Louis IX, otherwise known as Saint Louis, was born on April 25, 1214. He is the only canonized king of France. He was known for his piety, kindness to the poor, and his sense of justice. One of my favorite sites in Paris is his personal chapel, the gothic Sainte-Chapelle. It was built to house what was reported to be a fragment of the true cross and Christ’s crown of thorns. To get some idea of the cost of these items, Louis paid more than twice as much for the relics as he did to build the chapel in its entirety.
I’ll never forget my first visit. The lower chapel has a painted vaulted ceiling, columns, and walls. I thought it was simply beautiful and took many photos, as in the one above. Then I mounted the stairs to the upper chapel and my jaw dropped. I was surrounded by the most beautiful expanse of stained glass I had ever seen with a blue that took my breath away. This part was reserved for the king and his family only. Because it’s tucked away into the Palais de Justice complex, it’s easy to miss, but a visit to Paris would be incomplete without visiting Sainte-Chapelle, just a block from Notre Dame.
In his role as “the lieutenant of God on earth,” he participated in two crusades to Egypt to free the Holy Land from the “infidels”. To finance the first crusade, Louis resorted to expelling all Jews engaged in money lending and confiscating their property. It’s this anti-Semitic side of Louis that I do not find too saintly. (It’s worth noting that semites are actually Arabs and Jews; it’s only relatively recently that the word has applied only to Jews. So crusades are actually a different kind of anti-Semitism and just as repugnant.) In addition, he ordered the destruction of 12,000 sacred Jewish texts and required Jews to wear a yellow wheel sewn on their clothing. And you thought that was a 20th century abomination? Mais non. He and his army were captured during the first crusade and were ransomed at a cost of almost two years of France’s annual revenue. Louis IX died of dysentery in 1270 during his second crusade. He is commemorated in the names of many cities, including St. Louis, Missouri.
Today’s expression, le revers de la médaille (luh ruhvare duh lah maydie) means the other side of the coin. The personality of Louis IX definitely has two sides, pious and intolerant, just and unjust. I love both sides of Sainte-Chapelle, and while I’m there I try to only remember the good side of its creator.