3 min read
Posted on 04.28.14
  • 3 min read
  • Posted on 04.28.14

April 25, 2014, marked the 800th anniversary of the birth of Louis IX -- Saint Louis, King of France -- name-giver of this city. The St. Louis Catholic Archdiocese's calendar for this anniversary briefly observes that Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice would be celebrating a special Mass at noon. The notice adds that, "since no birthday celebration is complete without cake, cupcakes will be distributed following the Mass."

How can a St. Louisan gain a sense of perspective on the passage of eight centuries? Here's one marker:

By the time King James of England got around to sealing the Magna Carta on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymeade, Louis IX already had celebrated his first birthday.

Louis IX's 35-year reign, though, was more about exercising royal power than limiting it. The patron saint of monarchs, he is recognized for using carrot and stick to bring stability to a Christendom wracked by superstition and political division. He was a serial crusader for the rights of Christians in the middle east. He is remembered as a builder of hospitals and homes for the needy and as a judicious arbiter of disputes.

The patronage of Saint Louis, King of France, though, covers people, professions and human conditions that extend both far beyond and intimately within the City of St. Louis' municipal boundaries. The list reads like an old city directory, and includes (in alphabetical order):

Barbers, bridegrooms, builders, button makers, construction workers, Crusaders, difficult marriages, distillers, embroiderers, French monarchs, grooms, haberdashers, hairdressers, hair stylists, kings, masons, needle workers, parenthood, parents of large families, passementiers, prisoners, sculptors, sick people, soldiers, stone masons, stonecutters, tertiaries, and trimming makers.

Poignantly, his patronage also stands "against the death of children."

There are other conditions that help keep fresh the relevance of this city's medieval patron to our times and civic life.

Saint Louis, King of France, for example, remains part of a conversation about how great institutions in good faith can work for progress and understanding, even over great spans of time.

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future," Oscar Wilde famously observed. An undeniable part of Louis IX's worldy legacy, is that he (to put it gently on his birthday) aggressively suppressed the Babylonian Talmud, his Jewish People's great body of civil and ceremonial law.In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, addressing a Jewish group in Paris, quoted from the same Babylonian Talmud. In so doing, according to a Jesuit theologian, he acknowledged a historical connection with Louis IX's confiscations, and in sincere and warm greeting, quoted from part of the Talmud in a way that reinforced the great commonality in Jewish and Christian faiths.

Warmth, sincerity, reinforcement of shared values. These things help promote progress and reconciliation in great cities, too.

(Photo: Likeness of Apotheosis of St. Louis, mural painting by Carl Bonfig (1866-1958) at interior east wall of Market Street entrance to City Hall.)