St. Louis of Toulouse

What do discarded crowns, Barcelona and Zac Efron all have in common? The answer is St. Louis of Toulouse (1274-1297). This former bishop was a holy man of impeccable saintly lineage, who could count King St. Louis IX of France, St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Margaret of Hungary among his hallowed family tree. He was the son of Charles II ‘the Lame’ of Anjou, King of Naples, and spent much of his childhood in captivity in Barcelona – a result of his father’s adventures against the Aragonese rulers of Sicily – where he was educated by a number of Franciscan Friars. The outcome of the enforced time he spent under the watchful and compassionate gaze of friars should become clear.

 

Detail of St. Louis as he appears on museum no. 4486-1858; he is identified here by the fleur-de-lis on his cope. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of St. Louis as he appears on museum no. 4486-1858; he is identified here by the fleur-de-lis on his cope.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As the second of three sons, Louis’ princely connections enabled him to easily qualify for a bishopric. This was not unusual, as younger sons of noble medieval families frequently pursued ecclesiastical careers; partly to teach them good administration, partly to siphon off money to their patrons, and partly to stop them from producing legitimate rivals to the family titles. He was appointed Bishop of Lyon in 1295, aged just 21, but appears to have either declined it or been denied it. Pope Celestine V, who had tried to install him in the see, and who has a far more interesting story than poor Louis, had most of his acts annulled by his papal successor, Boniface VIII. One of these annulments could have prevented the ascension of Louis to the diocese of Lyon.

 

Louis was not kept from episcopal responsibility for long and became Bishop of Toulouse on 5th February 1297, having first taken the Franciscan vows which he had sworn to abide by after an earlier period of illness. Within six months of parking his bum on the bishop’s throne he was dead, probably from typhoid fever, having spent his last weeks devoting himself to the poor. He was canonised in 1317, which is very quick for that sort of thing, thanks largely to the efforts of his brother, King Robert of Naples, upon whom Louis had conferred his claims to their father’s crown. I haven’t been able to find any interesting miracles ascribed to young Louis, although apparently a lot of his contemporaries said that he looked like a saint, and so presumably he went around with a tender and compassionate stare fixed to his face at all times (which he probably learnt from those followers of St. Francis from whom he had learnt so much).

 

Detail of M.580-1910, altar cross, showing a very colourful enamel Louis © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of M.580-1910, altar cross, showing a very colourful enamel Louis
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of M.582-1910 showing a slightly peevish Louis © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of M.582-1910 showing a slightly peevish Louis
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

His family’s heritage meant that he was venerated in Hungary. His relics, though, were held at Marseille until 1423 when they were carted off by Aragonese soldiers to Valencia, where they remain to this day, and for which he is considered patron saint. The Californian city of San Luis Obispo, birthplace of Zac Efron and Chris ‘Party Boy’ Pontius, grew up around a Spanish mission named after Louis. In art he is usually depicted as a boy bishop with a discarded crown at his feet.

 

Louis appears on a number of V&A objects, among them a small sculptural relief, three crucifixes and a glass panel backed with engraved gold. Significantly, all of them originate from Italy, where Louis spent part of his childhood, and where the Franciscans were much venerated.

Detail of Louis as shown on 285-1867, a small ivory relief © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of Louis as shown on 285-1867, a small ivory relief © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of 5414-1859, crucifx, showing St. Louis of Toulouse © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Detail of 5414-1859, crucifx, showing St. Louis of Toulouse
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *