25 August 2015

"Never forget that sin is the only great evil in the world."-- the Feast of Saint Louis

May this great saint and ruler pray for his namesake city and archdiocese in these troubled times.  From Fisheaters:

Louis, the quintessential Christian Prince, was born in Poissy, France on 25 April 1215 to King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. His father died when he was just eleven years old, and he was crowned -- at Rheims, like almost all French Kings -- on the First Sunday of Advent in 1226. His very strong and pious mother acted as his regent, suppressing various revolts to secure her son's place. She acted as regent even after he reached the age of majority, and guided his career with strong Christian advice, forming his character in holiness. She would say to him, "Never forget that sin is the only great evil in the world. No mother could love her son more than I love you. But I would rather see you lying dead at my feet than know that you had offended God by one mortal sin" -- sentiments that he took to heart and would later pass on to his own successor.

In 1230, he outlawed all forms of usury and compelled usurers to contribute toward the Crusades when their debtors could not be found to be compensated (later under his reign, in 1240, would come the famous disputation of the Talmud in Paris, after rulers and churchmen discovered what blasphemies the Talmud taught. Copies of the Talmud were burned in great fires in the streets of Paris).

Louis married at age nineteen, in 1234, taking to wife Marguerite of Provence, with whom he had eleven children -- five sons and six daughters. He went on a Crusade in 1248, and fought nobly and with great honor, forbidding his men to kill prisoners and always expecting them to act as Christians. But he lost the battle and, weakened by dysentery, was captured in Mansoura, Egypt. During his captivity, he sang the Divine Office every day with two chaplains and conducted himself with such honor as to impress his captors. When the Sultan was killed by his own emirs, he was set free, but didn't immediately return to Europe; instead, he went to the Holy Land, and remained there in order to help fortify the Christian colonies, not returning until 1254, during which time his mother died.

Very dedicated to the cause of peace, he not only arbitrated and made treaties with Henry III and James I of Aragon, but did much to curb a lot of the petty, feudal warfare that caused so much harm. He was a great patron of learning, the arts, and architecture, and under his patronage, the Sorbonne was founded; abbeys built; the choir, apse, and nave of St. Denis Basilica -- which contains the tombs of almost all French Kings -- were refurbished, etc. His crowning architectural glory, though, is Ste. Chapelle, the beautiful chapel with the walls of stained glass that sits on the tiny Ile de la Cité right in the middle of Paris, in the Seine River (the same island where Notre Dame Cathedral is found). This chapel was built to house a part of the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross which he purchased from Emperor Baldwin II in Constantinople, and it became St. Louis's personal royal chapel.

Glorious and fruitful was his reign! Indeed, having dealt with economic woes by expelling the usurers from France, King St. Louis ruled over a time that became known as "the golden century of Saint Louis."

He was most famous, though, for his charity, humility, and concern for the poor. He built many hospitals, among them the hospital known as "Quinze-vingt" ("Fifteen-Twenty") -- a hospital for the blind and whose name comes from the fact that it could care for 300 patients. He built homes for reformed prostitutes. Every day, he met with the poor personally and saw to it that they were fed, inviting them to dine with him, and washing their feet in imitation of Christ at the Last Supper. He gave special attention to the indigent during Advent and Lent. All who knew him admired him; no one spoke ill of him and he spoke ill of no one else. His biographer, Joinville, wrote, "I was a good twenty-two years in the King's company and never once did I hear him swear, either by God, or His Mother, or His saints. I did not even hear him name the Devil, except if he met the word when reading aloud, or when discussing what had been read."

He was also very devoted to the cause of Justice, and eliminated the feudal method of conflict resolution through combat, replacing it with arbitration and judicial process. He eradicated his ancestors' "King's Court" and established popular courts in which he, himself, would hear his subjects' grievances.

In 1270, he went off on another Crusade, this time in an attempt to convert the Emir of Tunis after being inspired by acting as godfather to a Jewish convert. Again, his Crusade failed, and again he became sick with dysentery. This time, though, he did not recover. He died at three in the afternoon on 25 August 1270. His last words were those of Christ: "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit." He was canonized in 1297, 27 years after his death, and was succeeded by his son, Philip III. His line continued after him until the French Revolution, when King Louis XVI was guillotined on 21 January 1703. At this act of regicide, the Abbe Edgeworth said, "Son of St. Louis, ascend to Heaven!"

King Louis's remains were laid to rest, like those of almost all French Kings, in the Basilica of St. Denis (now a northern suburb of Paris). The Basilica was sacked during the infamous Revolution and its royal tombs were emptied into a mass grave -- with some of the tombs themselves being destroyed, including that of St. Louis (the tomb-smashing was stopped when an archaeologist of the time urged the revolutionaries to consider them "works of art"). In 1817, the mass grave was opened and all of the bones were placed in a single ossuary, with the names of the monarchs recorded.

St. Louis is the patron of builders, kings, large families, and Crusaders (and, of course, St. Louis, Missouri). He is represented in art by the Crown of Thorns, crown, scepter, and the fleur-de-lis. 

Saint Louis, pray for us! 

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