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St. Louis and Sainte-Chapelle

August 25, 2009

Today’s saint is St. Louis of France (1214-1270), also known as Louis IX, King of France. He was a holy king, according to

At his coronation as king of France, Louis bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace. Other kings had done the same, of course. Louis was different in that he actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith. After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice.

Louis was crowned king at age 11, married at 19 to Marguerite of Provence, his 12 year old bride. They had 11 children. Louis joined the Crusades when he was 30.  He and his army suffered disease and capture. In 1267, Louis led another Crusade due to Muslim advances in Syria. It is during this crusade that the saint died. In addition to the Crusader battles, as king of France Louis had many duties to attend to throughout his life. He had to combat rebellions against feudalism; he negotiated the 1258 Treaty of Paris with England’s King Henry III; he was arbitrator between Henry III and the English barons, among other duties. Louis, united with the popes, protected the clergy of France from the “Hungarian Master,” a mysterious old marauder said to be working with the Muslims.

According to New Advent:

St. Louis led an exemplary life, bearing constantly in mind his mother’s words: “I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting, and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects. The French king was a great lover of justice. Frenchfancy still pictures him delivering judgements under the oak of Vincennes. It was during his reign that the “court of the king” (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions actingat regular periods. These commissions were called parlements and the historyof the “Dit d’Amiens” provesthat entire Christendom willingly looked upon him as an international judiciary. It is an error, however, to represent him as a great legislator; the document known as “Etablissements de St. Louis” was not a code drawn up by order of the king, but merely a collection of customs, written out before 1273 by a jurist who set forth in this book the customs of Orléans, Anjou, and Maine, to which he added a few ordinances of St. Louis.

St. Louis was a patronof architecture. The Sainte Chappelle, an architectural gem, was constructed in his reign, and it was under his patronage that Robert of Sorbonnefounded the “Collège de la Sorbonne,” which became the seat of the theological faculty of Paris.

Sainte-Chapelle was built to house Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. The history of the Crown of Thorns is long and sketchy and most of the thorns had been broken off and given to various bishops and basilicas throughout the centuries. All that was housed in Sainte-Chapelle appears to have been the helmet of rushes that held together the thorns that crowned and pierced Jesus’ head. The relic is no longer in Paris.

Sainte-Chapelle is a beautiful church. The upper chapel is nearly all stained glass.

The chapel is on the Ile de la Cite, not far from the Notre Dame Cathedral. During the French Revolution much of the cathedral was destroyed so what we see today is a reconstruction. As stated above, Louis was a great lover of justice and over time the French courts and justice commissions built up their buildings around Sainte-Chapelle so that today it is totally surrounded by court buildings; the chapel cannot be seen from the street. To tour the chapel one must enter through justice department metal detectors.

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