Times Past

Dan Krieger: Celebrating the charitable life

“Do not fear for we are in the hands of God.”

The motto of Saint Louis d’Anjou, bishop of Toulouse (1274-1297), is from an age of unquestioning faith. We know the bishop better as San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, St. Louis the Bishop of Toulouse. He is the patron saint for our city and county.

In 1284, 10-year-old Louis was heir to Charles II, the king of Naples, when his father was taken prisoner in a sea battle by the king of Aragon. Charles was released only after agreeing to send 50 gentlemen and three of his sons as hostages to insure Neopolitan compliance with the terms of an armistice. Such arrangements were common during the turbulent 13th and 14th centuries.

Louis became a hostage at the age of 14. His life as a prisoner lasted nearly seven years. When his younger brother’s health deteriorated, the royal sons were turned over to the newly established mendicant community of Franciscans.

King James II, known as Jaime el Justo, did not wish to be held accountable for the death of a prince.

At the age of 18, Louis and his brothers were freed by a treaty between Naples and James II. The terms of that treaty included an “arranged marriage” between King James’ sister, the princess of Majorca, and Louis.

But Louis’s exposure to the charisma of the humble Franciscans changed his life. In effect, he handed the crown of Naples to his younger brother, Robert.

Joining the Franciscans, Louis quickly became noted for his piety and trust in God. Pope Boniface VIII directed that he be ordained a priest at the age of 23 and that he accept the high office of archbishop of the troubled diocese of Toulouse in southern France.

The once wealthy city of Toulouse had been the center of the Albigensian heresy that the church condemned. 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.”

At Toulouse, Louis of Anjou brought healing. Rather than rack, rope and stake, he brought a loving concern for his flock.

He walked barefoot along the streets of Toulouse and the rough country roads. He worked tirelessly in his missions of reconciliation and healing disease and poverty.

The statue of St. Louis faces the right side of the altar in Mission San Louis Obispo. It came to our community in 1791. It depicts a very young man under a bishop’s mitre.

Aug. 19 will mark the 714th anniversary of young St. Louis’ death.

The Old Mission parish will celebrate both its patron saint’s feast day and the founding (Sept. 1, 1772), on Saturday, Aug. 20. A “historic feast” will be held at 5:30 p.m.

Starting in 1993 during the pastorate of Fr. Jim Nisbet, the mission community has hosted the La Mesa de las Padres banquet in the style of Franciscan hospitality.

La Mesa de las Padres, which supports historic preservation at the old mission, returns to the mission campus this year. It will be a sit-down dinner catered by Chef José Dahan of Et Voila. His French-Basque orientation would have appealed to St. Louis.

Call the Old Mission Office at 781-8220.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.