Do Jesuits See Visions? The Painting of St Ignatius of Loyola in Musninkai
Keywords:St Ignatius of Loyola, Musninkai church, vision, portrait, La Storta, Jesuits
In the article, baroque art as an expression of Jesuit spirituality and the baroque iconography of visions and ecstasies are discussed from the historiographic perspective based on the genesis of the portrait of St Ignatius of Loyola and the iconography of the painting of St Ignatius of Loyola held in the Musninkai church.
The image of the painting of St Ignatius of Loyola of the Musninkai church, which was acquired with the funds of its dean, Reverend Juozapas Šimkūnas (1862–1932), and the Kosinski family in 1901, is rare and has not been researched in Lithuania. The painting was intended for the second tier of the Altar of the Rosary, and its iconography points to St Ignatius’s famous spiritual experience in La Storta, described in A Pilgrim’s Account. However, the image does not show the main character of the vision – Christ bearing the cross, thus we cannot call this work a “vision”.
The personality of the Reverend Juozapas Šimkūnas, the date of creating the painting and its iconography raises the questions: what prompted him to commission the image of St Ignatius for the Musninkai parish? Did the Reverend Šimkūnas have a middle name, Ignas? Did the commissioning of the painting in 1901 in Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire, where the activity of the Jesuits was banned and Jesuits were forbidden to enter Russia, have a political undertone? Could the training of priests based on the Rule of St Ignatius in the 19th century have kindled devotion to the holy founder of the Society of Jesus? Did the Reverend Šimkūnas come by the tsarist propaganda booklet И. Лойола: его жизнь и общественная деятельность (Ignacy of Loyola: His Life and Social Activity) published in St Petersburg in 1890, which contained a portrait engraving of St Ignatius of Loyola? Could he have been inspired not only by the veneration of St Ignatius, but also by the activity of the Fraternity of the Rosary and the position of the altar?
There are no clear answers to these questions, but one can presume that the context of tsarist oppression might have strengthened the determination of “the people’s priest strongly committed to the Lithuanian cause” to show his Catholic loyalty to the Roman pope by using the iconogra- phy of “the Roman apostle” St Ignatius of Loyola. It may have been a sincere attempt of the Musninkai dean, Reverend Šimkūnas, to instil devotion to his patron in the parish, as well as his personal identification with the prominent Pilgrim and the industrious revitalizer of the Catholic Church. Though many questions are raised in the article and the answers are only hypothetical, the detailed discussion of the painting of St Ignatius of Loyola in Musnininkai as a witness to the historical era opens the way to wider research on Ignatian spirituality in Lithuania.