Saturday 30 November 2013

St Luis IX - Image Wikipedia

St Louis IX and the Crusader saints

It may surprise some people how many saints were associated with the Crusaders. Here are a few: St Ferdinand III, a great Spanish king who was very active in driving the Muslims out of Spain in the reconquest of Iberia; St John Capistrano, an Italian Franciscan who helped mobilise the Germans, Austrians and Central Europe to drive back the Ottoman Turks, - St John Capistrano at the age of 70 led them into battle to relieve the Muslim siege of Belgrade. St Thomas Aquinas was a good friend of King St Louis IX of France. Even St Francis of Assisi got in on the act and briefly joined the 5th Crusade in Egypt but walked into the enemy camp and tried to persuade the Sultan Al-Kamil to convert to Christianity. St Francis either wanted to convert the Muslims or martyrdom; he did not succeed however.
               St Louis IX led two Crusades, the Seventh and the Eighth.  He tried to take Egypt first because Egypt was the main economic powerhouse for the Levant. Unfortunately because of indiscipline among some of his headstrong nobles in trying to press ahead and win glory for themselves (particularly Robert of Artois), this Crusade was defeated and St. Louis was captured. Louis’s wife Queen Margret was besieged at the fortified Egyptian coastal city of Damietta and even though she was in labour and about to give birth she still manage to inspire the garrison to defend the city. The Crusaders defending the city managed to negotiate with the Muslim Mamluks a safe passage for the Queen, her newly born son and the garrison. They also paid a huge ransom for King Louis and the other crusaders. For further reading regards King Louis IX and his crusades I suggest the journals of one of his knights, John de Joinville, who portrays King St Louis as an inspirational leader.
               The mainstay for the defence of the Holy Land was the religious military orders mainly the Templars, the Hospitallers and sometimes the Teutonic Knights. These were fighting monks, or rather they were friars as they were not contemplative but active like the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Their main opposition were the Mamluks. But whereas the Christian military orders were volunteers with a vocation the Muslim Mamluks were frequently the result of forced conversions; they were slave warriors, often captured Christians when they were young boys, indoctrinated and formed into slave warriors.
               When King Louis and Queen Margret returned to France, Queen Margret often had to deal with the formidable mother of Louis, Blanche of Castel who disapproved of her son’s pretty young wife. Louis and Margret had their rooms in the Royal Castle of Pontoise one living quarters above the other connected by a main stairs at the front. The servants were given orders that whenever Blanche approached her son’s rooms they were to alert the couple and Queen Margret would slip up a narrow back stairs to her own chambers. However, despite Blanche’s disapproval, Louis and Margret had eleven children.
               King Louis was always very saintly. He did his level best to inspire his countrymen and women to be good and loyal Catholics, loyal to the pope, and to defend the Church against heresy. He built the glorious Sainte-Chapelle in Paris to house the Crown of Thorns and brought back the Black Madonna of Le Puy from one of his Crusades.
               In 1270AD he launched the Eighth Crusade to try and take back the former Christian lands, north Africa and Egypt. This time he left Queen Margret behind in France. One can only imagine her sadness as she saw her husband leave to fight once again and her prayers for his safe return. She never saw her husband again for he died in Tunis, North Africa. He was canonised in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII

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