Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SAINT LOUIS IX King of France (1215-1270

Spiritual Bouquet:
Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. St. Matthew 26:41

The mother of the incomparable Saint Louis IX of France, Blanche of Castille, told him when he was still a child that she would rather see him dead in a coffin than stained by a single mortal sin. He never forgot her words. Raised to the throne and anointed in the Rheims Cathedral at the age of twelve, while still remaining under his mother’s regency for several years, he made the defense of God’s honor the aim of his life. Before one year of their mutual sovereignty had ended, the Catholic armies of France, by a particular blessing, had crushed the Albigensians of the south who had risen up under a heretical prince, and forced them by stringent penalties to respect the Catholic faith. Amid the cares of government, the young prince daily recited the Divine Office and heard two Masses. The most glorious churches in France are still memorials to his piety, among them the beautiful Sainte Chapelle of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, where the Crown of Thorns, the great relic which he brought back from the Holy Land, is enshrined. When his courtiers remonstrated with Louis for his law that blasphemers must be branded on the lips, he replied, “I would willingly have my own lips branded if I could thereby root out blasphemy from my kingdom.” fearless protector of the weak and the oppressed, a monarch whose justice was universally recognized, he was chosen to arbitrate in all the great feuds of his age.
In 1248, to rescue the land where Christ had walked, he gathered round him the chivalry of France, and embarked for the East. He visited the holy places; approaching Nazareth he dismounted, knelt down to pray, then entered on foot. He visited the Holy House of Nazareth and on its wall a fresco was afterwards painted, still visible when the House was translated to Loreto, depicting him offering his manacles to the Mother of God. Wherever he was: at home with his many children, facing the infidel armies, in victory or in defeat, on a bed of sickness or as a captive in chains, King Louis showed himself ever the same — the first, the best, and the bravest of Christian knights.

When he was a captive at Damietta, an Emir rushed into his tent brandishing a dagger red with the blood of the Sultan, and threatened to stab him also unless he would make him a knight. Louis calmly replied that no unbeliever could perform the duties of a Christian knight. In the same captivity he was offered his liberty on terms lawful in themselves, but enforced by an oath which implied a blasphemy, and although the infidels held their swords’ points at his throat and threatened a massacre of the Christians, Louis inflexibly refused.
The death of his mother recalled him to France in 1252; but when order was re-established he again set out for a second crusade. In August of 1270 his army landed at Tunis, won a victory over the enemy, then was laid low by a malignant fever. Saint Louis was one of the victims. He received the Viaticum kneeling by his camp bed, and gave up his life with the same joy in which he had given all else for the honor of God.

Reflection: Saint Louis wrote to his oldest son Philip, heir to the crown: “I recommend to you before all else to apply yourself with all your heart to love God.”

The picture from old manuscript depicts King Louis IX on the Crusade

The Feast of St Louis reminds me of my little, five days pilgrimage to Rome this year to visit seven Churches of Rome, the route of pilgrimages as recommended by St Philip Neri. After I visited the must Churches, participated in Wednesday Papal Audience and spent two days revisiting St Peters Basilica, the Santa Scala Church and praying at the tomb of St Ignatius who is my Patron Saint, in Il Gesu Church, I decided to see on my last day the most famous landmarks of Rome such as Fontana di Trevi and Spanish Steps. The area of Spanish Steps was called in the 18th century Roman slang "er ghetto de l'inglesi" (the English ghetto), because it was the preferred area of the English artists and tourists. Pope Sixtus V, the great townplanner, set the architecture layout of this beautiful place as we can see it now. I took some pictures which are in a little movie below. Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) by Francesco De Sanctis (1723-1726) are made of twelve flight of steps of varying width moving upwards towards the Piazza Trinità dei Monti. Before the steps there is a fountain in the form of large boat "Barcaccia", spouting water while it sinks. The fountain is the work of Bernini and the movie starts with the picture of Barcaccia. At the top of steps I saw the Church and I decided to go up there to visit it, not knowing that actually I would make, as tradition calls it, the most beautiful climbing to the Trinity of Mounts Church. Only inside the Church I realized that it is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and built in honour of St. Louis IX in 1502 and consecrated by Pope Sixtus V in 1585. The Church was restored after the Napoleonic occupation of Rome. The view of the City from a little piazza around the Church is splendid, one of the pictures shows beautiful gardens, cafes and little restaurants on the roofs of buildings. The Church interior deserves admiration: it still preserves some of the original Gothic arches and contains artistic treasures in the lateral chapels such as impressive frescoes and altarpiece by Daniele da Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo: "The Deposition" and "The Assumption". Interestingly, when I visited the Church there was a Mass and Liturgy of the Hours chanted by the group of young men and women wearing white habits. I read that they belong to religious Order established originally in honour of St Louis. These young religious are captured by me while kneeling in the picture of the Church interior in the movie below. The Mass and Liturgy were in French and it was beautiful and spiritual experience.