Spain is a Catholic country, where 92% of the populace is baptized Catholic, and Catholic saints are even granted their own holidays. On a single day in 1622, Pope Gregory XV canonized four Spanish saints: Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola, Isidore the Laborer, and Teresa of Ávila.
During our three-month trip to northern and central Spain, we resolved to visit the shrines to this holy foursome. Our first stop after crossing the Pyrenees Mountains was Castillo de Javier-Navarra and the birthplace of Francis Xavier. Born in a castle, Francis Xavier came from privilege, but mixed easily with persons of various social classes, races, and beliefs.
During his career as a missionary, Francis Xavier traveled throughout Japan, China, India, and Southeast Asia. Along the way, he made more conversions than anyone since the Apostle Paul. He was also one of the founders of the Jesuit Order and a close companion of his fellow Basque, Ignatius of Loyola.
Like Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola was born into a noble and wealthy family. While we were staying in the Basque Country, we caught a bus to the inland village of Loiola to visit the Sanctuary of St. Ignatius and his birthplace and childhood home.
Ignatius of Loyola was a self-possessed military officer who had a spiritual awakening after being injured in the leg by a cannonball. Inspired by God, he went on to lead the formation of the Jesuits at Montmarte, and is now revered as the patron saint of the Basque Country.
After moving on from the Basque Country to Madrid, our own mission led us next to a poor local field worker named Isidore the Laborer. Known in Spanish as San Isidro, he upholds the dignity of work and proves how an ordinary life can lead to holiness.
St. Isidore the Laborer is now the patron saint of Madrid. On his holiday of May 15th, the city throws a huge festival in his honor. Since we were in Madrid in Autumn, we had to settle for visits to the Church of San Isidro Real and a small hermitage where Isidore worked in the fields.
The final stop on our tour of the four Spanish saints was the spectacular walled city of Ávila, west of Madrid. It was here that Teresa of Ávila was born, entered a monastery, and founded the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites.
Teresa of Ávila was a charming witty woman, and wrote extensively of her travels and experiences on the road. Because of her writing skills, she is also known as a patron saint of writers. Now I know to whom I should pray next time I begin a new blog post.
Over the course of our three-month trip to northern and central Spain, we met a prolific roving evangelist, enlightened former military officer, humble field worker, and barefoot travel writer. This quartet of pious individuals is now held in the highest esteem by Catholics as the four Spanish saints.
Feature Image: Stained glass depicting an injured Ignatius of Loyola at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 (photo taken inside the Birthplace of Ignatius of Loyola Museum)
Blogger’s Note: This week, we wrapped up our three-month trip to northern and central Spain, and have returned home to Reno, Nevada to celebrate the holidays with our family and friends. After the new year, we plan to return to Spain for three more months, this time in the southern part of the country. Until then, I will be taking a break from publishing new blog posts. Esther and I greatly appreciate our wonderful WordPress friends, and wish all of you a very happy and healthy holiday season.