Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Sainted 'Boy-King'

(Statue of King Louis in Saint Louis, Missouri)

The festival of Saint Louis - King Louis IX of France - is held on August 25.  Saint Louis achieved many great things in his short lifetime.  He brought peace and justice to his kingdom, led a Crusade, helped the poor, promoted Gothic art and architecture and founded the Sorbonne.  He is certainly worthy of celebration!

Louis became king when he was only 12.  His mother, Blanche of Castille, the regent, was a strong and pious woman who taught him public speaking, writing, religious education and the arts of government.  She organised his coronation in Rheims quickly in an effort to deter the ambitious nobles who wanted to take over Paris, and successfully returned to the city with her young son.  The people came out to support the 'boy-king' and the nobles were forced to watch the mother and son return.

Unfortunately, when the young man married, Blanche became extremely jealous of his wife Margaret, the daughter of the Count of Provence.  They managed to have a happy marriage anyway, and the couple had six daughters and five sons.

Louis became king in his own right in 1235.  He became noted for his piety, always remembering that his mother told him that she'd rather he 'died at her feet, than commit a mortal sin'.  He attended Mass often, and he took great pride in serving the poor himself.  Poor people would feast at his palace on ordinary days and holidays.  He also gave the poor generous gifts of money, and he founded a hospital for the blind and a house for former prostitutes.

Beautiful churches were also built during Louis's reign, including the magnificent Sainte-Chapelle.  This reputedly contains the relics of the Crown of Thorns, which were given to the king.  

Louis led the Seventh Crusade, attempting to rescue Jerusalem from the Muslims.  Unfortunately, he was captured by the Egyptians, and his army had to pay a huge amount for his ransom.  He spent four years in the Crusader kingdoms, but his efforts ended in defeat.  However, he did win another war during his reign - against Henry III of England. He returned to France distraught after his mother died in 1254.  Nevertheless, he issued his Great Ordinance, making the nobles swear to give justice to all and forbidding them to take bribes.  They were also forbidden to take land in the territories which they served.

Robert de Sorbon, a highly educated priest, suggested that the king build a college for poor students.  This became the great Sorbonne, still a noted centre of education today.

Unfortunately, Louis's Christianity did not extend to the Jews - he hated and persecuted any Jews who would not convert.  He forbade them to engage in professions or keep holy books.  He was also preparing to expel the Jews from France before he died.

King Louis returned to the Crusades in the last years of his reign, and died at 56 on August 25.  He exhorted people to 'Love God, do justice, and help the poor'. Saint Louis in Missouri, U.S. is named after him.

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