Friday, May 23, 2014

196. ST. LOUIS Of FRANCE: The King Who Would Be Saint

ST. LOUIS, KING & CONFESSOR. A small figure of the King of France, rendered in bone, stands 6 inches high, on a wooden base. Ca. 1900s. Personal Collection.

I graduated from Saint Louis University in Baguio City, Northern Philippines, and in the whole time I was there, I really never bothered to find out about the saint after whom our school was named. There was a confusion of some sorts as to who the real patron was; our university exam booklets for example, has the profile of San Luis Gonzaga (St. Aloysius Gonzaga) of Italy illustrated on the cover. Then, there is the university seal (Sword and Shield) which is described as having the "stylized lily associated with St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of the school".

The school, however, was founded by CICM (Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae) missionaries from Belgium, so they could not have chosen a Italian saint for its patron. It made more sense to name the school after a French saint--King Louis of France. He was born in 1214, in Poissy, France to parents Louis VIII, and Blanche, daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castille.

He was barely 12 when he lost his father, so his mother assumed the regentship and took over in raising her Louis, instilling in him the virtue of holiness in his thought and deeds. At 20, he married Margaret, the daughter of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, with whom he had 11 children. Two years later, he took over the reins of the government of France.

He headed several crusaded, but in 1238, he was captured by Mohammedans but was able to return to France. He attempted another crusade in the East in 1267, but this time, he would never return. In 1270, he caught a sickness in Tunis and died after receiving the last sacraments.


In his reign, Louis had a vision to make France as the most eminent of all Catholic nations in Europe. He built religious edifices like the famous monsatery of Royamount and the convent of Maubuisson. He was responsible for the purchase of the Holy Crown of Thorns relics from the Eastern emperor at Constantinople. He heard Masses twice a day, and was surrounded with priests during his travels. He outlawed usury, forbade private wars between his feudal vassals and was renowned for charity.

This representation of him--an ebay find--was carved from a singular piece of narrow bone that resembles ivory. The slim figure is carved in the round and shows the crowned royalty holding a book. Other attributes include a sword and a shield representing his authority. He is often attired in royal robes with golden fleur-de-lis (the "stylized lily" described in our university's crest). The carving is signed with the name of the maker, "Louis Plesey", a namesake of the saint.

St. Louis is the patron saint of barbers and grooms, and is invoked against the death of children. The royal saint's feast day falls on Augut 25.

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