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On the Kalendar: Louis IX, King of France, Confessor

Louis taken prisoner during the Seventh Crusade

Louis taken prisoner during the Seventh Crusade, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883). From Wikipedia.

Louis IX of France is the only French king to have been canonized. Born in 1214, he was crowned king at the age of 12. As an adult, he successfully defeated Henry III of England at Taillebourg, halting Henry’s attempt to regain his continental possessions. Louis also successfully annexed parts of Aquitaine, Maine, and Provence. He later became Henry’s brother-in-law: Louis’s queen, Margaret of Provence, was the older sister of Eleanor, Henry’s wife.

Louis was a reformer, and he made several notable changes to the justice system. He banned trials by ordeal, he introduced the presumption of innocence, and he created the offices of provost and bailiff to enforce the legal system. He also established severe punishments for blasphemy, gambling, usury, and prostitution. On the other hand, he expanded the scope of the Inquisition and he ordered the burning of Talmuds and other Jewish books. His religious zeal also led him to participate in two Crusades.

By the middle of the thirteenth century, crusades were not attempts to free the Holy Land, they were simply wars on Islam. Since the base of Muslim power had shifted to Egypt, that’s where Louis headed in 1248 in the Seventh Crusade. It was a disaster. In 1250, his army was defeated at the Battle of Al Mansurah, and Louis was taken captive. After his ransom, he spent a few years in Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffa, helping Crusaders fortify their defenses in Syria. Louis returned to France in 1254, but in 1267, Louis heeded the call of the Eighth Crusade, resolving to go to Tunis (the site of ancient Carthage) with his three sons and his younger brother, Charles of Anjou. Louis reached Tunis on 17 July 1270, and died of dysentery a little more than a month later, on 25 August.

Mort de Louis IX le Saint

“The Death of Saint Louis IX”, from Grandes Chroniques de France, illuminated by Jean Fouquet (c.1420–1481). From Wikipedia.

Louis was a major patron of the arts. His personal chapel, the Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité in Paris, influenced the spread of Gothic architecture throughout Europe. The Morgan Bible (or Crusader Bible), an illuminated picture book Bible, was probably created at his behest. Louis was also a very devout man. He was a collector of relics, including the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. He was charitable to the poor, feeding them from his table and washing their feet; and he founded many hospitals and houses, including the House of the Filles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes, and the Quinze-Vingt for blind men. His personal piety extended to wearing a hair shirt and scourging himself.

Louis was canonized by Boniface VIII in 1297. He is co-patron of the Third Order of Saint Francis, which claims him as a member of their order, although it’s unlikely that he actually joined the order. Louis’s feast is the 25th of August.

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