John and I set out this morning to visit Angers — home to a cathedral (of course!) and a medieval fortress where Louis IX and his mother, Blanche of Castille, holed up after the death of his father so that Louis IX could grow up and ultimately become king. Angers is the next stop in Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past. Unfortunately, we needed more than the hour we had allotted to get to Gare Montparnasse, buy a train ticket and make the noon train to Angers. Since it was a cold, rainy day in Paris, I suggested we make our way to St. Chapelle — an exquisite chapel that Louis IX went on to build when he was king — where the lines to get inside are usually quite long. But not on a cold, wet day!
Even if you had to wait in line, St. Chapelle is worth it. Louis built it as a private chapel (only the king and his family/friends were allowed) to house the Crown of Thorns, a large sliver of the Cross and other relics that Louis purchased from a pawnbroker. The relics had been in the hands of the emperors of Constantinople for centuries when Louis’s cousin, Baldwin II, the emperor in Constantinople, found himself in financial difficulty and pawned them. Baldwin then went to his cousin to borrow even more money and had to divulge that he had pawned the most sacred of relics. Louis tracked down the pawnbroker — his mother oversaw the authentication of the relics — and the king purchased them for approximately half of his kingdom’s revenue. He had the chapel built between 1242 and 1248 to house them for about a sixth of the cost.
Louis was an interesting guy. He was a pious man…devoutly Catholic. He led two crusades — meeting his maker in the last one in 1270 during which he died from dysentery. He’s the only French king to be canonized and if you read about him, he appears to have been a forward-thinking king who did a lot of good things for people — unless you were Jewish or thought to be a heretic or an infidel. I mean this guy fed the poor, opened a hospital, established trial by jury, and founded the Sorbonne. He was known to dress up as a monk and go into the streets to bathe the feet of lepers. But he also ran the Jews out of Paris and confiscated all their property and spearheaded the inquisition in France. Talk about a man of extremes.
But what you might not know is that St. Louis, Missouri is named after this guy.