July 31st 1556 - Ignatius' Death
During his whole time as General in Rom Ignatius' health was by no means good. Violent attacks in the stomach area and frequent fevers tormented him time and again, and brought him several times in danger of life.
On occasion of the autopsy by the famous surgeon Realdo Colombo MD, who was active also in the service of the Papal Curia, it turned out that Ignatius had a bilious complaint with symptoms that radiated to the stomach. Thus for many years Ignatius had not been appropriately treated. The bilious attacks had not been diagnosed.
At the end of 1550 Ignatius had already gone through a heavy health crisis, which let him plead for his release from his offices as General.
In the first months of the year 1556 he was again very ill. On February 8th he noted that he had not said Mass for one month, and that he had be content with taking the Holy Communion every eight days only. One hoped a change of air would do him well. Thus one brought him on July 2nd to the villa of the Roman College and transferred the leadership of the Society of Jesus to the Fathers Madrid and Polanco. But on July 27th one brought the dying patient back to Rome. Nobody reckoned with his close death, not even the two physicians who tried to help him. That were Baltasar de Torres, who had been active as a physician before he entered the Order, and now - with the permission of the pope - was, as it were, the family doctor of the Jesuits, and Doctor Alessandro Petroni MD, an outstanding Spanish physician, who was known in Rome as medical capacity. He was on friendly terms with Ignatius.
In the afternoon of July 30th Ignatius let call Father Polanco. He bade the nurse attendant, Brother Tomaso Camnizzero, to leave the room, and asked Polanco to go to the Vatican to inform the pope about his condition, and to ask the pope's blessing for him and Laínez, who too lay critically ill in bed, and had got the extreme unction already.
Polanco promised to meet the request, but he asked whether it were sufficient, if he fulfilled the wish the next day, since he wanted to finish still the letters for Spain, which always went off Thursday. Ignatius answered: 'I would rather like it happened today and not tomorrow, but do as it seems good to you. I leave myself completely to you.'
Polanco conferred again with Doctor Petroni, who did however not recognize an acute mortal danger. Thus Polanco settled the correspondence with Spain. In the evening he and Father Madrid sat still some time with Ignatius in the sick-room. Brother Tomaso took over the night-watch.
In the early morning Ignatius was breathing his last. Brother Tomaso was put in charge of getting fast Father Piedro Riera, to whom Ignatius lately confessed his sins. He should give him now the extreme unction. Polanco went to the Vatican. Despite the early hour he was received by the pope, who gave his blessings. But when Polanco returned, Ignatius had already gone, 'calmly and easily'. July 31st was a Friday. The death happened a bit before 7 o'clock. Present were the Fathers Cristóforo de Madrid and André of the Freux (Frusius), the rector of the Roman College.
Thus Ignatius died without extreme unction, without last benediction words to his brothers, and without the pope's blessing - which came too late. Ignatius had completed the sixty fourth year of his life. Since the establishment of the Society of Jesus sixteen years had passed.
Ignatius had always rejected to sit as model to any painter. Now one asked the artist Jacopino del Conte to paint, in view of the dead, a portrait. Del Conte came from Florence, where he had been disciple of the famous Florentin painter Andrea del Sarto, and was working since 1538 in Rome. With Ignatius he was on friendly term and for some years his penitent. The original of that picture (46:35) is kept in the General Curia in Rome in the study of Father General.
At that time that picture did not find undivided applause with the Jesuits. Some prefer the picture painted in Madrid by Alonso Sanchez Coello, which is kept in the Flemish Province of the Order. Still at the day of Ignatius' death a mask of plaster was made. Ribadeneira in Madrid had a copy of it, which served Coello as model for his portrait.
The body was laid out in state up to the next day. After the vesper at 5 o'clock p.m. a funeral celebration was held with large participation of the faithful. It was celebrated by Father Polanco and Father Olere Olave from the Roman College. The lecture was held by Father Benito Palmo with 'simple and pious words in commemoration of the deceased.' Dressed in priestly garments and enclosed within a wooden shrine Ignatius was buried at the gospel side of the Maria della Strada Church at the foot of the High Altar.
When in the year 1568 that church was pulled down to lay the foundation for Il Gesù, the Saint was put into a new coffin. Above his grave rises now the splendid altar, which is hiding Ignatius' deepest nature rather than revealing it. The stone over the grave has the simple inscription:
Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus
In the atmospheric chapel at the right hand of the Grave Altar the holy image of the 'Madonna della Strada' is venerated.
In the same modest room where Ignatius had died, also the next two Generals Diego Laínez (1565) and Francisco de Borja (1572) died.
In the year of Ignatius' death the Jesuit Order numbered 20 houses in Italy, and 90 in the remaining world. It was divided organizationally in thirteen provinces, and numbered about 1000 members. Among them were however - apart from the still living first companions - only 38 Jesuits with profession vows. In seven European countries 33 colleges for students who were not Jesuits were led by Jesuits.