Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Manresa: the Geography of Grace

A couple of years ago I read a book with a title like "Grace Is a Place." Well, I don't really know if that was the title (I suppose I could look it up, but I have already spent way too much time finishing Chapter 13 of the translation, and I have to close the day). Anyway, the expression really is apt for Manresa. When I was growing up, the name Manresa meant the retreat house across the lake where my Dad made a three day silent retreat once or twice a year. Only as an adult did I learn that the "Manresa" I knew about had been named for a tiny town in Spain where the new convert IƱigo de Loyola had incredible mystical experiences, emerging as a master of the spiritual life with the single-minded aim of doing good to souls. I was looking forward to going there myself, seeing the river where God taught Ignatius "the way a schoolmaster teaches a boy"--only the content of that teaching was, basically, the divine mysteries. Things like the Trinity, creation, and even Christ's presence in the Eucharist.
So we sped away from Barcelona with the aim of visiting Manresa. Not the town itself, but the little cave where Ignatius prayed and underwent the first spiritual exercises, and that famous riverbank.
We had not taken into consideration that it might not be open for visitors.
Well, it had been open--until about a half-hour before our arrival. It was a Sunday, and the entrance to Ignatius' cave had closed at 1:00. And would not be open until the following Tuesday, since it is not open on Monday at all. The Jesuits, strangely enough, do not have charge over the cave at Manresa, just over the retreat house that is built right outside. The government runs the entrance to the cave, and the government representative was not swayed by our pleas, nor by the fact that we had traveled 5,000 miles to be there. She was not happy that we were taking up space in the entryway, either. "Come back Tuesday." (Like we would be anywhere in that part of Spain by Tuesday!) Karen was only mildly consoled (in a kind of sour grapes way) to see that the Jesuit retreat center at the actual Manresa was offering things like sacred dance. So we slowly exited. I took a few pictures of the outside wall of the hill in which the cave is set, and of the plants in the area. Then we went up a steep hill to the nearby cathedral. A first communion was just ending, and families were taking pictures. The cathedral was lovely, but it had not been spared the ravages of the Civil War, either. Somehow, I found myself glad that at least the fanatics had left some remnants so that these places of worship could be restored to some degree. Maybe the destroyers here were only half-hearted about their work. (I will post the pictures tomorrow in this same post, God willing, so come again.) From the hill, we could look down on the ancient Roman bridge that took one from the town to the caves and back again--the bridge over the river. Had Ignatius sat beneath this bridge to pray in the heat of the day?
The people here had welcomed Ignatius from the caves as "the holy beggar," and they gave him hospitality and tried to feed him. The son of a woman who sheltered him used to spy on his night prayers!
Once we had gotten back in the car, we were taken through the narrow streets where we noticed a halal meat market and many women in hijab. If there had been "Moors" in Manresa, they would probably have been subject to expulsion by Isabella before Ignatius got there, although Ignatius himself mentions an incident with a "Moor" on his way to Montserrat--just before coming to Manresa to stay. We were following our backwards Ignatian itinerary. Montserrat was where we would spend the night.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Do you have a picture of the great St. Ignatius statue in the alcove I found? THAT was my consolation prize. (No pun intended.) I remember strugling to remember how to say that we'd traveled 5000 miles to see the cave, and how completely unimpressed that woman was. ("Yeah, you and a zillion other wackos.") I haven't found the disposable camera you gave me in Barcelona -- not that I have any hope of it having survived the many x-ray machines!