St. Louis IX of France Takes the Cross

May 9, 2019

Statue of St. Louis IX in Notre Dame Church of St-Vincent de Lyon

At the very moment the nations of the West heard of the last misfortunes of Palestine, Louis IX, of France, fell dangerously ill. The most earnest prayers were offered up by the people of his kingdom for the preservation of the virtuous monarch. The malady, the attacks of which became every day more violent, at length created serious alarm. Louis sunk into a mortal lethargy, and the intelligence was soon circulated that he was dead. The court, the capital, the provinces were struck with the deepest grief; nevertheless, the king of France, as if Heaven had not been able to resist the prayers and tears of a whole nation, recovered, even when apparently at the portals of the tomb. The first use he made of speech, after again beholding the light, was to ask for the cross and express his determination of going to the Holy Land.

Reliquary of the Holy Crown made in 1862 by Placide Poussielgue-Rusand.

Those who surrounded him considered his return to life as a miracle effected by the crown of thorns of Christ, and by the protection of the apostles of France; the cast themselves on their knees to return thanks to Heaven, and in the joy they experienced, scarcely paid attention to the vow Louis had made of quitting his kingdom and going to fight against the infidels in the East. When the king began to recover his strength, he repeated his vow, and again asked for the cross of the Crusaders.* The queen Blanche, his mother, the princes of his family, and Pierre d’Auvergne, bishop of Paris, then endeavored to divert him from his purpose, and conjured him, with tears in their eyes, to wait till he was perfectly restored to health before he directed his thoughts to so perilous an enterprise; but Louis thought he was only obeying the will of Heaven. His imagination had been forcibly affected by the calamities of the Holy Land; Jerusalem given up to pillage, the tomb of Christ profaned, were constantly present to his mind. Amidst the height of a burning fever, he had fancied he heard a voice which came from the East, and addressed these words to him: “King of France, thou seest the outrages offered to the city of Christ; it is thou whom Heaven hath appointed to avenge them.” This celestial voice resounded still in his ears, and would not allow him to listen to the prayers of friendship or the counsels of human wisdom. Steadfast in his resolution, he received the cross from the hands of Pierre d’Auvergne, and caused it to be announced to the Christians of Palestine—sending them at the same time succors of both men and money—that he would cross the seas as soon as he could assemble an army, and had reestablished peace in his dominions.

*This great incident in the life of Louis IX is differently, and indeed more strikingly, related by most French historians. “When he felt himself better, to the great astonishment of all, he ordered the red cross to be affixed to his bed and his vestments, and made a vow to go and fight for the tomb of Christ. His mother, and the priests themselves, implored him to renounce his fatal design. It was all in vain; and scarcely was he convalescent than he called his mother and the bishop of Paris to his bedside, and said to them, ‘Since you believe that I was not perfectly myself when I pronounced my vows, there is my red cross, which I tear from my shoulders; I return it to you: but now, when you must perceive that I am in the full enjoyment of all my faculties, restore to me my cross; for He who is acquainted with all things, knows also that no kind of food shall enter into my mouth until I have again been marked with His holy sign.’ ‘It is the hand of Heaven,’ cried all who were present; ‘its will be done,’” (Bonnechose) – TRANS.

Joseph François Michaud, History of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (London: George Routledge and Co., 1852), 2:345-6.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 675



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