Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saint Louis Day at Monreale

Today the people of Monreale, outside Palermo, celebrate Saint Louis Day.

His obnoxious little brother, Charles of Anjou, was the infamous King of Naples who provoked the Sicilian Vespers uprising in 1282, but King Louis IX of France, later canonized as Saint Louis, was a far more pleasant person - and a far better man. He died during a crusade in Tunisia.

His heart (along with his liver and some other organs) was buried in Monreale Abbey following a funeral en route to France. These are preserved in a small chapel in the abbey cathedral. Few Sicilians - or French, for that matter - are aware of this, or the fact that more of the saint is preserved in Sicily than in France.

Originally, Louis' body, minus his heart, was placed into a tomb at Saint Denis outside Paris. During the Revolution most of the royal tombs, including his, were desecrated and their contents dispersed. Today all that remains in the tomb of Saint Louis in Saint Denis is a finger.

Strangely, the name Luigi (Louis) is quite rare in Sicily, where the saint is not widely venerated. The landscape of given names is dominated by Salvatores, Gaetanos, Calogeros, Claudios, Antonios and Giuseppes. Among women, Luigia and Luisa are not as popular as they once were. Perhaps they should be.

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