This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 25 -- Feast of Saint King Louis IX

Our friends at wikipedia say that King Louis IX is the only canonized French king.  I guess that being King of the Franks is different from being King of France, since surely Blessed Charlemagne is in the canon, but I do not want to quibble.  From Hugh Capet (crowned 987) until Napoleon III (forced from the imperial throne in 1870), no king except Louis IX has been canonized.

In the interest of ending on a positive not, let me get the ugliest stuff out of the way first.  Being a good French king in the thirteenth century, Louis needed to lead a crusade.  The Albigensian Crusade ended when he was only fifteen, so his best bet was to fight for the homeland rather than reignite civil war.  In the face of funding problems, he launched a campaign to seize the property (including the accounts receivable) of Jewish moneylenders.  Louis' people might have lost their collective appetite for persecuting the heretics, but another anti-Semitic campaign went down pretty easily.  In fact, he ordered that 12,000 copies of the Talmud be burned, even though it didn't put any more money in his pocket.  Moreover, he permitted the Inquisition to have a wider scope in France, even though increased ecclesiastical power inevitably came at the expense of royal authority. 

Louis in Sainte-Chapelle
Louis would have been better off staying home and letting someone else go crusading.  He launched his attack on Muslim territory by capturing Damietta, Egypt, but his subsequent drive toward Cairo resulted in his defeat and capture.  France paid about one-third of its annual revenue to get him free, following which he spent four years kicking around the Holy Land, further depleting the national coffers.

Mos Teutonicus
One thing must be admitted about him: he was not miserly in the service of God.  In addition to the two Crusades (more on the second one below), he was a discerning collector of holy relics.  On the grounds of his palace on the Ile de la Cite in Paris, he built Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) to house Jesus' crown of thorns and a chunk of the Cross which he purchased from Emperor Baldwin II, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople.  Louis paid 60,000 livres to build the chapel (his ransom from Egypt was 400,000 livres) but 135,000 for the relics.  I imagine a French peasant would probably feel pretty good about the king paying 10% of the nation's annual revenue to buy a scrap of wood that some guy in Turkey said was part of the Cross, as long as they threw in a pate-sized wreath of thorny branches.  Roads, bridges, dams, castles -- that stuff is so overrated anyway.

Most royal and holy finger
Louis died in Tunis while on his second Crusade (the eighth overall).  Dysentery was most likely the culprit, though bubonic plague became the story.  Either way, the means to bring his body home (you wouldn't bury your king in the soil of infidels, would you?) was both efficient and sanitary.  Some of his innards were entombed there in Tunis, but others were sealed in an urn and held in Palermo.  The flesh was boiled off his bones in a process called mos Teutonicus (the German custom).  The bones were then transported home.  There's no explanation for what happens to the royal stew -- presumably it would be poured into a grave rather than dished out in the kennels.  Louis got in just under the wire on this.  His mos Teutonicus was in 1270; thirty years later, Pope Boniface VIII banned the practice.

Most of his relics were kept at Saint-Denis, but his head was kept at the Sainte-Chapelle.  Most every bone was lost in the French Wars of Religion, excepting only one finger bone which is held either San Domenico. 

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