The Legend of the Master Builder

August 15, 2019

Reliquary of the Crown of Thorns.

At the height of the Middle Ages, in a century known as the Golden Age, when “the philosophy of the Gospels governed the States,” a marvelous prodigy occurred.

The precious relic of the Crown of Thorns, worn by Our Divine Savior during His Passion, had come to France. [St.] King Louis IX, who reigned on the throne of France at the time, wished to build a special chapel as a reliquary to house this divine gift. Word of the relic and the King’s desire for a new chapel spread quickly throughout Christendom.

King St. Louis IX of France holding the Crown of Thorns. Statue outside Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Paris.

It was not long before master builders from all over Europe took the road to Paris, to present their plans and blueprints to the King. Among these architects was one who had drafted handsome plans for the new chapel, or so he thought. He proudly considered that his plans were perfect and that no one else was capable of anything as good. He even began to daydream of the honor and praise he would receive from the King.

During his journey, he met a colleague who was also on his way to Paris for the very same reason. They decided to travel together and keep each other company. As the days went by and they had talked much, they showed each other their respective plans.

Sainte Chapelle, built by King Saint Louis IX of France.

What dismay came upon our architect when he beheld his colleague’s plans. He saw that they were far superior to his own and this weighed heavy on his heart. From then on our architect was not the same. Pride and envy seized upon him, and he allowed himself to fall prey to their seduction. His sympathy for this colleague now turned to hatred as he thought of the honors and riches that could be taken from him. One night, prodded on by the devil, he murdered his competitor and burned his victim’s plans.

King St. Louis IX carrying the crown of thorns into Sainte-Chapelle.

A few days later the wretch arrived in Paris. Once there, his every attempt to enter the King’s palace was foiled by a mysterious hand that stopped him from crossing the threshold. As this happened time and time again, the frustrated builder began to lose hope of ever appearing before the King. In utter despair, he took to drinking. And it was not long before he had become a ruin of the man he had once been. But as the prodigal son in the Gospel, it was at this moment that the grace of God began to touch his hardened soul.

One afternoon, a young Dominican friar found him in an alley. The friar pitying him in his misery, talked to him and comforted him. The murderer confessed his crime and following the monk’s advice entered into religion to make reparation for his sins. Our architect-turned-novice spent many months in a life, of calm prayer, sacrifice and recollection. During this time he met the son of a pastry chef whose dream in life was to build true edifices rather than the tempting structures his father constructed for the palate. Our novice took a liking to the young lad, whose name was Peter, and started giving him classes on the art he had once practiced.

Some time later, news reached the Dominican monastery where our novice lived that [St.] King Louis IX had examined numerous plans for the chapel but had found none of them worthy to house so precious a relic as the Crown of Thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Upon hearing this, our repentant sinner approached the Dominican friar who had brought him into his monastery. He spoke to him of Peter’s abilities and the plans our architect had for the chapel. He asked that Peter be allowed to present these pans to the King on the condition that Peter not reveal the name of the true author. He then added: “If God has forgiven my sins and accepted my repentance, my work will find Royal favor and Peter will be given a chance to exercise a profession worthy of him. And as for me, I shall finally find peace.” The Dominican granted his permission and the pastry chef’s son was received by the King.

The Royal Sovereign was delighted with the plans presented him. But he was surprised that such an architectural masterpiece could have been designed by one so young. Peter revealed the truth of the matter; that the plans had come from a master builder who wished to remain anonymous. He insisted, however, that young as he was, he was capable, with God’s grace of directing the construction of such a work of art. The King accepted.

Stained glass window of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Tornabuoni Chapel, inside the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta.

Thus was built the awe-inspiring chapel-reliquary known as “Sainte-Chapelle.”

To this day, no one knows the name of the man who designed it.

As for the Dominican friar, his name was [St.] Thomas Aquinas.

© The American TFP. All rights reserved.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 687


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