Saint Louis IX, King of France sought peace in France and to this end signed a number of treaties to ensure that he did not need to go to war against England or Spain. This allowed him to concentrate on building up the kingdom with good government. The foundations for the famous college of theology known as the Sorbonne were laid in Paris in 1257. He also set out to lay the foundations of many of the great gothic cathedrals of France the most important be the Sainte Chapelle erected as a shrine for the relic of the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. Louis purchased these relics in 1239–41 from Emperor Baldwin II of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres (the construction of the chapel, for comparison, cost only 60,000 livres).
Everything he did was for the glory of God and for the good of his people. He protected the poor and was never heard speak ill of anyone. He excelled in penance and had a great love for the Church. He was merciful even to rebels. When he was urged to put to death a prince who had followed his father in rebellion, he refused, saying: "A son cannot refuse to obey his father."
In 1230 the King forbade all forms of usury, defined at the time as any taking of interest. He had new coins made to standardise the monetary system and he demanded new and just weights and measures. He set new laws that were to presume people innocent until proven guilty and allowed referral to the King for Justice.
He was renowned for his piety often attending Mass twice a day even though his knights and courtiers remained outside. He was renowned for his charity. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses for reformed prostitutes and for the blind. St. Louis installed a house of the Trinitarian order in his château of Fontainebleau. He chose Trinitarians as his chaplains, and was accompanied by them on his crusades. In his spiritual testament he wrote: "My dearest son, you should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin."
In 1250, he headed a crusade to Egypt, and although initially successful, it failed and he was taken prisoner. During his captivity, he recited the Divine Office every day. After his release, he visited the Holy Land and spent a number of years there repairing the Christian fortifications and strengthening the Christian Kingdom of the Holy Land. Then he returned to France.
Louis de France and Blanche de Castille
Louis de France was born in the castle of Poissy (North-west of Paris) on the 25th April 1214. He was baptised on the same day, in the parish
church of this little town. Extremely proud of having become a child of God in this location, he will later take pleasure in signing his letters using
the simple name 'Louis de Poissy' as his most glorious title.
In this castle, the royal child is raised along with his siblings. He is an agreeable child, somewhat boisterous, who always finds a way to play and run in the woods surrounding the castle, or to go fishing for frogs and crayfish.
He grows up to be an accomplished young man, searching for the Lord, with the righteousness of a heart turned to God. He studies zealously: Latin is familiar to him and throughout his life he will enjoy reading the most beautiful texts He knows the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the life of the saints, and there is nothing he does not know about the history of his ancestors. Every day he attends Holy Mass and prays the Psalm of the Divine Office. Like the rest of the nobility of his time, he rides, learns fencing, and soldiering. Indeed, once king of France, he must always be the first to defend the kingdom.
At this time, the great king, Philippe-Auguste, his grandfather, is on the throne.
Louis VIII, father of St Louis and Crown Prince, had married Blanche de Castille on the 23rd May 1200. She was then a 12 year-old Spanish princess, daughter of King Alphonsius VIII of Castile and Elienor of England. The match was supposed to settle peace between the king of France and the king of England; unfortunately, this was not the case. From this union 11 children are born, of whom 3 die in infancy. Philippe, 9 year-old heir to the throne, dies in 1218, then in the same year, 1232, both Jean and Philippe Dagobert, respectively 13 and 7 years old. Only Robert, Alphonse, Isabelle and Charles remain with Louis.
Alphonsius VIII of Castile, Louis' other grandfather, had become famous in 1212 when he vanquished the Moors at Las Navas de Tolosa: driving the invader away from the Pyrenees, thus preparing the complete liberation of Spain.
When his father Louis VIII is crowned in 1223, young Louis becomes heir to the crown. Blanche de Castille, a sensible woman, is very conscious of the difficult role that her son will have play, and gives him a strict upbringing. She supervises the education of her children herself, while her husband, nicknamed 'pacific Lion' due to his bravery and his commitment to making peace settlements, is out on the battle fields.
In early November 1226, Louis VIII suddenly falls ill on the way back from an expedition he had led in Languedoc (South of France) against the heresies of Albi. He dies within a few days, barely three years after his coronation. The short length of his reign is such that it does not give him the chance to show his true measure as a king. As a man and as a Christian, he is remembered by his contemporaries in high esteem and admiration. He was particularly renowned for his bravery, piety and marital fidelity. But the influence he had on his son, who was only twelve when he was called to succession, cannot have been very great.
It is an entirely different case, however, for the influence of Blanche de Castille. Born with the genius of a great stateswoman, she is model mother and educator. Politically, she works wonders around the court, in bringing the high nobility to respect the authority of her son, and in defending common interest against private ambitions. Deeply religious, this mother very soon brought her son to despise sin. We know the famous sentence she would often repeat to her son: “Beautiful son, you are greatly dear to me; however, I would rather see you dead at my feet than spoiled by a single mortal sin.” Saint Louis would never forget these words. His mother taught him the most noble Christian principles: “If I were to see my son ill of a hopeless evil and if I could saves him by committing a mortal sin, I would rather let him die”. Until his death, paying tribute to she who gave him more than life itself, the great king loved to repeat that he owed her everything.
In November 1226, Louis has just turned twelve: “My lord, says Blanche in a firm voice, the king is dead. You are now King. Henceforth, may you remember your duty”. Prince Louis is now King of France, but a very prepared king: he is the first king to have known his grandfather and to have received his counsel. Blanche de Castille has also trained her son wonderfully for his royal mission: he will enjoy unprecedented moral authority.
Crowned at twelve, the regency of the kingdom
When her husband Louis VIII dies prematurely, Blanche, then 38 years of age, is named, by the will of the dying king, tutor for her twelve year-old son and regent of the kingdom. But the situation is difficult. A twelve year-old king, a young lady regent for the kingdom, and a foreigner, no less! France, at that time, did not enjoy the same unity it will do later. The great lords each wish to be masters of their own province and have difficulties in recognising the authority of the king. Louis VIII inspired respect. But a twelve year-old child? Was it not the moment for them to reclaim their independence? There is also the threat of the English, menacing to retake the possessions lost under Philippe-Auguste. Brave Blanche de Castille sees all this and proves herself to well equal to the task.
Her first decision is to knight the young Louis immediately, then to have him crowned. Faithful to God, unfailingly obedient to Christ's law, helpful towards the unhappy and the weak, servant of justice and truth: this he will henceforth have to be in all circumstances. He takes the oath, and throughout his life, will be a knight pursuing the Christian ideal.
To this ceremony succeeds another, more grandiose by far: the coronation! Queen Blanche, with profound political wisdom, wishes her son to be proclaimed king and recognised as such without delay. Thus, three weeks after his father Louis VIII's death, in Reims on the first Sunday of Advent, Louis is crowned Louis IX. His mother tells him: “Never forget, my son, that you belong to both cities: that you are in the earthly city the lord of your subjects and that in the heavenly city, you are the servant of your serfs.” He will have to govern his kingdom in the name of Christ, according to the Gospel. He will never forget it. He is anointed and he knows – he, himself declares it so – that when he judges, he will be “judged by the Judge who judges all justice”.
The lords' revolt
The good people of France is happy to have a king, and ready to love and serve him. However, this is not the case for the great lords. Some of the great feudal lords, jealous of the royal authority, are ready to resist and continue their rebellious intrigues. And so, Philippe Hurepel, Pierre Mauclerc, earl of the Marche, Hugues de Lusignan, Thibaut de Champagne become allied with Henry III King of England, to try and shake off the yoke that has been imposed on them. In 1228, taking advantage of the fact that queen Blanche and Louis IX are in Orléans for a few days, the conspirators gather in Corbeil, on the pretext of a hunting party, quite simply decide to kidnap the king in order to then be able to impose their will unto the queen. At the last minute, a remorseful Thibaut de Campagne reveals the whole conspiracy to Blanche de Castille. The latter, who was on her way to Paris, does not hesitate. She stops at the Castle of Monthéry, locks herself in with her son, and calls the people of Paris to her aid.
And the whole of Paris immediately replies to her request. All unite to keep their king, the bourgeoisie, the craftsmen, the merchants, the clerics, the students set off for Monthéry and triumphantly escort the royal procession to Paris. The lords do not dare attack such an escort. The barons' coalition crumbles and most of them submit themselves. France is saved ... no, not yet! The lords who had plotted the king's kidnapping are furious against Thibaut de Campagne, who caused the plot to fail by warning the queen. It is him, now, that they attack, and in january 1229, the earl of Brittany and the of the Marche invade Champagne, helped by an English army, commanded by Prince Richard, brother of the king of England. Earl Thibaut must retreat before his enemies; he calls the king to help him. Louis IX, at that time, is fifteen. He is a handsome teenager, tall, and arduous. When Thibaut's call reaches him, he pounces: “Madame my mother, God surely wants me to go succour good earl Thibaut; indeed if a subject is loyal to his lord, this lord also must be loyal to his subject, and come to his aid. I cannot stay here any longer and refuse my help to earl Thibaut”.
The Champagne expedition is Louis' first battle. He throws himself into it with all the ardour of youth. By a clever manoeuvre, he sends his troops in a direction unexpected by his enemies. He attacks the fortress of Bellême, in the Perche (region in the south of Normandy), which belongs to Pierre Mauclerc, earl of Brittany. Surprised by this unexpected attack, the defenders of the fortress do not resist long. In less than six days, the garrison surrenders. The other strongholds are quick to capitulate after this defeat, and the English army goes home.
War in the south of the kingdom
Since 1209, five years before Louis' birth, a terrible war of religion has been devastating the South of France. It was on his way to Languedoc (central south of France) that King Louis VIII had died. In this region, heretics, called the Cathars, preach that there is a “good” god who created the human soul, and a “bad” god who created the body and matter. This doctrine is absolutely contrary to the Christian faith. The Cathars cause much disorder in the south of the kingdom.
Queen Blanche wishes to restore peace, at all costs. During this war, the main adversary the king of France will have to face is his vassal, Raymond VII,
earl of Toulouse. Nevertheless, there are ways to get along: Blanche and Raymond are cousins, since they share a grandmother: queen Alienor of Aquitaine.
After three years of negotiations, Louis, his mother and Raymond agree and redistribute the southern territories. Raymond VII will pay tribute to the
king of France. And his daughter, little Jeanne, is betrothed to Louis' brother, Alphonse. Jeanne is only three, and Alphonse nine. But these marriages,
arranged for the peace of the kingdom, are part of the duties of the ruling families.
For the adolescent king, the long and delicate bargaining to assure a lasting peace is a lesson. Around 1240, there will be new and grave troubles in Languedoc. The war will only end in 1255.
After two brilliant successes, insuring peace in the East and the South, Blanche de Castille leaves her son, who came of age on the 25 April 1234 a pacified kingdom, strong inside and feared outside.
The English rebellion
Soon after his coming of age, Louis IX has to face yet again a rebellion of the great lords. It will be bloody, but he will triumph after only two battles.
The origin and soul of this rebellion is a proud woman: Isabelle of Angoulême, widow of John Lackland (Jean-sans-terre). She is remarried to the earl of Marche and urges her husband to rebel against the king of France. She is supported by Henry III, king of England, who once again lands in Royan. All the great lords of the South-West region mobilise.
Louis IX does not lose time and acts with great speed. He takes over several fortresses and has them razed to the ground. He sets off towards the English
and meets them on the 20th July 1242 in Taillebourg, a fortified town on the Charente river (north of Bordeaux). This town has a single
bridge, which the English solidly defend. So the king has a boat-bridge built, over which he leads the assault, ahead of his troops electrified by
his courage. Terrified, the English flee. The king of England then begs for a truce.
The rebels, abandoned by the king of England and impressed by the number of victories, come and submit to king Louis, who forgives them. He, however, imposes peace terms on them that are favourable to the interests of the kingdom.
The French princes have finally understood the ineffectiveness of their successive rebellions: the peace treaty of Lorris in January 1243 marks the triumph of the king and during the rest of his reign, the unruly lords remain quiet.
Louis marries Marguerite, princess of Provence
Louis is 20. On the 27th May 1234, he marries Marguerite, princess of Provence, daughter of Raymond Bérenger IV, earl of Provence. The next day, Marguerite is crowned queen of France. Barely thirteen, she immediately conquers the French court and her husband's heart with her charm, her grace and her very southern vivacity.
Louis has this motto engraved on his ring:
“God, France and Marguerite”
At Louis' side, Marguerite made her place as the queen of France. She shows this heroically during the crusade where she followed her husband. The couple have eleven children. We will speak again of Marguerite later in this account. Marguerite died aged 75, in 1295, after devoting her final years to the help of the needy.
Louis, the very Christian king
At the start of everything, for him, was the love of God, faith, a pure, thoughtful and solid faith. “Beautiful son, the foremost thing I teach you”, the king says to his son Philippe in the will-letter he leaves him, “is that you should put your heart to loving God; for without this none can be saved. Do nothing that could displease God”. He adds: “Dear son, I advise you that you should always be devoted to the Church of Rome and to our Holy-Father the pope, and that you pay him respect and honour as you should to your spiritual father”. To his daughter Isabelle, he writes: “Dear daughter, the measure in which we must love God is to love him without measure: He is well worthy of our love, since He loved us first”.
The foundation of his spiritual life is love, the primacy of God in his being and his actions. “My lord God first served”. Louis worked hard on this throughout his life. In order to be able to assume his crushing responsibilities, he daily attends Holy Mass, recites the Divine office every day, reads the Word of God assiduously. “Look first and foremost for the kingdom of God. The rest will be given to you in addition”. He shows a tender and filial love to Our Lady, whom he salutes every evening with fifty genuflections, each accompanied by an Ave Maria. He frequently gets up at night to pray. He goes to confession every Friday and demands as penitence disciplinary beatings, in unity with his Lord in flagellation, and fasts often. He lives in great frugality, dressing modestly when the exercise of his function does not force him to wear the official dress of his rank.
He often receives saint Thomas Aquinas and saint Bonaventure to dine with him, both of them giants in science and wisdom, great theologians and mendicant brothers, Franciscan and Dominican. With the same simplicity and ease, he receives the poor, everyday, at his table.
This way of living attracts criticism, to which the King replies: “Men are strange; a crime is made of my diligence in prayer, but nothing would be said if I spent yet more time gambling, tracking down wild beasts or hunting for birds” - “If I sometimes spend a lot of money, I would rather it be on alms for the love of God than for my frivolities or mundane things”. Words as reported by Joinville.
Louis lives all of this joyfully, for he is of a joyful nature and lively temperament, righteous in intentions and exempt from collusion with evil.
He also knows that he is naturally inclined to anger ... as his friend Joinville points out to him from time to time. Louis is grateful to his friend and proves faithful in friendship. One day, criticised by the king's councillors, Joinville retreats, alone, to the window. The king comes and gently covers his friend's head with his own hands, thus showing that his friendship for him is in no way diminished.
In his profoundly dynastic sentiment, Louis welcomes the present, but also the future and the past. Children are the future and one must insure, through
them, the future of the linage. The ancestors and fathers compose the dynasty. In his will, Louis recommends to his son to pray and if need be, repair
the ill done by his deceased ancestors. One must love the deceased, and pray for them: “May your soul and that of your ancestors be at peace and if you ever hear that your ancestors made a restitution, always take great care to know if all that was due is returned, and if not, then return it immediately for the salvation of your soul and that of your ancestors”
He commends himself to his son as the first for whom he should pray: “Dear son, I ask, if it pleases Our Lord that I should pass away from this life before you, that you should have me helped by masses and other prayers and that you ask prayers for my soul of the religious orders of the kingdom of France”.
His love for the poor
Louis' faith is not abstract, it influences his behaviour and regulates all his actions, loving Christ means following Him, it means loving all men. Hence
One day he is asked what saint he admires more than any other and he answers: “Saint Francis of Assisi, the joyful and gentle saint, because he loved poverty above all”.
In the Royal Palace of Paris, one room is reserved to the most destitute; every day, food is served to whomever comes along. On feast days, there are more than two hundred, of all ages and both sexes, non too agreeable to look at, with their torn garments, so dirty and smelly that the refectory stinks, and the palace guards are offended. Never mind ! The king comes, very often in person, to attend the meal of “my-lords the poor”. He walks around the tables, is concerned about one's wound, that he indicated to his doctor, listens to the grievance of another, orders a servant to help yet another to eat. On Wednesdays and Fridays, all year round, he invites thirteen of the poorest and personally serves them food. Every day, he calls three out of the most repulsive looking, to come and eat at a table just next to him. Even the lepers, of who's contagion everyone is afraid, do not repel him. In the most deprived of men, there is Jesus. Louis has known this since childhood, and will never forget it.
In Royaumont Abbey which he founded, he often visits the infirmary when the sick are there, especially the lepers. One day, the king asks his friend Joinville:
“Do you wash the poor people's feet on Maundy Thursday ?
-The feet of these villains ? Never !
-This is truly evil, retorts the king. You should not disdain what God Himself did for our education”.
On another day, he hears his ministers talking: “What would we prefer? Having leprosy or committing a sin?” To which most answer that they would readily do anything in order to avoid the frightful illness. The young king becomes indignant at the folly of their thought: leprosy affects only the body, which is mortal, whereas the immortal soul is damaged by sin!
While the Abbey of Royaumont was being built, he was seen helping the workers build a wall of the church, carrying the stones and mortar, says Guillaume de Saint-Pathus. Louis opens houses of charity and education, orphanages, hospitals... The most famous hospital will be the Quinze-vingt hospital (literally Fifteen-twenty hospital) created to receive the three hundred knights whose eyes were gouged out by the Saracen during the crusade.
One event will mark Louis. He is 25. He learns that the latin emperor of Constantinople has gone to Venetian merchants and pawned a fragment of the Holy Crown of thorns, the very one that was worn by Jesus during his passion. Scandalised, Louis pays the merchants and sends two Dominicans to go and get the precious relic. He goes to meet them barefoot and dressed as a pilgrim and, with his brother Robert, carries the shrine on his shoulders to Sens (120km south-east of Paris). He wants to conform his life to Christ, poor and crucified. To receive the Crown, he has magnificent shrine built in Paris, the Sainte-Chapelle (literally Holy-Chapel) built like a reliquary.
Pilgrim to the Holy Land, the seventh crusade
In 1244, Louis falls ill, and his state quickly worsens; very soon, he is dying. The whole kingdom is in pain, and in the churches across the kingdom, prayers and processions are organised. From all sides, fervent supplications rise to God that He may leave France her beloved king a little longer.
Beside the king's sickbed, two sisters watch. One of them bends over towards him and says: “It is finished”. All of a sudden, the king breathes deeply and says in a firm voice: “The Lord has visited me and called me back from the dead”. Then he sends for the bishop of Paris. “Your excellency, he says, I beg you to put on my shoulder the cross of oversea travels”. The lords who went on a crusade indeed had a woollen red cross sewn to their clothes, as a rallying sign. The king's demand therefore meant, “I wish to become a crusader”
The bishop hesitates, thinking the king is still delirious, and advises him to think, to wait to be healed... but Louis answered: “Your excellency, if God gave me back my life, it is so that I might take this decision”. So the bishop imposes on his sovereign the insignia of the crusader. Louis welcomes it with joy.
Two centuries earlier, in 1096, Peter the Hermit had preached the first crusade, and thousands of men, lead by Godefroy de Bouillon, then left to defend the Holy Sites. Since then, successive expeditions had been sent, with successful or unsuccessful outcomes, but ultimately, the Holy Land was still in the hands of the Saracen.
Louis goes on this crusade to answer the call for help from the Christians in Orient. He considers that he cannot shirk this responsibility. His aim is not to wage war against the Muslims. His aim is not even military. His aim is the same as that of Francis of Assisi, who influenced him: he wishes to convert the Mohammedan, to bring them the Holy Gospel.
Before leaving the kingdom, the king sends monks, assigned with the collecting of complaints from the people: those who have been wronged must receive justice and reparation. The king therefore leaves behind him a peaceful kingdom.
25th August 1248: departure of the seventh crusade from Aigues-Mortes (30km east of Montpellier, on the Mediterranean coast).The King leaves with the cavalry elite. Marguerite comes with him, as do his two brothers, the earls Robert d'Artois and Charles d'Anjou. More than 20,000 men leave with them, and 8,000 horses. The fleet is composed of nearly two thousand ships.
His mother, Blanche de Castille, who struggles to accept his departure, accompanies him as far as Corbeil (Southern suburbs of Paris) where she says farewell. Louis entrusts her with the regency of the kingdom and the keep of his three children. Mother and son were never to see each other again in this world.
When all is ready, the king sings the Veni Creator.
The fleet sets off and sails towards Cyprus, first gathering point.
The conquest of Damietta
The French army must wait in Cyprus for eight months. It is only on the 13th May 1249 that the whole expedition, finally complete, can set off to the fixed aim: Damietta, the Egyptian port at the mouth of the river Nile. But a violent storm disperses the fleet almost at once and it is only on the 4th June that the royal vessels reach their objective. Impatient to disembark, the king jumps ashore, sword in hand, with water up to his waist. Leading his soldiers, he gives chase to Turkish squadrons, who surprised, flee away in disarray.
Two days later, 7th June 1249, clothed as a simple pilgrim, Louis IX enters Damietta without fighting. The town is abandoned, Damietta is conquered. Queen Marguerite can settle in.
Louis now wants to cross the Nile and walk on Cairo. But he must wait for the army of another of his brothers, Alphonse de Poitiers who is to join him with his considerable reinforcements. The wait will last six months. This overly long pause allows the Turks time to organise their defence, with disastrous consequences for the expedition.
The crusaders don't know that the Nile delta is composed of several branches; they undertake an exhausting march through marshy plains. They arrive in front of the Ashmun canal (Cairo). On the opposite bank, the Saracen are standing in order of battle, perfectly adapted to this type of war in their weaponry and equipment. The Christian army must halt its advance and organise a fortified camp. It seems impossible to the crusaders to build the causeway that will bring them across the canal. Luckily, a Bedouin one day comes along to the camp and reveals, for a fee, the existence of a ford in the direction of Mansoura.
The tragedy of Mansoura
On the 20th November 1249, the Sultan Ayyoub of Egypt dies of tuberculosis on the way to Mansoura. His convoy returns to Cairo. Thus, on the 8th February 1250, the Frankish army sets off. The vanguard, composed of Knights Templar and of Robert d'Artois' men crosses the river, strikes down on the Turks and arrives before Mansoura. Despite the king's direct order, enjoining his brother to withdraw in order to give the French infantry time to join the vanguard, Robert d'Artois enters Mansoura on the 10th February 1250. He has less than five hundred knights to support him. And the crusaders, knocked out by the flaming projectiles that are thrown from all sides by the Mamluk Turks (an army composed of slaves), are massacred till not one is left standing. At the same time, Louis, who was approaching Mansoura, learning of the vanguard disaster, retreats in haste. He begs the Lord: “Good Lord God, preserve my people”.
Assaulted by several Mamluk who pull his horse away by the bridle, the king, with mighty swings of his sword, makes a way through the midst of his enemies. The scuffle is so terrible that his horse's mane is entirely burned off. Joinville, his friend, who is riding at his side, is hit by several arrows.
The crusaders, however, work wonders. Finally, their bravery overcomes the Saracens. Only then can Louis mourn his beloved brother Robert d'Artois, saying that “God must be adored in all that He sends”.
The King is taken prisoner.
Unfortunately, a terrible curse is to befall the French army. The river and the canal are full of corpses from the battle, and the crusaders, whose diet is mainly composed of fish from the Nile, are decimated by scurvy and dysentery. The dead are countless. The king himself helps bury them despite the foul smell they produce, saying: “Have no repulsion for the bodies of these valiant men, they are martyrs and in heaven. We can surely suffer this for those who suffered death”.
To make matters worse, the Saracen build a dam on the Nile, preventing supplies from reaching the crusaders' camp. A famine arises. The army lose close to two thirds of its manpower, and the rest are almost all ill. In addition, the heat, already high at this period in Egypt, adds to the soldiers' suffering.
Retreat from Damietta becomes necessary. Heart broken, the king sounds the retreat. Also ill himself, barely able to sit on his horse, he refuses to leave his men. The feeling of responsibility is so great in him that he considered himself a part of his people, having a part in its destiny: “Get rid of me if I become a burden, I myself will never abandon my duty”.
The retreat is terrible. Defended by great sword swings from his squire, the faithful Geoffroy de Sargines, the king remains in the place of honour, the most exposed.
Tortured by pain, the king finally has to be carried on a stretcher. At one moment, one soldier betrays his comrades, crying: “Lay down your arms, king orders !” The knights then surrender their swords. The massacre that follows is awful. On the 7th April 1250, the king is made prisoner with all of his army. The spared soldiers are bound and brought to Mansoura.
The Saracen invade the village where the king had stopped, exhausted and so ill from dysentery that he was thought to be dying. They enter his room and threaten to torture and behead him. “The Most-High knows it, He who ignores nothing: if all this visible world was mine, I would give it up entirely in exchange for the salvation of souls.” he says to the Sultan. “My body, you can destroy, but my soul, you cannot kill”. The extraordinary serenity of the dying man, refusing to abjure his faith despite the threats, make them back off. Full of respect and admiration for his bravery and righteousness, they announce: “You are our captive, yet it seems that it is we who are your prisoners”. Nothing affects the courage of the saintly king. Louis has absolute confidence in God, he has handed over his life in total abandon to Providence. His fortitude and serene inflexible strength floors the savage violence of his jailers.
The Sultan, understanding that in is in his interest to keep the king alive in order to receive a ransom, permits some softening of treatment.
The only servant remaining with him, for all the other are sick, is the cook Ysembart: he never saw the king irritated or revolted by his situation, or muttering about anything; but bore his illnesses and the great adversity of his people with complete patience and was continually in prayer.
On the 2nd May 1250 the sultan Touransha is murdered by his slave-officers. An old wife of the sultan Ayyoub, Shajarat-ad-dorr, is elected queen of the Egyptian sultanate for seven years. She chooses a new husband, exercising the power herself. She goes to see Louis, captive and ill: “You are not well, it is because you are a prisoner” she says. He answers: “No, I am unwell because I did not attain my aim, which I desired.” - “What did you desire?” - “I desired your soul and that of your people”. There is the motive for the crusade: bring Christ to the Muslims.
The ransom is enormous: five hundred thousand pounds, as well as the restitution of Damietta. Despite the Knights Templar' help to pay the ransom, France becomes poor after paying such a ransom: for a long time afterwards, leather money must be used because all the silver money had been given over to the Muslims.
The ransom is fixed and accepted, Damietta is handed back to the Saracen, Louis is released on parole on the the 13th May 1250. He can finally see queen Marguerite again, who, in Damietta, has given birth to a son which she has named Jean Tristan ('triste' meaning 'sad') because of the great sadness of the moment. It is in Saint Jean d'Acre (Israel) that the king rejoins his courageous wife.
Louis cannot return to France before paying the ransom – it will eventually be reduced by a quarter. He stays for four more years in Palestine and in Frankish Syria, and becomes applies himself to the consolidation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He reorganises its administration and defence and signs a peace treaty with the Sultan of Alep and Damascus. Thus he establishes a relatively peaceful climate in the area.
Louis, being unable to go on pilgrimage to a Jerusalem under Turkish occupation, goes on pilgrimage instead to Nazareth.
Three children are born in the Holy Land.
Back to France, after six years of absence
Terrible news awaits the king. The pope legate comes to meet him, to tell him about the death of his mother, Blanche de Castille, called to God in November 1252. In tears, submerged by pain, the king throws himself in the arms of his friend Joinville, saying these simple words: “Ah, Seneschal, I have lost my mother!”. Louis' pain is unspeakable. Now, he will have to come back to France, because Blanche de Castille was ensuring the regency. He embarks on the 25th April 1253, after visiting Mount Carmel. On the 10th July, the French fleet accosts and on the following 7th September, Louis IX enters Paris after six long years of absence.
An orphan for six years, the kingdom rediscovers its father. The king finds the three children he had left behind now grown up. After Blanche's death, it was princess Isabelle, the king's younger sister, who cared for them. Despite the entreaties of both the Pope and her brother for her to marry Conrad, son of Emperor Frederick II, she is consecrated to God as soon as her brother returns. For her, he has a nunnery of the order of saint Clare built in Longchamp, very close to Paris. Isabelle de France lives there until her death, on the 23rd February 1270. She is pronounced blessed by the Church.
This man who was thus returning from the Holy Land to carry out his stately duty conscientiously, namely reigning where God had placed him, and working for the happiness of his people and the greatness of France, this man was internally experiencing the harsh trial of a spiritual night. Evoking his suffering overseas before Henry III of England in 1254, he says : “My fellow king, it is not easy to show the great and painful bitterness of body and soul that I felt for the love of Christ, during my pilgrimage”.
To the bishop, who wishes to console him, the king answers: “If I suffered alone the disgrace and adversity, and if my own sins did not fall back down upon the universal Church, I would bear my pain firmly. But to my sorrow, the whole of Christendom was covered in shame through my fault”.
Around this period, he is taken of a great desire to renounce all, to retire to a cloister and there, devote himself only to prayer. He confides his intention to queen Marguerite and asks for her assent.
Despairing at this thought, she shows him at once, with great energy and tenderness, that in acting in such a way, he would be neglecting the mission that God had given him. Above all else, hi is the king. Leaving would be a desertion: the kingdom needs him and no other. When God has providentially put us in a given place and has clearly entrusted us with a specific mission, the generous fulfilment of stately duty is the first means that we have of sanctification. The king recognises the truth in his wife's words.
A cruel event will confirm the queen's wisdom and show the king even more clearly the God will for him: Louis IX's eldest son, the young Louis, dies, barely sixteen years old. It is an immense sadness for his parents, for whom he rightfully was a pride and joy. They had prepared him for his heavy future task. The young prince is buried in Royaumont Abbey. Very often, subsequently, Louis came to his son's grave to meditate.
Henceforth, the king will fully devote himself more than ever to his royal mission.
Serving justice and peace
The sovereign's task, in assuming once more the direction of his kingdom, is a heavy one. Guided by faith and his love for his people, he truly becomes a man of peace to whom his subjects give the nickname ''peace giver”.
Louis is legislator, he will leave a lasting judicial structure. He establishes rules for each profession. He creates pensions for the poor old ploughmen of each parish. He bans street prostitution and gambling. In order to unify the country, he imposes his own currency, by order, and limits the circulation of that of the lords to their own domain.
An order of 1260 put an end to judiciary duals and “instead of battles, proofs and witnesses were required” by investigations and witnesses interviews. He was wont to saying: “Battle is no way of right”, meaning that it is not through fighting that we do justice. The cases of appeal to the king, submitted to parliament, are clarified and increased.
Little by little, across the whole of France, people get into the habit of turning to him. In this way he restores peace, for example, between two families who had been fighting over a very confused inheritance affair for more than ten years.
The king's influence in matters of justice was profound and long-lasting. When speaking of him, the account made by his friend Joinville is often mentioned: “Very often in the summer, he would go and sit in the woods of Vincennes, after Holy Mass. He would lean against an oak-tree and have us sit around him. And all those who had a trial or an object of complaint came freely, without being stopped by ushers or guards. Then he used to ask them with his own lips: 'Does anybody have a request to make?' All those who were in that case stood up. Then he said: 'Be silent, and you will be listened to one after the other'. Then he would call Pierre de Fontaines and Mgr Geoffroi and say to one of them: 'Take care of this business'. And when he saw something to correct in the discourse of those who were judging, he himself would speak up and decide on what would be fairest outcome”. And when he was judging a crime, nothing could sway his severity if he judged the offence to be grave.
Just once, maybe in his whole life, he let himself be influenced. One day he was looking for horses to bring him back from Hyères to Paris. The abbot of Cluny gave him two magnificent beasts. The next day, he came to the king to make a request, that the latter granted immediately. When the abbot had left, Joinville came to find his master, and asked him if the gift he had received the day before had not made him pay more attention to the request. Louis admitted that this was true. “Sire, said Joinville then, if I questioned you thus, it is so that you forbid your judges to accept gifts from those who they are going to judge; because they will always listen to present-givers more readily that the others”. The recruitment of the judges was from then on closely supervised; they were to take the oath that they would never receive parts, neither silver, nor gold, nor any other benefit, and they would abstain from the attendance of taverns and gambling.
Louis particularly practised this integrity regarding money. Personally, he was extremely reserved as to private expenses. He gave this advise to his son in his will: “Dear son, I advise you to have a strong will that the money you spend be spent to good use and that it be levied justly. There is also a bit of good sense, that I greatly wish you to possess, that is keeping yourself from frivolous expenses and unjust collection, this same good sense that Our Lord teaches you”.
If, however, the taxes under his reign did not diminish, it is because of the wars that he had to support, first against the uprisings and the king of England, then the two crusades that France financed almost entirely. Never did he use trickery, on the contrary, in this domain he showed himself to be conscientious, nearly scrupulous, refusing any operation of currency manipulation.
Two decrees were made in 1235 and 1254 obliging the Jews to renounce the use of usury and to live off other activities, such as agriculture, trade and craftsmanship. If they refused, they should leave the kingdom of France. This policy had the effect of forcing numerous Jews out of their ghetto. Even if a lot of them preferred to leave, his aim was an improvement of their fate, not a policy of forced conversions, as has since been said.
The XIIIth century was the century of cathedrals. Louis was also a builder king. But it was not only cathedrals and abbeys that Louis Ix built. With Robert de Sorbon, he founded the Sorbonne, in 1257. His kingdom experienced a time of great cultural, intellectual and theological development. He built hospitals. He acquired an opening on the Mediterranean sea, and built a port in Aigues Mortes.
And in all of this, he was prudent and thrifty: the many projects and works he undertook never indebted France. He knew how to manage the economy wisely by creating a single currency for the whole country – no such currency existed before him.
His council was also sought abroad. Louis IX was respected in Europe from the beginning of his reign, for his firmness and wisdom. He attempted to put an end to the hostilities between Frederick II and the Pope Innocent IV, whom he protected, without adhering to his policies. He was designated as arbitrator in several disputes. For example, in 1263, the English barons were in conflict with their king Henry III. To arbitrate their quarrel, they addressed “the illustrious lord, King of France”. In the famous Mise of Amiens, in January 1264, Louis rendered judgement entirely in favour of the English king, when it would have been far more beneficial to him to weaken the king's authority.
Husband and father
Until his death, Louis lived by the motto engraved in his wedding ring: “God, France and Marguerite”. Unlike many princes of his time whose extra-marital escapades filled the chronicles with scandals, he was a loyal husband, of total fidelity.
At that time, men, and especially women, were often married very young, the marriages usually being the fruit of an arrangement between the families of the future spouses.
Louis was twenty and Marguerite thirteen when they were married. They had never met before, and Louis fell quickly very much in love with his wife. The ardour of this marital love had to put up with Banche de Castille's severe and slightly jealous disposition. Joinville retells the tricks that Louis played to join his young wife in her room during the day, without his mother's knowledge. At all moments of the day, she wanted to be able to find her son in his quarters, addressing the affairs of the kingdom. Yet, Louis loved his mother deeply. He was torn between his affection for her and his love for Marguerite; he gave his wife her true place, while upholding the respect due to his mother.
Louis lived his marital life with Marguerite intensely. In agreement with her, they started their conjugal life by three days of continence. In matters of sexual relations, they respected what the Church called at the time 'the kissing time', namely the whole of advent and lent, certain days of the week, feasts days and their eves, and several days before and after communion day. These orientations of the Church aimed at a certain control of births, through a responsible paternity. But, if the spirit is strong, the flesh is weak. If during these days of continence, he sometimes visited his wife and stayed with her. And, if the proximity of his wife, because of his human fragility, made him feel inappropriate movements of the flesh, he would get up and pace about the room until the revolt of the flesh was composed.
The couple waited for six years for the birth of the first child. People were beginning to worry about an infertility of the royal couple. Child bearing was not the sole aim of the marriage, but when one is king, it was important to have some children, especially boys. Six sons and five daughters were born of their union five before the crusade, three during, and three after it. Blanche, first child of the royal couple, died when she was barely three. Isabelle, born in 1242 later became queen of Navarre; Louis, first born son and heir to the throne, died at the age of sixteen in 1260 - it is difficult to describe the royal and fatherly pain his death inflicted upon his father; Philippe, future king of France, born in 1245; Jean, born in 1247 died one year after his birth. In 1250 Jean Tristan is born, a child of sadness born in the great misery of the camp in Damietta. Louis seems to have had a particular affection for this son born during the painful time, who also became one of the first victims of typhus in the Christian camp in Carthage. He was only twenty. In 1251, in Acre, René is born, future earl of Alençon; a second Blanche is born in Jaffa in 1253, she will later become princess of Castile; Marguerite, born in 1254, will be duchess of Brabant; Robert, born in 1256, will be earl of Clermont; and finally Agnès, born in 1258, will become duchess of Burgundy.
Louis fully involved Marguerite in his public life and took her with him when he first left for the Holy Land, which was an absolute novelty. She showed herself to be a true queen during the tragedy of the crusade. One anecdote told by Joinville is worthy of mention: when the Saracen saw that they could not defeat the king with threats, they asked him how much money he would give the sultan, and if he would give Damietta back at the same time. The king answered that if the sultan requested a reasonable amount of money from him, he would ask the queen that she pay for their release: she alone determined the expenses!
Though she was a courageous wife, Marguerite did not have the political genius and wisdom of Blanche de Castille. The rivalry that grew up between herself and Charles d'Anjou, Louis' brother about the succession of Provence worried the king. Besides, without telling her husband, she made her son, heir to the throne take an oath that until the age of thirty, he would stay under her guardianship. The Pope untied the young prince from this abusive pledge in 1263. When he left on the second crusade, the King did not make Marguerite regent of the kingdom.
There was however a capital circumstance in Louis IX's reign, when Marguerite, using her right as a wife, prevented him from abandoning his stately duty, as we saw earlier in the story. On returning from the Holy Land, Marguerite refused to accept his becoming a monk, asserting all the excellent reasons for him to stay “in the world” and on the throne. Without really understanding them, Marguerite accepted her husband's fervour and profound religious aspirations, aspirations that grew ever more profound and acute as time went by. Louis realised that he was asking a lot of his wife and showed great concern for her future.
The king's first concern was to ensure a good Christian and moral upbringing for his children.
Joinville gives us some detail: after Compline and a hymn to the Virgin Mary prayed together with the children, “before going to bed he called all his children before him and reminded them of the deeds of the good kings and good emperors, telling them to take example on such people. He also told them the deeds of bad princes who had lost their kingdoms thought their taste for luxury, their thievery and their greed. He then concluded: 'I remind you of these things so that you should keep yourselves from them, so that God does not become wrathful towards you'. He desired that, on Good Friday, they wear crowns of roses or other flowers on their heads, in memory of the crown of thorns with which the Saviour had so horribly been crowned on that day; crown by which the King of kings Our Lord Jesus Christ had magnificently adorned his kingdom”
The Teachings of Louis to his eldest son Philippe, and those addressed to his daughter Isabelle, queen of Navarre, show his paternal love and his educator's conscience. His contemporaries underlined the fact that he wrote them by hand instead of dictating them, so grave and important were his words.
“To his dear son Philippe, fatherly salutations and friendship”. “Dear son, I give you all the benediction a father may and must give his son”.
Seventeen of the thirty-four paragraphs start with “Dear son...” The word heart appears frequently: “I wish with all my heart”, “that you may have a compassionate heart towards the poor”.
The father recommends to his son to watch over the cohesion and mutual love within the royal family. “Dear son, I teach you that you should love and honour your mother, that you should readily remember and observe her good teachings, and be inclined to believe her good council”. He recommends loving and honouring the mother and following her advice. Likewise, he entrusts the eldest son with his younger brothers: “Love your brothers and always wish for their good and for their progress and be a father to them, teaching them all that is good ”.
One part of the letter is addressed to his son, the other to the future king, as notes in his book Jacques Le Goff. To the first, he reminds of faith, patience, frequent confession, devotion to the Church, charity to the poor and suffering, keeping the company of good people, listening to sermons and the refusal of bad words. To the second, he asks to be worthy of his anointment, to give justice, to pacify quarrels, to honour the clergy, to avoid war, to chose good officers, to suppress sins of the tongue, of the body, gambling, to be a thrifty manager, to be good.
For the cause of the faith, a new departure for the Holy Land
The holy king's great dream was that all the countries around the Mediterranean be Christian. Hoping that the emir of Tunis would convert, he left on a second crusade. “Say on my behalf to the Sultan of Tunis that I so ardently desire the salvation of his soul that I would like to spend the rest of my life in his saracen prison without even seeing the light of day provided that your king received with his people and in all sincerity, baptism” he tells the Sultan's envoy.
“My children, you see how, quite old already, I begin for the second time, a journey overseas; how I left your mother in her old age; how I left my kingdom that we hold in peace and tranquillity. I was showered by honours and prosperity. Yet I left. Think of it: for the cause of faith, I do not spare my old age, to the point that I resist your mother's supplications that I would abandon my project. In the name of Christ, I give up everything, to expose myself to everything, body and soul. I bring you with me, my dear children, and I would have brought our fourth son also, had he been older. Be strong. The continuity of the kingdom will be measured by your clear-sightedness (…). I want you to hear all these things so that after my death and when you are on the throne of France, you spare nothing, neither wife nor children, nor even your kingdom, for Christ and your Catholic faith. I want to give you, along with your brothers and sisters, this last example and, if the circumstances ever require it, I have good hope that you will follow it”.
In March 1270, Louis goes to the basilica of Saint-Denis to receive the insignia of the pilgrim. On the 15th, he walks barefoot from the palace
to Notre-Dame. He bids Marguerite farewell and leaves with three of his sons. He is 56 years old.
On the 17th July, the king's ships are in sight of Tunis. The army disembarks. The chaplain shouts, on order of the king: “I announce to you the coming of Our Lord Jesus-Christ and of Louis, king of France, his servant”.
The castle of Carthage is assaulted by the Christians. But no illusions are to be held as to the intentions of the emir and inhabitants, who appear very
hostile. Alas, a terrible dysentery epidemic breaks out yet again in the army. The king himself falls ill in early August, and his case worsens rapidly.
His son Jean-Tristan, 20 years old, has just succumbed to the epidemic. Surrounded by the dead and dying, Louis calls to him his eldest son and successor,
Philippe, to give him his last instructions. So as to constantly have the Passion of his Lord before him, he asks for a crucifix to be hung in front
of his bed.
On the 24th August, he receives confession and the Holy Eucharist from his chaplain. He sighs “O Jerusalem! O Jerusalem!” and prays to Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve. “Lord, he says to God, it is enough; I served as best I could your people and the kingdom you have entrusted me with”.
He is in death's throes. Since has been unable to liberate the Holy Sepulchre, he wishes to die in the same way as the King of kings. He, who wanted to be a monk and exercised his power like a priesthood, asks to be lain on a bed of ashes on the ground. People hear him pray: “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit”. These words are barely out of his lips before he enters eternal sleep, in the hands of the Lord.
It is the 25th August 1270, around three in the afternoon, hour at which the Son of God died on the Cross to save the world.
A lay saint. Saint Louis' miracles
When trying to define Saint Louis' holiness, it must be underlined that the originality felt the most strongly by his contemporaries was that of a lay saint who perfectly accomplished his stately duty, his duty as a politician. Joinville, also a layman, underlines the exceptional character of the lay saint Louis who managed to reconcile his royal functions with a fervent and intense Christian life.
After his death, the Church opened the canonisation process and led a long investigation. Sixty seven miracles of healing, notably in Saint-Denis around
his coffin, were retained.
When, in the spring of 1271 the arrival of the king Philippe III bringing back his fathers' bones from Tunis, , was announced in Paris, the people came out to meet the procession. In the crowd was a woman who had come from Burgundy with her eight-year-old son, who had a lump the size of a goose egg under his ear. When the procession arrived, the woman asked those who were leading the horses carrying the shrine with Saint Louis' bones to stop so that the child may touch the shrine with the sick part of his body. One of the drivers lifted him up gently and touched his lump against the shrine. The swelling bursts at once, and a lot of 'filth' comes out of it and runs down on the child's chest and clothes, however he shows no sign of pain. All the people present hail it as a miracle, and praise the saint's merits. Several people cry for joy. A bishop who s present asserts that it is not the first miracle that Saint Louis has performed on his trip home.
But the major part of the miracles occurs in Saint-Denis near the tomb. A crowd of people, the ill, disabled or maimed and beggars gathers around the tomb, touching it and lying on it. Five people- whose condition prevents them from coming to Saint-Denis promise to go there if Saint Louis heals them: they keep to their word. In two of the cases the miracle occurs in Chaalis (abbey north-east of Paris) and in Paris through a relic of Saint Louis (a coat and a hat which the king had worn). A dead child is resurrected (miracle XIX) by the offering of a candle before the tomb of the holy king. In another case, a simple invocation to Saint Louis is sufficient (miracle n°LXII): the Lord of Aigues-Mortes, just back from Saint-Denis, nearly drowned in the Saône river. Two miracles occur in Italy, and one at the doors of Paris.
The vast majority of the miraculously cured people are poor or of modest income, who must work with their hands or who are driven to poverty or even to begging. Sometimes it is underlined that the healing helped them to escape destitution. Example cited by Guillaume de Saint Pathus, in Saint Louis’s Miracles: Jeanne de Sarris, wife of Jahen the Carpenter, one night in 1276 lost the use of both legs and feet. After one month “as she was poor and had nobody to help her and her husband did not want to give her what she needed' she was carried to the hôtel-Dieu (religious hospital) of Paris. After a while, she wished to return home, and went, on crutches, with her husband's help, but he yet again did not help her afterwards. She then went 'with great difficulty' (on her crutches) and begged outside the church of Saint-Merri in Paris. Having heard of the miracles that were occurring at the tomb of Saint Louis, she decided to go to Saint-Denis and live there with what she might earned herself. She 'span so much she earned a little sum (trois sous)' and with this money she went, with difficulty still, to Saint-Denis with one of her daughters. She gave at the tomb of Saint Louis 'a candle of her length'. After four days, she started to feel better. After nine days, she returns to Paris 'straight on her feet, without stick or crutch or anybody's help'. After this she remained in good health and 'did her work like any other holy woman'.
Pope Boniface VIII canonised King Louis IX on the 11th August 1297.
Of Louis IX one can say, summarising his:
He made an alliance with the Lord, keeping his commandments and causing them to be observed by all. God as his aim, faith as his guide: this is the secret of his politics and of his holiness. As a Christian, he was the servant of Christ; as a prince, he was his lieutenant: his soul was in no way divided between the aspirations of the Christian and those of the prince; this unity was his strength, as today it is his glory. Christ, who alone reigned in him and through him here on earth, allows him to reign with Him today.
- Jean de Joinville,Vie de Saint Louis
- David O'Connell, Les propos de Saint Louis
- Guillaume de Saint-Pathus, La Vieet les Miracles de Monseigneur Saint-Louis
- Jacques le Goff, Saint Louis
- Philippe de Villiers, Le Roman de Saint Louis
- Régine Pernoud, La Reine Blanche
- Daniel Rops, Histoire de l’Eglise Tome IV
- Marius Sepet, Saint Louis
- Diocèse de Versailles, Dossier Année Saint Louis
Annex: Saint Louis and Elizabeth, protecting patron saints of the OFS and TOR
F. Michael Higgins 2007 Koinonia N°53 (excerpts)
With the Immaculate Virgin Mary, their heavenly patron, the Third Order Regular and the Secular Franciscan Order also venerate as their patrons, Saint Louis, King of France, and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. The Ritual of the OFS highlights the reverence to the Saints in the section entitled “Profession in the OFS: Within the Mass.”: “the votive Mass of St. Francis or of St. Louis King or St. Elizabeth of Hungary may also be chosen.”
The reverence to St Louis and St Elizabeth as patron saints dates back many centuries: through ancient tradition or legitimate election these saints have been venerated with a particular cult by the brothers and sisters of the OFS and the TOR and honored as their special protectors and advocates before God. The tradition of honoring both St. Louis and St. Elizabeth by Franciscan tertiaries has been an integral part of the fabric of the mentality and self-understanding of the Third Order from the time that the Saints were canonized. St. Elizabeth was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on May 27, 1235. It is interesting to note that she was third person associated with the Franciscan movement to be canonized by this pontiff - St. Francis was canonized by Gregory IX in 1228 and St. Anthony of Padua was canonized in 1232. Elisabeth was readily received by the Third Order as one of its own.
For his part, St. Louis was recognized and honored by Franciscans even before his death. It is doubtful that he was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, but his love and support of the Franciscan family - and other mendicant groups, including the Dominicans - is unquestioned. In recognition of their deep respect for the King, and in recognition for all that he had done for the Order, the Friars Minor considered him to be an honorary member. In recognition of this, during the General Chapter at Narbonne in 1260 St. Bonaventure proposed that suffrages for the King be celebrated by the Order on a yearly basis. The proposal was approved by the Order at the General Chapter of 1263 in Padua. During this whole process Louis was still alive! St. Louis died in 1270 and was canonized on August 11, 1297. The only other people to receive a similar honor in the 13th century from the Friars Minor - after their deaths - were Popes, including Innocent III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV, Martin IV, Nicholas III, and Nicholas IV.
The importance that the two saints enjoyed in the Third Order - and in the whole Franciscan family - can also be found in the loving way they have been portrayed in art, celebrated in prayer, honored in song and story, and included in the official legislation of the Orders even in the early centuries of the Franciscan movement.
It beyond the scope of this short reflection to give a complete list of all these references, the following are presented as examples of this vast material:
- The Breviary of the Roman Curia was adopted by the Friars Minor in 1223 and became the official prayer of the Order by 1230. During the next 70 years the Order introduced only 5 saints to the calendar of saints listed in this breviary: St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Elizabeth, St. Clare, and St. Louis.
- Simone Martini (1284-1344) portrays St. Elizabeth standing next to St. Clare and St. Louis standing opposite of St. Francis and next to St. Louis of Toulouse in the Lower Basilica of St. Francis. It is interesting to point out that St. Louis of Toulouse was a nephew of St Louis and of Mary of Hungary whose great-aunt was Saint Elizabeth.
- In 1495 the Renaissance artist Filippino Lippi (1457 - 1504) left an unfinished painting of St. Francis handing St. Louis and St. Elizabeth copies of the Rule of the Third Order.
- By the early 15th century Franciscan breviaries and lectionaries contain the texts for the celebration of the feasts of St. Louis and St. Elizabeth.
- The first text of Constitutions of the Third Order Regular, which dates to 1475, directs the friars of the Order to celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer in honor of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Francis, St. Louis, and St. Elizabeth.
- A calendar of saints for the Third Order published in Parma in 1648 specifically identify St. Louis and St. Elizabeth as patrons of the Order and state that their feast days are to be celebrated as first class (primae classis) feasts each with its proper octave.
- The Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Rome, which has been the home of the Minister General and General Council of the Third Order Regular since the early part of the 16th century, hosts a series of frescoes that date to the middle of the 17th century honoring the male and female saints and blesseds of the Third Order. The procession of the lunettes of the male members concludes with a life-sized image of St. Louis and those of the female members conclude with one of St. Elizabeth.
- Misericors dei filius, the Rule given to the then Third Order Secular in 1883 by Pope Leo XIII, grants a plenary indulgence to members of the Order who go to Confession and receive the Eucharist on special days including the one honoring “Louis, King of the Gauls, the heavenly Patron of the members of the Third Order on the 25th day of August (and) of Elizabeth of Hungary on the 19th day of November”
- The legislation of the TOR and the OFS make special mention of the Saints.
For centuries both St. Elizabeth and St. Louis have been seen and appreciated by the brothers and sisters of the OFS and TOR as Saints who clearly manifest what the Franciscan tertiary life is all about. Both of them in their own way demonstrate the five elements of penance that St. Francis encouraged the penitents to embrace (1LtF 1-4):
- love of God,
- love of neighbor,
- hatred of sin,
- reception of the Eucharist, and
- lives that produce “worthy fruits of penance”.
One would search in vain to find better examples of the Franciscan tertiary life - or better patron saints! This article highlights the fact that St. Elizabeth and St. Louis have been honored as patron saints of the OFS and TOR for hundreds of years. Their example and role as patrons are as valid today as they ever were.
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