A Jesuit Mission: San Ignacio Mini

Karen and I are staying in San Ignacio, in the Misiones province of Argentina. The main attraction here  are the ruins of the San Ignacio Jesuit mission, known as San Ignacio Mini.

The colonnade around the inner courtyard.

We spent a few hours touring the ruins this morning, and are headed back there this evening for a sound and light show.

To me, San Ignacio is a powerful place. Walking among the ruins, I found myself reflecting on the faith that the Jesuits must have had, and the knowledge and the discipline to create something like San Ignacio.

Some background: San Ignacio Mini was founded by two Jesuit priests, and at its peak had a population of roughly 3,000 composed almost entirely of people from the Guarani tribe. The ruins are impressive, and at its peak the mission must have been unbelievable: a huge church, a massive square surrounded by stone buildings containing housing for the population, craftsman’s buildings, a library, government services, etc.

The main square with the church in the background.

And this is in the middle of what was jungle at the time.

I find myself, as I do often, writing from a place of some ignorance: I know little about the Jesuits,

The Jesuit symbol

and before today little about their work in South America; Karen and I had visited two missions previously – in Cordoba and Alta Gracia – but they did not resonate as deeply with me as San Ignacio did.

Without sounding too facetious, what compels two priests to travel for literally years to arrive in the middle of a jungle, knowing full well that the odds of them surviving for more than a year or two, much less ever returning home, are slim. And to then stand up in front of the local Guarani tribe and in essence say: “There are only two of us, and many thousands of you, but we need to have say 3,000 of you convert to a very different religion, give up much of your culture, and move into our not-yet-in-existence mission – which you will build. And go to church every day – btw, you will also build this church – to listen to someone preach in Latin, a language that we will never teach you. And a handful of us will be in charge.”

How strong must their faith have been to take on this task? And how did they accomplish it? And how disciplined must the Jesuits have been to create something – not just brick and mortar, but a complete society – over a period of 150 years? Fascinating.

The main square; Karen is, as usual, reading the slopers.

I would like to learn more. My brother Johan recommended the movie The Mission, which we will see if we can download. Any other recommendations re movies or books – the DaVinci Code doesn’t count – are welcome.

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4 thoughts on “A Jesuit Mission: San Ignacio Mini

  1. I am intrigued that the little Jewish girl from Philly, growing up surrounded by ferocious Catholic high school and college basketball, probably had more exposure to Jesuits than thee. Let me think about the books, movies, get back to you on this.

  2. Brother Johan nailed it. And here are the comments from Our Man at Regis, Ace Librarian Martin Garnar: the classic film would be the Mission (1986) — it’s a drama, but based on historical events. Books from our library include They built Utopia : the Jesuit missions in Paraguay, 1610-1768 / Frederick J. Reiter; The lost paradise : the Jesuit Republic in South America / Philip Caraman; and Missionary scientists : Jesuit science in Spanish South America, 1570-1810 / Andrés I. Prieto. did not ask him to address the Kindle factor.

  3. I stumbled on this blog because of Pope Francis and the increased activity at the Mission this recent Holy Week. Marcia recommends good books. Add on: Apostle of Brazil by Helen Dominian; The Spiritual Conquest by Antonio Ruiz de Montoya SJ. Journal acct of mission work. The movie the Mission is ok until you get to the suppression of the Jesuits, then that period of history is gray with many different opinions. Nevertheless, The Jesuits were incredibly faithful to their founder and very disciplined men who lived the motto AMDG and had the most developed missions in the Western hemisphere. They treated the Guarani in SA with justice and the encomiendas of the crown were terrible places to live. The Jesuits did not destroy the culture of the natives, but they did evangelize them.

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