The century began with two of the most stalwart saints this world has ever known - Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic whose legacy resulted in the conversions of millions through their orders - the Franciscans and Dominicans. The same year that Francis trekked barefoot from Assisi to Rome to request approval from Pope Innocent III for his fledgling order of Friars Minor, a future saint and king was born in Poissy, France, the son of King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche of Castille. His mother, a fervent Catholic raised him loyally and when he was but a mere twelve-years old his father died, bequeathing the throne to young Louis. Blanche had all she could do to thwart the coups against the throne from those usurpers who tried to take advantage of the monarch's death and pounce before young Louis could grow to maturity. But his mother prevailed through God's providence and when he was twenty Louis was married to the daughter of Count Raymund Berenger from Provence - Margaret. When he turned twenty-one Louis took full reign of France and, through Blanche's sage guidance, was able to fend off revolts throughout southern France. It was from 1242 to 1249 that he gained great notoriety as a great warrior with victories over King Henry III of England at Taillebourg, Poitou and Raymond VII at Toulouse. Though Louis and Margaret went on to have eleven children, Louis would be gone from the home hearth for great lengths of time, primarily because of his involvement in the Crusades. Though everyone expected the German Emperor Frederick II to lead the Fourth Crusade, when he dragged his feet Pope Innocent IV turned to Louis who willingly took up the cause. In 1248 he led crusaders to a stunning victory at Damietta in 1249 but a year later, his troops were ambushed and soundly defeated by the Saracens at El Mansura. Louis was captured and imprisoned by the infidels. Because of his resources, Louis was able to ransom himself and his men and were directed to the Holy Land where they remained until 1254. Louis returned to France that year due to his mother's death and, through a series of battles, wheeled and dealed other territories in order to solidify France with the acquisition of Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou in the Treaty of Paris in 1259. In 1258 he gave up Roussillon and Barcelona in the south in exchange for Provence and Languedoc from Aragon with the Treaty of Corbeil. In 1270, at the age of 56 he embarked on the Sixth Crusade. This was a trying time for the papal chair was empty after the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268. It would remain vacant, due to intense in-fighting among the conclave, until Pope Blessed Gregory X was elected four years later in 1272. But Louis would not live to see Gregory become Pope for he contracted typhoid fever soon after landing in Tunis where he, along with his devoted son Philip, died on August 25, 1270 uttering the words of the psalmist, "Into Thy hands I commend my soul."
Though he was a great military mind, that is not what he is remembered for. His monarchy was one of great kindness and sympathy to all his subjects and he sought to enhance the faith by founding several religious and educational institutions. He also forbade any kind of fighting between feudal lords in an effort to bring about peace in France and protect the vassals for he had a great love for all people, especially the poor and dessolate. He was always a man of his word and gave back much more than he took. He will go down as one of, if not the greatest of all French monarchs. In 1239 he was gifted with the original Crown of Thorns by Emperor Baldwin II and he rebuilt the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house this very special relic. In 1257 he founded the world-famous Sorbonne University and numerous other places of culture, the arts and religious edifices in the Gothic architecture which would incorporate all of Europe. It was Louis who instituted France's first navy. However his greatest contributions were not to France but to Holy Mother Church for his wise counsel and insistence when the popes wavered kept her on an even keel through the troubled seas of the that century. His wisdom was a breath of fresh air compared to the treachery and schemes of the German emperors who played Rome like a fool. Louis promoted peace and prosperity for not just France but all his European neighbors offering the pen in treaty negotiations rather that utilizing the sword. "The sword is only for those who deny Christ," this holy king is quoted as saying. Louis ruled for forty-four years and 27 years after his death Pope Boniface VIII canonized him. He immediately became patron saint of France.
One of his dearest friends was a Dominican who taught at the University. That man was Saint Thomas Aquinas who we will feature in the next installment of this on-going series.
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.