Saint Ignatius Loyola in Saint Peter's Basilica: Good Defeating Evil
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
St Ignatius Loyola (1733) by Camillo & Giuseppe Rusconi (St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City).
This sculpture is one of the thirty-nine statues of saints lining the nave, tribune and transepts of St Peter’s Basilica, all of whom are known to have founded religious congregations. This sculpture in particular depicts St. Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish Catholic priest and theologian who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), an order of the Catholic Church. He faces the left (south) side of the nave.
St Ignatius stands upright with his body exhibiting a graceful curve. The expressive gesture of his extended right hand echoes his head which tilts evocatively to his right. His expression is one of peace and spiritual bliss.
In his left arm, he cradles a large open book which very clearly exhibits the following text: AD / MAIOREM / DEI / GLORIAM / CONSTITU / TIONES / SOCIETATIS / IESU. This is the Latin motto of the Jesuits; it means: for the Greater Glory of God.
The book which he holds also more generally represents the religious writings of the saint, and celebrates him as a talented spiritual director. His celebrated treatise, Spiritual Exercises, was published in 1548.
Here, he left leg rests and pushes down on a devil with wild and flowing locks of hair who struggles to open the book in his right hand which is clamped shut due to the weight of St Ignatius on top of him. The devil looks up at the saint and bites down on his index finger; his prominent eyebrows are raised in what appears to be anguish. Dragon-like snakes wrap around his body which is likely a reference to St Ignatius’s very own words.
St Ignatius was known to have frequent visions, including visions of a devil. In his autobiography, he describes the devil as sometimes appearing in the form of a serpent.
This sculpture is clearly a powerful image of good inevitably triumphing over evil. St Ignatius doesn’t even appear to be exerting any effort as he crushes the devil.