Relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Devotion in New Spain

Since the arrival of the Society of Jesus to the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1572, the order spread the devotion to Father Ignatius. The annua letters of the Province of Mexico at the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century narrate the miracles of the founder of the order, many of which occurred through objects that represented him or had belonged to him. These miraculous accounts were part of a campaign that the V General Congregation (1593-1594) of the order had initiated to support his beatification and canonization. 1

The V Mexican Provincial Congregation, held November 2-9, 1599 at the College of Mexico, joined in this campaign.  On the morning of the 8th, the congregants were asked “if it would be convenient to ask our father [General] once again that the Society make a new request to his sanctity for the canonization of our Blessed Father Ignatius.” All responded “that it would be a thing of great consolation, and that as such it should be proposed to our father.” 2 A few days earlier, on November 4, the Congregation had elected Father Antonio Rubio as procurator to Madrid and Rome, and Father Nicolás Arnaya as his substitute. If the former could not travel to Europe for any reason, the latter would replace him. In order to fulfill their functions, they were given

… power and faculty to act and represent the name of this province, and to be able to vote in any congregation or congregations of procurators or generals, if it should arise, as in any other election or business, with the full recognition  that this province communicates to them, and that this faculty shall last for as long as any of the said father procurators shall remain in Europe before returning to this province… 3

Thus, it fell to Rubio to carry the petitions of the Congregation to Rome, among which was the canonization of St. Ignatius. He was to leave New Spain in April 1600 in the company of his coadjutor lay brother Pedro Sanchez. He fulfilled the duties of his office with “as much solicitude and fidelity as his dispatches will show,” but he never returned to America. Father General Claudio Aquaviva gave him permission to stay in Spain to print a text on philosophy, but the main reason – he explained to the provincial  in Mexico, Francisco Váez – “is because he will serve more here than there, since according to what Your Excellency has written, he will not govern there, nor will he read or exercise his letters, for the reasons that Your Excellency has pointed out to me. And in Spain he will be able to help with his talent in letters, especially being as they say he is, so fond of St. Thomas, and a follower of his doctrine, which, for the times we live in, is a very important part.” The reasons that Váez gave to Aquaviva about why Rubio could not carry out his work in New Spain are unknown. In the end, Rubio settled in Alcalá de Henares where he died in 1615. 4

As “barter”, the General sent Father Ildefonso de Castro, having named him the new Provincial, along with 23 missionaries, among whom was Andrés Pérez de Rivas. 5 Castro embarked for New Spain in 1602 and must have traveled with the succinct response from Aquaviva to the request of the Congregation to promote the canonization of Father Ignatius: “The convenient diligences have already been made and are being carried out, and those that are not, it is because, at present, they are not considered convenient.” 6  In addition to the transfer of the missionaries, it is likely that the new Provincial also took “objects of devotion” with him to distribute in the Mexican Province and that some of these, such as portraits and relics, were intended to spread devotion to the “blessed Father Ignatius.”

The annua letters continued narrating miracles or “particular cases” that were realized through the intercession of the “holy father Ignatius.” One of them is about the use of an image that belonged to the Jesuit school of Guadiana, currently Durango, founded in 1596 and located 900 kilometers north of Mexico City, which shows how far these “objects of devotion” brought from Europe could travel. In this locality, it had become customary for the devout, the sick, and the dying to request from the school fathers the portrait of their founder – a painting on metal protected by glass – to place on the sick part of the body and/or to invoke the saint with great devotion. This image became famous for the numerous miracles it performed. It is also reported that there was a relic, “a little piece of his chasuble”, which “some ladies” had.7  However, these were not the only images and relics preserved at that time in New Spain. In the Casa Profesa in Mexico City there was a portrait and an autograph letter and the Colegio Máximo treasured a “signature of his.” 8

Ignatius of Loyola was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622, and both events were greatly celebrated by the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus in the cities of Mexico and Puebla. From then on, devotion to the saint and his relics increased. On the night of 1659 “a Chinese barber’s stand” caught fire in the main square of Mexico City and in order to put out the fire and prevent it from spreading to the other portals, the archbishop brought out the Blessed Sacrament while members of various religious orders carried images of their saints. The fathers of the Society of Jesus went out with “a letter” of St. Ignatius 9, perhaps the one that was kept in the Casa Profesa.

After the expulsion of the order in 1767, these objects were dispersed, and many were lost. However, in the Manuel Ignacio Pérez Alonso Museum of the Mexican Province of the Society of Jesus, located in Mexico City, there is a monstrance that contains, in the space assigned to expose the Blessed Sacrament, a paper cutout with the letters “Ign.o” written in ink. (Fig. 1) This “signature” is pasted on another oval-shaped paper with the following inscription in red ink: “IHS MANO PROPRIA DEL SANTO“, alluding to the fact that the writing is autograph. (Fig. 2) Although it is not possible to confirm the authenticity of the signature, as it was clearly severed from a document for which no information is available, it is an indication of the devotion to the founder of the Society of Jesus, his relics, and other objects that were transferred by the procurators from Europe to New Spain through its extensive communication network.

Fig. 1. Autograph of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (detail). Manuel Ignacio Pérez Alonso Museum. Mexico City. Photo: Verónica Zaragoza.

Fig. 2. Autograph of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Manuel Ignacio Pérez Alonso Museum. Mexico City. Photo: Verónica Zaragoza.

Verónica Zaragoza

 1 Jonathan E. Greenwood, “Los milagros americanos de Ignacio de Loyola y la red de información transatlántica de los jesuitas”, en Hispania Sacra, LXXII, 146, julio-diciembre 2020, 491-499.

2  Monumenta Mexicana, VI, edición de Félix Zubillaga, S.J., Roma, Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 1976, p. 647.

3  Ibidem, p. 645.

 4 Francisco Zambrano, S.J. y José Gutiérrez Casillas, S. J., Diccionario Bio-Bibliográfico de la Compañía de Jesús, t. XII, México, Editorial Tradición, 1973, pp. 726-755.

 5 Agustín Galán García, El “Oficio de Indias” de Sevilla y la organización económica y misional de la Compañía de Jesús (1566-1767), Sevilla, Fundación Fondo de Cultura de Sevilla, 1995 (Colección “FOCUS”, núm. 8), pp. 219-220.

 6 Monumenta Mexicana, op. cit., p. 653.

 7 Monumenta Mexicana, VIII, editados y anotados por Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, S.J., Roma, Instituto Histórico de la Compañía de Jesús, 1991, pp. 180-186.

 8 Francisco Javier Alegre, S.J., Historia de la Provincia de la Compañía de Jesús de Nueva España, t. II, Roma, Institutum HIstoricum S. J., 1958, p. 192.

 9 Gregorio Martin de Guijo, “Diario de sucesos notables”, en Documentos para la historia de Méjico, tomo I, Méjico, Imprenta de Juan R. Navarro, 1853, p. 413.

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