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Chapter7: Gratia Lachrymarum

Once upon a time a young nobleman named Ignatio set out across Spain on his horse. On the way he met a 'Moor', a baptised Arab, and lured him into a discussion on the Virgin Mary. The Moor believed in the Immaculate Conception but contested the notion that her virginity could have survived intact after the birth of Christ. Ignatio took this as an insult to his faith and in typically violent terms sought immediate justice.

At that time, being the early 16th century, the chevaliers of Spain lead an idle life around their sovereign and had lost the bravery and dignity of their ancestors. While demonstrating an excessive humility to their king and his favourites, they were rude and arrogant towards those they considered their inferiors, especially foreigners and people of a darker complexion. Ignatio had the outward appearance of a knight, hardy and provoking, dressed in a leather doublet, armed with both sword and pistol, his dark, receding hair curling from beneath the broad felt brim of his travel-stained hat, but his inward character was displayed by the murderous look in his eyes and is perhaps best described by an official document of the time, a claim brought by the Corrigidor of Guipozcoa in 1515 at the Episcopal tribunal of Pamplona in which the magistrate described the young nobleman as "treacherous, violent and vindictive..."

Accordingly the Moor was on his guard and beat off Ignatio's unprovoked attack before high tailing it, his Persian stallion easily outrunning the psychotic chevalier's long-suffering Spanish pony. As he watched the dark man's dust cloud dwindle across the flatlands, Ignatio asked himself if it was his duty or not to pursue his slanderer and kill him or at least die trying. In his soul and conscience he could not resolve this dilemma so following an old superstitious tradition of chivalry he decided to rely on a 'sign', on this occasion the judgment of his horse. He freed the bridle and allowed his steed to choose it's own path.

Before long he caught sight of a strange, jagged mountain range on the horizon and felt himself borne helplessly towards it. As he drew nearer to the gleaming white cliffs the young chevalier noticed what looked like a monastery built on a plateau high above the clouds and tying up his faithful steed he started up the winding stone steps towards the basilica. And so it was that the nobleman, Ignatius of Loyola, came to the mountain of Montserrat and the temple of La Moreneta, the black Madonna.

He spent the night meditating in the presence of the mysterious icon and and later claimed to have been visited by "a blinding, celestial light" and a series of bizarre visions. "Something white resembling three keys of a clavichord or an organ" appeared to him and he immediately thought it was a manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Then the three shapes merged into the glowing body of a single luminous being and the young chevalier began to weep uncontrollably as he realized the error of his ways and all the harm he had caused to others during his worldly life. Later this miracle came to be known as the 'gratia lacrymarum' or the 'Grace of Tears', that marked the quest knight's spiritual metamorphosis.

Then his luminous visitor took another form, becoming a huge, coiling rainbow-hued serpent which, in spite of its beauty, terrified him. Noticing that the nearer the supernatural creature came to the cross the less its beauty shone, Ignatio concluded it was not God concealed within this hallucinatory image but the Devil.

Laying down his weapons at the feet of our Lady, the chevalier swore himself to Her service as a 'knight of God' or a defender of the 'celestial kingdom.' In the fullness of time he would become renowned as the founder of the 'Society of Jesus', the black-garbed warrior monks we call the 'Jesuits', most commonly remembered perhaps by the uninitiated as the protagonists of The Exorcist and other works by author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty, himself a former member of the order.

Ignatius came down from the mountain to set off on his conquest of the 'kingdom of the sky', sojourning for a while in a humid grotto at the foot of a cliff near Manresa, where he sought to cleanse himself by inflicting the most severe exercises of penitence on his suffering flesh. He would spend seven or eight hours every morning kneeling in prayer and would sometimes fast and go without sleep for days on end. He would flagellate himself heavily and it was not uncommon that he would wound his chest with a stone.

One day he went so far he fell seriously ill and was carried unconscious into the house of one of his benefactors. The doctors gave him up for lost and some of the pious women began to beg the lady of the house to cede pieces of his clothing to them as relics. To satisfy their desires she opened the cupboard containing Ignatio's belongings, only to recoil in shock. Suspended within were neatly arranged the worst instruments of torture and mortification; penitence belts in plaited steel threads, heavy chains, nails disposed in the form of a cross and an undergarment bristling with iron tips...

This seemingly medieval penchant for self-harm is reflected today in the barbed 'celice' worn by devout followers of Opus Dei, the order founded by another tortured soul who found solace of a sorts at Montserrat, Jose Maria Escriva, who, like Saint Ignatius, was posthumously canonized with unseemly haste. Yet there is more to this morbid sexual fetish than uninitiated eyes might readily discern. A method to its madness...

These are the "Spiritual exercises" of the Jesuit order as laid down by it's founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola:

"He who practises them must, with the help of all his senses, undergo the experiences of Heaven and Hell, from sweet beatitude to devouring woe so that the difference between Good and Evil might imprint themselves forever on his soul. So that Evil is made tangible the spiritual exercises serve as a terrifying enactment of Hell. It must be represented in all its horror, full of the legions of the groaning damned..."

Saint Ignatius codified this strange 'enactment' into a series of precise points:

"The first key consists of looking with the imagination of the eyes at the length, width and depth of Hell and the immense fires of the abyss and the souls imprisoned in their burning bodies.

The second key consists of listening with the imagination of the ears to the lamentations, cries, vociferations and blasphemies which slander our lord and his saints.

The third key consists of breathing with the imagination of smell, the smoke, the sulphur, the mire and rot of Hell.

The fourth key consists of tasting with the imagination of taste, all things bitter, tears, sourness and the maggot of conscience.

The fifth key consists of touching with the imagination of touch the flames that burn the soul..."

Then, and only then, is the candidate ready for Level Two.

There are many paths to enlightenment, as varied as the chemical elements that make up our material world and not all of them as dismal as the one chosen by Ignatius, but it is a path nonetheless, a hard way perhaps, but the only one available to "those in whom a profound nature has been upheaved... by conspiracies from without and conspiracies from within... in whom the heart trembles and the brain rocks", for those who have come without knowing it into the domain of Our Lady of Darkness...