567 Zenbakia 2011-02-18 / 2011-02-25


Hagiography and Sainthood on two Basque Religious Intellectuals



Iñigo de Loyola.

A Basque pilgrim had finally arrived on his mule to the Shrine of Montserrat located in the northeast of Spain. The man had long flowing hair and wore a Spanish black military outfit with armor plated mail. His outfit also included a long hose shirt, boots, and a sword. He walked up to the enclosed shrine with a noticeable limp. When he entered the church, he stood in awe at the image of the Virgin. He then kneeled down slowly, while praying to the Virgin. After his introductory prayers, he carefully laid down his weapons and hung up his body armor by the altar space. Later in the day, he composed a written confession, and gave his old soldier clothes to some poor person within his vicinity. In honor of his new outfit for life, he chose some sackcloth to wear, a walking staff and a gourd. For the next few days, he returned to his prayers at the shrine, and then finally, he limped out of the hermitage in his pilgrim’s cloak, without shoes or weapons. A Basque soldier, named Loyola made the firm decision to become a religious pilgrim on the path to Jerusalem. He completely annihilated his past self as a soldier for the King of Spain. He exchanged his previous existence for the life of a vegetarian, unwashed, religious seeker, similar to other medieval saints before him. He first called himself by his Basque name, Iñigo, but after a few years of pilgrimage and spiritual struggle, he would change his name to the Latin, Ignatius.1 On another day, about a hundred years later, in seventeenth-century France, a devout religious intellectual having a thick and rough beard, wearing a priestly garb and a spiritual leader by the name of Jean du Vergier de Hauranne was escorted under armed guards into the imposing castle fortress of Vincennes. He did not arrive as an invited guest of honor; but instead, was confined to the attic dungeon of the fortress as a condemned prisoner under decree of the then ruler of France, Cardinal Richelieu. His religious companions at the Convent of Port Royal wept profusely at the loss of such a devoted saint to the true practice of Christ. However, J.V. de Hauranne did not languish during his captivity and punishment. He patiently suffered, like Christ and the martyred saints before him, and stood firm with Christ’s overflowing grace – even under the terrible burden of imprisonment. He also wrote copious letters on the practice of grace to his supporters. J.V. de Hauranne became one of the many noble victims to Cardinal Richelieu’s political schemes. His imprisonment did destroy his physical health however. After the death of the politically astute cardinal, J.V. Hauranne emerged a free man from the fortress prison. He returned to the Convent of Port Royal where his religious supporters received him in full honor and respect. His spiritual brothers and sisters noted that his piety and grace possessed an even greater intensity after his personal Cross, imprisonment in an attic dungeon. According to spiritual adepts and supporters, his true name became Saint-Cyran.2

Hagiographical writing, or the biographical writing on religious saints, seekers and prophets, has ultimately concerned the struggle and legacy of the saint’s holy death. Whether it was through the personal will of annihilation, called conversion, or most importantly, the final acts and legacies before death; hagiography has always centered on the act of death as both a spiritual annihilation of the old self and the eternal legacy of the saint. Both of these Basque religious intellectuals, yet a hundred years apart, experienced similar conversion experiences and attracted devoted followers. Modern hagiographers defined both of these Basque religious intellectuals, not just through their conversion experiences and the religious movements that followed them, but through their final legacies before their actual and historical deaths. The final acts of the pious and influential life before the annihilation of death, defined the two Basque saints, and the endings of hagiography always centered on the holy persons’ last acts and legacies.

Jean Duvergier de Hauranne.

The hagiographies on both Cyran and Loyola have proven this point. The spiritual histories of these two saints Saint Ignatius and Saint-Cyran, both Basque religious ascetics and intellectuals, although originating from different countries, have also received rather different historical interpretations. After Loyola’s death, he eventually became an official saint of the Catholic Church, while Saint-Cyran’s death left a legacy of controversial Jansenist religious and political politics. If both of these Basque religious intellectuals from early modern Europe experienced similar conversion experiences and attracted devoted followers to their piety, then how did they have such different historical interpretations? The answer has come from the hagiography written about these two men, both spiritual prophets and historical actors, after their deaths. Loyola’s ultimate legacy represented the founding of an official religious order, the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Most of his modern hagiographers were religious intellectuals who emphasized his conversion leading to sainthood, and the work for the Company of Jesus. On the other hand, Cyran’s last legacy before his death represented the pious prisoner versus the unjust French royal court. Most of his modern hagiographers were not religious intellectuals, but were French writers who looked back to Cyran as a predecessor of French nationalism and republican values in education.

The hagiographer, or biographer, has to find something attractive in the subject in order to write about him or her, and the hagiographer doesn’t have to be a religious person in order to write about a religious intellectual. The hagiographer looks to the religious leader, prophet or saint as both a convert and a historical actor. The hagiographer centrally locates his history on the conversion experience of subject. The act of conversion is actually a personal method of death. Conversion is the voluntary will of the religious prophet that kills the old self, and then auto-creates a new self, called sainthood. Loyola suffered through his final conversion experience in the middle of his life, while Cyran suffered through his final conversion experience at the end of his life. Loyola died peacefully in Rome, while Cyran died humbly in France after a long imprisonment. The hagiographer finishes his account with the death and legacy of the saint, prophet and seeker. Although similar in piety and outlook, the two deaths of Loyola and Cyran, the death of the old self and the actual physical death, defined their hagiographies, and therefore defined their different places in both religious and political history.

1 Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, Loyola’s Acts: the Rhetoric of Self, (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of CA Press, 1997), http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft2t1nb1rw/, 65-70.

2 Claude Lancelot, Mémoire: touchant la vie de monsieur de saint-cyran, tome II, (Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1968): 285-291.