Saint of the Day – 25 August – St Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270) Confessor, King, Reformer, Apostle of Charity, a Third Order Franciscan. Born on 25 April 1214 at Poissy, France and died on 25 August 1270 at Tunis (in modern Tunisia) of natural causes). His relics in the Basilica of Saint Denis, Paris, France but they were destroyed in 1793 during the French Revolution. He was Canonised in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII. Attributes: crown, crown of thorns, king holding a cross, king holding a crown of thorns, nails, cross and Crucifix. Patronages – against the death of children, barbers, bridegrooms, builders, button makers, construction workers, Crusaders, difficult marriages, distillers, embroiderers, French monarchs, grooms, haberdashers, hairdressers, hair stylists, kings, masons, needle workers, parenthood, parents of large families, passementiers, prisoners, sculptors, sick people, soldiers, stone masons, stonecutters, trimming makers, Québec, Québec, archdiocese of, Saint Louis, Missouri, Archdiocese of, Versailles, France, Diocese of, many cities in France and other parts of the world, Franciscan Tertiaries and the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Louis.
Louis IX was a reformer and developed French royal justice, in which the king is the supreme judge to whom anyone is able to appeal to seek the amendment of a judgment. He banned trials by ordeal, tried to prevent the private wars that were plaguing the country and introduced the presumption of innocence in criminal procedure. To enforce the correct application of this new legal system, Louis IX created provosts and bailiffs.
According to his vow made after a serious illness, and confirmed after a miraculous cure, Louis IX took an active part in the Seventh and Eighth Crusade in which he died from dysentery. He was succeeded by his son Philip III.
Louis’s actions were inspired by Christian values and Catholic devotion. He decided to punish blasphemy, gambling, interest-bearing loans and prostitution and bought presumed relics of Christ for which he built the Sainte-Chapelle. He also expanded the scope of the Inquisition and ordered the burning of Talmuds. He is the only canonised king of France and there are consequently many places named after him.
Louis was born on 25 April 1214 at Poissy, near Paris, the son of Prince Louis the Lion and Princess Blanche, and baptised in La Collégiale Notre-Dame church. His grandfather on his father’s side was Philip II, king of France; while his grandfather on his mother’s side was Alfonso VIII, king of Castile. Tutors of Blanche’s choosing taught him most of what a king must know—Latin, public speaking, writing, military arts and government. He was 9 years old when his grandfather Philip II died and his father ascended as Louis VIII. A member of the House of Capet, Louis was twelve years old when his father died on 8 November 1226. He was crowned king within the month at Reims cathedral. Because of Louis’s youth, his mother ruled France as regent during his minority. The night before he was crowned, he fasted and prayed. He asked God to make him a good servant, to make him a good and holy king for his people.
Louis’ mother trained him to be a great leader and a good Christian. She used to say:
I love you, my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should ever commit a mortal sin.
No date is given for the beginning of Louis’s personal rule. His contemporaries viewed his reign as co-rule between the king and his mother, though historians generally view the year 1234 as the year in which Louis began ruling personally, with his mother assuming a more advisory role. She continued to have a strong influence on the king until her death in 1252. On 27 May 1234, Louis married Margaret of Provence (1221 – 21 December 1295), whose sister Eleanor later became the wife of Henry III of England. The new queen’s religious devotion made her a well suited partner for the king. He enjoyed her company and was pleased to show her the many public works he was making in Paris, both for its defense and for its health. They enjoyed riding together, reading, and listening to music. This attention raised a certain amount of jealousy in his mother, who tried to keep them apart as much as she could.
After the morning Mass, King Louis IX would ride his horse out into the country to see how he could work to make life better for his people. He would often stop in villages to listen to what the people had to say. He checked that wealthy, powerful nobles were not abusing people. When he heard that the nobles unjustly took from people who had less, he forced the nobles to give back what they had taken. He listened to people’s ideas for how to improve their country and he passed laws to protect those who were vulnerable. Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and like his patron Saint Francis, caring even for people with leprosy. He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order. Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness. For many years the nation was at peace. Every day, Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal and Louis often served them in person. He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion.
The king ordered churches and hospitals built throughout France. In his travels, the king himself would often visit and care for those who were sick. He listened to the needs of others. As a man given the power to guide his country, he could do great good for his people. He worked for peace in the world and when he did fight, he was merciful to those he captured.
In 1244, King Louis led a Crusade into the Holy Land. As king, Louis could have taken special privileges and comforts. Instead, he chose to share the hardships of his soldiers. Once, the king was captured. While in prison, he prayed the Liturgy of the Hours every day. Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, he led another crusade in 1267, at the age of 41. His crusade was diverted to Tunis for his brother’s sake. The army was decimated by disease within a month and Louis himself died on foreign soil at the age of 44. He was canonised 27 years later.
Louis’ patronage of the arts drove much innovation in Gothic art and architecture and the style of his court radiated throughout Europe by both the purchase of art objects from Parisian masters for export and by the marriage of the king’s daughters and female relatives to foreign husbands and their subsequent introduction of Parisian models elsewhere. Louis’ personal chapel, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, was copied more than once by his descendants elsewhere. Louis ordered the production of the Morgan Bible, a masterpiece of medieval painting. In his private chapel, Saint Louis would genuflect during the Nicene Creed to show reverence to the incarnation of Christ at the words, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary; and was made man. During the crusades, the king’s practice became widespread and eventually was established as part of the rubrics of Holy Mass. The painting of St Louis and St John the Baptist below, is from the Flemish school and was a detail for an altar of the Parliament of Paris. In the background is the Louvre palace from the 13th century.
During the so-called “golden century of Saint Louis”, the kingdom of France was at its height in Europe, both politically and economically. Saint Louis was regarded as “primus inter pares”, first among equals, among the kings and rulers of the continent. He commanded the largest army and ruled the largest and wealthiest kingdom, the European centre of arts and intellectual thought at the time. The foundations for the famous college of theology later known as the Sorbonne were laid in Paris about the year 1257. The prestige and respect felt in Europe for King Louis IX were due more to the attraction that his benevolent personality created rather than to military domination. For his contemporaries, he was the quintessential example of the Christian prince and embodied the whole of Christendom in his person. His reputation for saintliness and fairness was already well established while he was alive and on many occasions he was chosen as an arbiter in quarrels among the rulers of Europe.
When Louis was dying, he prayed “Lord, I will enter into your house. I will worship in your holy temple and will give glory to your name.” Through his prayer, his support of the Church and his Christlike service to all, Louis made his whole life an act of worship.
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