The Apotheosis of St. Louis stands tall on Art Hill in front of the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Forest Park is home to many other statues, including St. Francis and Thomas Jefferson, and it previously included the Confederate monument before it was removed in 2017. These statues represent symbols and people that hold great influence in the history of St. Louis and the United States. Before the construction of the Gateway Arch in 1965, the Apotheosis was the symbol of St. Louis. It stood in front of the 1904 World’s Fair that was held in St. Louis. The statue of St. Louis is an important symbol of modern Christianity, the religious Crusades of the medieval church, and the strength, spirit and liveliness of the city. This made us question how King Louis IX of France became an important figure and landmark in the city of St. Louis.
King Louis IX served as the King of France; making major reforms in French government, putting an emphasis over Catholic devotion, and participating in two major Crusades. While his time in battle and violence in the Crusades may cause some controversial opinions of his rulership, he can still be recognized for his emphasis on caring for his commoners. He was extremely hands-on and was never too noble to get involved. For example, he visited hospitals and even sometimes emptied bedpans. He was raised in a very religious household and he truly lived out his faith through actions. In a letter written to his eldest son, King Louis included information and advice on how to live a faithful life. This letter is a primary example of how strong and important his faith was in his life and the lives of those around him. Louis’s letter starts by saying, “the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole heart upon God, and love Him with all your strength, for without this no one can be saved or be of any worth” (King Louis IX). King Louis was a prime example of living this advice out in his own life.
A significant way that Louis lived out his faith was through his leadership in the Crusades. His first Crusade resulted in failure but instead of giving into his despair and loss, he persevered and worked harder to spread Christianity. Furthermore, the king was known for his humility and dedication when doing charity and good works. He spent time with the poor and instead of people serving him, he served others and even washed the feet of beggars. He had a special concern for widows and the poor just as Jesus teaches. King Louis IX’s actions served as a foundation and example for future religious leaders. Many people, like Louis, during the medieval theology time period served as a basis for future exploration in theology. Twenty-two years after his first attempted crusade, he decided to lead another. This one was in northern Africa, but disease quickly spread through the camps leaving Louis ill On his deathbed, he kept whispering “Jerusalem,” the city that he was never able to win over. King Louis IX quickly gained a reputation as the most Christian ruler due to his selfless actions as a king.
The original plaster model of the statue was cast in 1903 by the artist Charles H. Niehaus. After the World’s Fair, as part of the restoration of Forest Park, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company had the sculpture cast in bronze. The statue standing in Forest Park today is this replica of the original statue. The statue depicts the Crusader King Louis IX as he sits on top of his horse, going into battle with an inverted sword symbolizing a cross.
While the statue was given as a gift to the city of St. Louis, it's donation was not the actual intent of the artist. The cast, created by Niehaus, was originally not created for the donation itself. When the statue was made, Niehaus sued The Louisiana Exposition Company for using his work. Unfortunately, Niehaus lost the lawsuit and did not get ownership rights back. As compensation, the Company eventually inscribed his name on the pedestal so it would be recognized as his artwork. Along with this, he was gifted a very small monetary amount.
Despite the lawsuit regarding the statue’s creation, the statue was still donated. The bronze cast has become a signature of Saint Louis, especially of Forest Park. Now standing for over one hundred years, the forty-foot statue has become an official landmark of Saint Louis and state pride for many of the residents in Missouri, as many people tag the statue in many social media posts as people visit the statue in Forest Park.
Due to his kind and humble actions throughout the whole of his life, King Louis IX was named a saint, making him the only French king to become a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. This is part of what led the city of St. Louis to be named after him. When French Catholic immigrants settled in the territory, the French government dictated the Code Noire of 1724, which only allowed Catholics to cross and settle in the French territories of North America beyond the Mississippi River. Roman Catholicism became the most common religion in the region due to the heavy influence brought in from Europe. The town was officially named in April of 1764 as “Saint Louis” by Pierre Laclede, one of the founding members of the community. It was named in honor of the current French King, Louis XV, whose patron saint was the late Saint Louis IX. The city only grew under its religious influence, becoming the center point for growth of Catholicism in the Midwest. The Catholic Church helped build up the city through investments in hospitals and charity organizations. Even now, we can see the influence that memories of Saint Louis has had on the city.
The Apotheosis of St. Louis has gone through much over the course of its existence, from being vandalized with graffiti to going through multiple damages and robberies. A lot of work and repair has gone into the statue itself.
In May of 2017, the statue went through a $50,000 cleaning, a task only repeated every 20 years or so. Unfortunately, the base of the statue was covered in a message saying, “BE the Light” with a doodle of a sun in red spray paint facing the St. Louis Art Museum the week following the cleaning. After being reported in the early morning, St. Louis Parks Department removed it later that afternoon, restoring it back to its previous state.
This is not the only trauma the statue has gone through. The sword that is carried by St. Louis has been broken or stolen in 1970, 1972, 1977, and the latest being in 1981. Fortunately, the sword has been successfully replaced soon after each incident.
The Apotheosis of St. Louis was the standing symbol of St. Louis, and still continues to be seen as a symbol today. On cars of Park Rangers throughout the city of St. Louis, you can find a combination of the Gateway Arch and the Apotheosis of St. Louis on the doors, showing two major symbols of the city of St. Louis.
King Louis IX of France became an important figure and landmark in the city of St. Louis through his Catholic background and unique leadership style during his reign. Residents of city and state are able to recognize his role in the Catholic faith and appreciate all he has contributed to the history of St. Louis. Now standing for over 100 years, the Apotheosis of St. Louis will continue to be a symbol of the city of St. Louis and leadership for years to come.
Researched and written by Angela Abraham, Maddie Cavenaugh, Stephanie Lysy, Daria Maliesky, and Rachel Wilhelm.
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