Thursday, August 25, 2016

For All the Saints: St. Louis

All my posts this week have had some kind of local connection, especially today's.

Born and raised sixty miles from St. Louis, I grew up coming to the city during the 1960s and early 1970s. My parents liked to shop at the downtown department stores, where Dad indulged me with toys and stamps to collect and LPs. I remember the Arch's construction and completion, the city's bicentennial in 1964, the city's urban challenges of the time, and family visits to the zoo and planetarium. We had cousins who lived in town; we drove down old Route 66 to visit them in the Dutchtown neighborhood and also out to their new home in Crestwood. I came more seldom to the city after the late 1970s, except for the airport. But sometimes things in life come around again, and in 2009 my wife Beth was selected as president of Webster University in St. Louis. It has been enjoyable to be back in the city and county.

All this to say... today is the feast day of St. Louis, that is, the city's and county's namesake, King Louis IX of France (1214-1270). He died on this day of dysentery in Tunisia while on a crusade. Canonized in 1297, he is the only French monarch to be declared a saint and, in fact, has been called the ideal Christian monarch.

He was not perfect, in the hindsight of history: he ordered the burning of Talmuds and was a leader in two of crusades. But his reign was an important one. He patronized the arts and, under his reign, Gothic architecture and art flourished. France's prestige increased during his reign and he was able to negotiate a peace with the English Plantagenet monarchy. He was renowned for his generosity to the poor, and he founded hospitals and supported convents and monasteries. Known for his faith and personal piety, he sought opportunities to hear cases where he could make a just ruling. His respect and renown were not diminished by the fact that both his crusades failed (and, in fact, he had to be ransomed when he was captured during his first crusade. Here are two sites that provide more information about the king, the namesake of many cities and places in the world.

The photograph (from Wikipedia) shows the statue, "Apotheosis of St. Louis," given to the city following the 1904 St Louis World's Fair and sculpted by Charles H. Niehaus. It stands outside the St. Louis Art Museum, overlooking the area where the fair was located.

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