The Camino Ignaciano

February 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

Over Christmas break I traveled to Spain to visit my brother in Barcelona. As many fans of Jesuit history know, two of the most important towns in the life of St. Ignatius are just an hour or so away from Barcelona: Montserrat and Manresa.

Montserrat is site of the mountain of Montserrat (literally “the serrated mountain,” as my Spanish friend translated; see picture below), home to a Benedictine Abbey that safeguards the most famous shrine in Spain: the Black Madonna of Montserrat. At this shrine, St. Ignatius set down his armor and sword, and conducted an all-night vigil before Our Lady to signal the renunciation of his old soldierly life. Manresa, just a short drive from Montserrat, is home of the cave where St. Ignatius spent a year in isolation and prayer, and where he began sketching the Spiritual Exercises.

Side view of the Black Madonna

Side view of the Black Madonna. Photo by Matt Emerson.

The view of the Mountain of Montserrat from Ignatius's cave in Manresa

The view of the Mountain of Montserrat from Ignatius’s cave in Manresa. Photo by Matt Emerson.

While on the trip, I began to think about the possibilities of pilgrimage. I thought about retracing the steps of St. Ignatius, either alone or with others and wondered if anyone had mapped out the route. I found my answer. In the current issue of America, Chris Lowney introduces readers to the Camino Ignaciano, or the way of Ignatius, a new trail that takes pilgrims from Loyola to Montserrat to Manresa:

With the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ famous walk exactly one decade away, a small core team committed themselves to developing the Camino Ignaciano as a vibrant pilgrimage route. Over a period of months, three Spanish Jesuits and I independently cycled, walked, drove and Google-mapped Ignatius’ likely route. We were excited to discover that we could stitch together most of an Ignatian Camino using already-existing walking trails from branches of the venerable Camino Santiago.

Lowney references the views from Montserrat, a vantage point from which I took a number of pictures. The Benedictine Abbey is near the top of the mountain and allows an uninterrupted view of the undulating Spanish countryside. There are few buildings in site, and standing at the Abbey, today’s pilgrim is probably looking at a landscape familiar to the eyes of Ignatius.

Into the Spanish countryside

View from Abbey, looking out the Spanish countryside. Photo by Matt Emerson.

For me it was a prayerful and enlightening moment. The relationship between geography and spirituality stayed with me the rest of the trip. What kind of a spirituality emerges when one is surrounded by nature, by mountains, by places that require walking, and how does that differ from the attitude that develops from a landscape of pavement and elevators and cars, or perhaps the streets and alleys and ancient steeples of St. Thomas More’s London?

Another question that emerged: how can Jesuit schools incorporate pilgrimage into curriculum? How can our courses give  students a sense of the physical and spiritual rigors that Ignatius underwent, or that all men and women undergo during an odyssey to find God? And how does pilgrimage relate to formation?

Ah, questions questions questions — and some that I hope to unpack in upcoming posts.


Posted by Matt Emerson.


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§ 2 Responses to The Camino Ignaciano

  • Mary Emerson says:

    Fascinating. I too have been to these places but it’s wonderful to hear your perspective.

  • Val says:

    I think the question of pilgrimage probably makes a lot more sense to a modern student with a background in, say, Islam than it would to most modern Christians (especially American Christians). Americans think “Mayflower” without much other thought, and quickly progress to turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings. What historic pilgrimage entailed, how the process evolved across the centuries, and the reasons for pilgrimage would be a place to start. Americans have the concept of a journey, but the concept of pilgrimage has been largely wiped from the lexicon. The difference in separating those concepts (for “pilgrimage” is deeper than mere destination) is an important one.

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