the life of Christ as well as of the saint. Though it has been through much transformation and decay, it remains a timeless beauty.
This is a fine portrait of Logroño, captured in bas-relief by the artist Félix Reyes (1979). At the end of the day, I can easily identify these: the twin gothic towers of the Santa María de la Redonda (top left), the arch of the Wall of the Revellín (top right), the façade of the Church of San Bartolomé (centre), the Puente de Piedra stone bridge (bottom left), and the aguja (needle tower) of the Church of Santa María de Palacio (bottom right).
The immense baroque Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. According to tradition ― and by now there’s enough of it invented in Spain ― the Virgin Mary appeared to the apostle James who was lying dejected on the banks of the river Ebro and encouraged him to persevere in his efforts despite his apparent failures. It is maintained that the Virgin Mary asked James to build a chapel that would preserve the pillar on which she appeared, as a testimony. At the end of the day, I wonder what histories were these traditions meant to preserve!
Among the most striking murals in Zaragoza is the Jardín Nocturno (2017) by artist Arantxa Recio which pays tribute and draws attention to the sexist violence ― and the resistance ― endured by women in the Plaza de César Augusto. But such sexist violence exists everywhere, in everyday ordinary life situations. As I admire this mural, I love how it mirrors me within its frame, drawing me to reflect on the manner in which I use language that is either sexist or objectifies women.
The baroque façade of the Iglesia de Santa Isabel de Portugal, born in the royal house of Aragón and married to King James of Portugal. The façade bears the coat of arms of Aragón, celebrating the saint in her homeland. Over the years, much of Spanish and Portuguese histories would intersperse each other as they sought to Christianise the world, but more so to create colonies for its trade and territorial expansion.
Together with the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the Aljafería Palace is an iconic architectural gem within Zaragoza that refuses to tell a single story. From being an eleventh-century medieval Islamic palace, to being a medieval Christian palace when Zaragoza was taken over by Alfonso I in 1118 to now being the Regional Assembly of Aragón, there have been many pasts to this palace. In 1492, when the Mudejar architect Faraig de Gali was commissioned by its Catholic monarchs to design the new palace, he blended earlier medieval elements with Renaissance styles to evolve Reyes Catolicos style.
This might not be a fancy restaurant, but local taverns like La Bodeguica De Nicamó where locals hangout late for a drink are interesting places to learn something more about the city, people’s lives, be understood and misunderstood in equal measure. All said and done, I’d fancy eating the Aragonese graus sausage again, here.
The University of Cervera, now a cultural monument, came to be the only university within Catalonia in the eighteenth century, after six other universities were discontinued. King Philip V of Spain intended this to be an economic incentive for Cervera who supported the House of Bourbon in the War of Spanish Succession and thus punish the rest of Catalonia for their support to the House of Habsburg. Some political titbits for the Camino!
Morning sunrise on the Camino Ignaciano. Nature has a fascinating ― in fact therapeutic ― way of shining its light on the dark corners of your soul as you often walk in solitude, having nobody to talk or listen to but yourself. As time goes by, you realise that the answers you are seeking are within you. And it is within this silence when you finally become yourself, you begin to discover someone who has always been with you ― God.
Sometimes I wish my life was so neatly stacked ― that I had figured it out all. But then, what’s the point? Isn’t just searching and discovering that make for the many joys of life?
Sitting back, recollecting my thoughts as I look above to Our Lady of Montserrat. There’s so much as a fleeting glance that you get as you line up to venerate her in the niche. But then as you descend and move back to this beautiful chapel built in romanesque and gothic styles. Ah, and to discover that the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) worked on this chapel while being an apprentice to the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano (1828-1901) who was commissioned for the apse of this Basilica!
The exit via the Way of Ave Maria, each at one’s own pace, lighting candles that could probably help one give thanks or intercede for the final leg of the Camino. By now you really intercede that this Camino would not end and you would hopefully keep walking.
The descent from Montserrat. “For all that has been, Thank you. For all that is to come, Yes!”, so I now implore.
From Montserrat to Manresa. Different caminos, different journeys.
We are not alone, or rather, we are not the only ones. If we take time to look around we could see a million more beings ― even if they are as tiny as ants ― moving ahead to a place they would possibly find fulfilment.
Do you see it? Everyday lives, everyday struggles.
And finally, Manresa! The Cave of Saint Ignatius, where after having made the Camino from his hometown in Azpeitia to this very place in Manresa, Ignatius underwent yet another transformative experience and began to write his classic, The Spiritual Exercises. The ante-cave leading to the Cova is well decorated with stained glass, bronze reliefs and mosaics. Over the years, the Cova has transformed itself immensely but the source of its inspiration still remains the same ― Christ.
It was by the river Cardoner, that as Ignatius sat and contemplated, “the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him. It was as if he were a new man with a new intellect.” What is your Cardoner moment?
Montserrat ― the view from Manresa. Is there anything else in your life you would want to be grateful for? Maybe life itself!
Graffiti on the wall: “Quin remei. Aqui us esperem, pelegrins… 2022”. The year 2022 marks the jubilee of the fifth centenary of the arrival of Saint Ignatius of Loyola to Manresa. The Cova of Sant Ignasi together with the city government have launched the Manresa 2022 project that plans to celebrate the spiritual and cultural legacy Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The Camino Ignaciano is part of this project.
Hola Barcelona! The Sagrada Familia is unarguably one of Barcelona’s most iconic monuments. Conceptualised by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), the Basilica in Barcelona still remains a work in progress. I so love to imagine this as a story of my own life. Keep walking.