Times Past

Dan Krieger: St. Louis brought love in a time of brutality

San Luis Obispo is named for a real person. St. Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, was born in 1274 in southern France. He was the second son of Charles II, duke of Anjou, the king of Sicily.

His mother was Mary, the daughter of King Stephen V of Hungary. His mother’s great-aunt was St. Elizabeth, the patron saint of Hungary. His uncle was the St. Louis, for whom the city in Missouri was named. The latter was also known as Louis IX, King of France. Our St. Louis was also related to St. Ferdinand, King of Spain for whom Mission San Fernando, Rey de España in the San Fernando Valley is named.

Charles II had the misfortune to be captured in a naval battle with King Pedro of Aragon.

Louis and his two brothers were sent to Don Pedro’s capital, Barcelona. There, they were to be hostages insuring Charles’s compliance with a peace treaty.

The king of Aragon put them in the care of the Franciscan monastery in Barcelona.

The young princes received instruction from the Franciscans during their seven years as hostages. Young Louis particularly impressed the friars with his piety and desire for learning.

In 1296, Louis decided to renounce his claims to an earthly throne and became one of the Little Brothers of Saint Francis. Within a year, he was consecrated as Bishop of Toulouse.

The city had been one of the centers of a terrible chapter in the history of Christianity.

During the 11th century, a sect known as the Cathari sought and received protection from Raymond, Count of Toulouse. The sect soon received a new name derived from the Albi region of France: The Albigensians.

The Albigensians challenged orthodox Catholicism by forming their own church, believing that only their elite sect could be saved.

The Church condemned the Albigensians. Toulouse became the site of a merciless inquisition that set the stage for the later, still more brutal, Spanish Inquisition.

The Albigensians were either forcibly reconverted to mainstream Christianity or killed.

Sometimes they were forced to recant, and then burnt at the stake lest they sin again.

The systematic persecution brought a reign of terror.

But Louis of Anjou came to his episcopal seat to bring love and healing. He was an example of humility, compassion and charity.

Rather than rack, rope and stake, he brought a loving concern for his people.

He walked barefoot along the streets of Toulouse and the rough country roads. He dialogued with his people and tried to share their concerns. He worked tirelessly in his missions of reconciliation and healing disease and poverty.

In a day of less than healthy conditions, he drank bad water. Margaret Toynbee tells us that during the month of August, Louis died of a fever at the age of 23.

He left his world a little better than he found it.

Louis’s feast day is Aug. 19. This year, on Aug. 22, the Old Mission is celebrating with a special presentation by Bruce Buonauro, who has gained fame portraying Father Junipero Serra. Father Serra gave St. Louis’s name to our mission community.

Bruce’s re-enactment will be in the Parish Hall at 1 p.m. and is open to the public.

The La Mesa de las Padres, normally held in mid-August to support the historic preservation of the Mission, will be on Saturday, Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Tolosa Winery.

There will be a full sit-down dinner in the manner of our mission’s most famous pastor, Fray Luis Antonio Martinez, who entertained Russian, French and English visitors in the 1820s.

Tickets are $100 and can be purchased by calling the Parish Office at 781-8220.