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St Louis of France (25th August)

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Detail of a fresco (ca. 1317) attributed to Simone Martini

Cappella di San Martino, Lower church, San Francesco, Assisi

An entry in the Roman Martyrology under 25th August reads: “At Carthage, St Louis IX, king of France and confessor, illustrious for holiness of life and glorious miracles.  His bones were later translated to Paris”.

King Louis IX ascended to the throne of France at the age of eleven, and ruled in his own right from ca. 1234 until his death in 1270.  He was extraordinarily devout and widely regarded as an exemplary Christian king.  In 1239–41, he bought the supposed Crown of Thorns and other relics for an exorbitant amount of money from the desperate Emperor Baldwin II of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and built the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris as a shrine for them.

St Louis participated in the disastrous Seventh Crusade in 1248, which culminated in the loss of his army.  He was taken prisoner and released only after having paid a ransom.  In 1263, he agreed to allow his younger brother, Charles d’ Anjou to depose the Hohenstauffen dynasty in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and to return the kingdom to papal suzerainty.  In 1270, he embarked on the Eighth Crusade, but he allowed Charles d’ Anjou to divert it to attack Tunis.  St Louis died there, probably during an epidemic of dysentry.

Cult of St Louis

According to tradition, some of the entrails of St Louis were buried in Tunisia, where  what is said to be his tomb can still be visited.  His son, King Philip III and his brother Charles d’ Anjou took the rest of his body to Sicily.  Some of his entrails, which were sealed in an urn, still survive in the Basilica of Monreale. 

Philip III then continued to Paris, taking his father’s bones with him.  Brother Salimbene de Adam (see below) describes the miracles that were reported as the relics passed through Reggio and Parma in northern Italy.   The bones were finally buried in the French royal necropolis at Saint-Denis, Paris.  His bronze tomb there was melted down in the 16th century during the French Wars of Religion.  His bones disappeared at this time, except for one finger, which is still preserved at Saint-Denis.

The process for canonisation began in Paris in 1278.  It was interrupted by the death of  Pope Nicholas III, and re-started there in 1281.  Cardinal Benedict Gaetani travelled to Naples to take evidence from Charles d’ Anjou in 1282.  Brother Salimbene de Adam also reports that Pope Martin IV appointed Bishop Rolando Taverna of Spoleto to to compile the miracles attributed to St Louis in 1284 as a precursor to his canonisation.  The investigation was however interrupted again, this time by the subsequent deaths of Martin IV and Pope Honorius IV.  Pope Nicholas IV appointed Cardinals Benedict Gaetani, Bernard de Languissel and Latino Malabranca Orsini to restart the process in 1288, and another nine years passed before the first of these, by then Pope Boniface VIII, canonised St Louis at Orvieto in 1297. 

King Philip IV of France immediately a Dominican nunnery dedicated to him at Poissy, the place of his birth.  In his will, Philip IV instructed that his own heart should be buried next to that of his grandfather at Poissy.  (The nunnery no longer exists).

Read more: 
J. Baird, “Chronicle of Brother Salimbene de Adam” (1986), pp. 494-5
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