Ignatius was born in the family castle of Loyola in the Basque country of Spain. His family belonged to a long line of nobility, and Ignatius reflected his refined upbringing throughout his early life. He participated in all the revelry of royalty—gambling, dueling, romance—and worldly attraction.
In 1517 he took service in the army and in May of 1521 received a leg wound in a border skirmish with the French. He returned to Loyola to recuperate and found himself able to do nothing but read. He happened upon a book called The Life of Christ and was converted as a result. He also read The Imitation of Christ and the stories of St. Francis. He concluded by asking, "Could I not do what Francis did?" He then resolved to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, disposed of all his worldly goods, and clothed himself in sackcloth.
His ship was detained in Manresa, however, and he was forced to remain there for a year. During that time he had several profound mystical experiences that led him to begin sharing his faith with others. He also penned a large portion of The Spiritual Exercises during his stay in Manresa, and carried these notes with him as he continued the journey to Jerusalem. Ignatius would later become famous for these simple yet profound instructions on how to take a spiritual retreat. His "exercises" became the standard for Jesuit retreats and have remained so to this day.