Happy Birthday Saint Louis
April 23, 2014
April 25th 2014 marks the 800th birthday of King Louis IX, later known as Saint Louis after his canonization in 1297. His major achievements include bringing the Sacred Relics of the Passion to France and ordering the construction of Sainte Chapelle. During the 8th Crusade, he died of dysentery in Tunis (current capital of Tunisia) in 1270. From architecture to his lower jaw bone, here are some areas in Paris where you can get up-close and personal with one of the most influential kings of France.
Crown of Thorns
What: The Holy Crown of Thorns was placed on the head of Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion.
History: The Holy Crown of Thorns, as well as other holy relics such as a piece of the Holy Cross, Holy Nails, the Holy Sponge, the Hole Lance were purchased in 1237 by Saint Louis.
Cost: After sending specialists to assess the relics and confirm they were the real items, Saint Louis spent the equivalent of 18 million Euros today to purchase those Relics.
Where: The Holy Relics were originally stored in Sainte Chapelle, built for that purpose, but were moved to Notre Dame Cathedral after the French Revolution in 1789. The Holy Crown, the Nails and a piece of the Cross were the only Relics that survived the Revolution. The Crown of Thorns is shown every Friday after the 6:15PM mass or every first Friday of the month at 3PM in Notre Dame Cathedral.
What: Sainte Chapelle is located not far from Notre Dame Cathedral. This magnificent church was re-popularized in recent years by Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code”.
History: Louis IX ordered the construction of Sainte Chapelle in the heart of the Royal Palace in 1248 to protect the newly acquired Holy Relics.
Cost: The construction of Sainte Chapelle cost 3 times less than the purchase of the Holy Relics.
Description: There are 15 very long stain-glassed windows soaring towards a beautiful vaulted ceiling, which date back from the 13th century. Each window depicts a specific religious scene, and the large rose above the entrance tells the story of the Apocalypse.
What: Some of Saint Louis’ personal belongings are among the treasures of Notre Dame.
History: Many of king Saint Louis’ personal belongings were part of the Treasure of Sainte Chapelle. During the French Revolution (1789 – 1799), every item that could be melted to make weapons was destroyed, while the worthless remaining objects were stored in the National Library (Bibliothèque Nationale). These remaining items are part of Notre Dame’s treasure since 1803.
Decription: 2 items having belonged to Saint Louis can be seen in the Treasure of Notre Dame today: his tunic and a whip used by Saint Louis to flog himself (the king was a very religious man, and often disciplined himself). The large medallion created for the 700th centenary of his death and an ancient drawing of the reliquary of Sainte Chapelle are also visible.
Fun Fact: The lower jaw of Saint Louis is also part of the Notre Dame Treasure
Basilica of Saint Denis
What: Saint Louis’ reliquary and his influence on the Basilica of Saint Denis.
History: To bring King Louis IXth’s remains from Tunis back to France, his body was disemboweled, then boiled in water and wine so the flesh would separate from his bones. Saint Louis’ bones were brought to the Basilica of Saint Denis, for it was him that ordered the Basilica to become France’s official Royal Necropolis. After his canonization in 1297, Saint Louis’ bones were offered as precious gifts and sent out to royal families in Europe, resulting in an empty tomb when it was looted during the Revolution.
Decription: Saint Louis’ reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Denis is located in the apsidal chapel of the Virgin which was created by jeweler Chaumet. It is said that the reliquary contains Saint Louis’ wrist bone.
Fun Fact: The urn containing the flesh stopped in Palermo. Some say the urn went back to Tunisia where it was stored in the Saint Louis Cathedral of Carthage until 1985 when the relics (without the urn left in Carthage) were sent back to France. This is still a mystery…
France and Abroad
Ile Saint Louis: In Paris, the eastern island on the Seine River is called Saint Louis Island (Ile Saint Louis). What was once called l’Ile aux Vaches (“Cow Island”, used as a grazing field for cattle) became Ile Saint-Louis in 1725.
Bois de Vincennes: On the eastern side of Paris lies the biggest park of the French capital: Bois de Vincennes. In the 13th century, Saint Louis was known to give justice under an oak tree in what was then a large forest.
International: The canonized name of King Louis IX has been used for many cities around the world: Saint Louis, Missouri (USA), Saint-Louis-de-France, Quebec (Canada), San Luis (Argentina), São Luís (Brazil), Saint Louis (Senegal) and Saint Louis du Nord et Saint Louis du Sud (Haïti).
Trial by Ordeal: Louis IX banished this ancient judicial practice, which consisted in having the accused go through unpleasant and dangerous situations (usually life or death) to determine his/her innocence or guilt. The accused was considered innocent when surviving or when escaping injury.
Le Gros Tournois: After witnessing the efficiency of the Arab monetary system during the 7th Crusade (his 4 years of imprisonment during that crusade gave him time to analyze and think), Louis IX decided to implement a standard coin for his kingdom, the Gros Tournois, replacing the numerous currencies each regional lord had.
Institutions:Louis IX started working on institutions that would gradually become the Parliament and the Court of Auditors.
Salvation: Being a very devoted man, King Louis IX wanted to drive his subjects to salvation. Blasphemy, gambling, loans with interest and prostitution were therefore banned and punishable.