Your RDA of Irony

Medieval Career Counseling

September 1st:  the California zoning commission in 1772

It must have been at least two weeks since Father Junipero Serra had built a mission in the territory of California and, with some 15,000 saints in the Church calendar, he was falling behind schedule.  On this day in 1772, Father Serra founded the mission of St. Luis Obispo

Of course, you expect me to divulge exactly who Luis Obispo was, and why was he so saintly.  I won’t disappoint you.  First, Luis Obispo (1274-1297) was not really Luis, and he was not Senor Obispo either.  In fact, he was a Louis and he didn’t have a surname so much as a dynasty:  Capet.  The family business was ruling France, but Louis’ grandfather was a younger brother and relegated to being a mere Duc d’Anjou.  To his credit, the Duc did not attempt to bump off his older brother, the saintly Louis IX; instead he heard of a vacant throne and so attempted to make himself king of Southern Italy and Sicily. 

The Sicilians wouldn’t have him, and the Southern Italians were less than thrilled.  The Royal House of Aragon had extra sons, too, and they were fighting for the same territory.  If the House of Anjou hoped to maintain its precarious throne, every able-bodied male in the family was expected to fight.  Apparently, Louis did not pass the physical.  (Be fair: a full suit of armor would require considerable stamina.)  If a young aristocrat was too frail for war, he obviously would not be encouraged to breed, either:  so Louis was ordained for the Church. 

Of course, a scion of a royal line could forgo the drudgery of parish work: he would not be collecting bells for lepers or directing the student production of a morality play.  At the age of 20, Louis was already the Archbishop of Lyons.  It was  irrelevant that he had never attended a seminary or joined a religious order.  Neither had a number of Popes.  Fulfilling such laborious details were left to Louis’ discretion.     

But in 1295, a decision was forced upon Archbishop Louis.  His older brother had died and now Louis was the heir to the Kingdom of Naples.  Since he had yet to take Holy Orders, there was nothing to bar him from the succession.  Of course, he didn’t want the responsibility and the family preferred a more robust, younger son as the heir.  So Louis joined the Franciscans.  He certainly had no problem with the order’s chastity and obedience.  Louis could even rationalize the vow of poverty because an archbishop was poorer than a king.  

If Louis was no longer heir to a kingdom, as a prince of the Church he was inheriting archdioceses.  In 1297, he was appointed the Archbishop of Toulouse.  Administering both Lyons and Toulouse exhausted him; he was dead within six months.  Of course, he now was expected to represent the dynasty and French interests in Heaven.  If a sainthood would help his celestial status, that could easily be arranged.  Pope Clement V (born Raymond Bertrand de Got–quel coincidence) proposed Louis’ sainthood  in 1307 , and Pope John XXII (Jacques Dueze, you are noticing a pattern) formally canonized him in 1317.  He was the second saint in the Capetian line.  His great-uncle was St. Louis the King, so he was revered as St. Louis the Bishop.  In Spanish, that would translate to San Luis Obispo.      

But why would Junipero Serra named a mission for San Luis Obispo?  Louis was a fellow Franciscan but there was a political motive as well.  Since 1701, the royal family of Spain was the Bourbons.  Yes, surplus French royalty was always looking for an empty throne, and Spain had one.  (They merely had to win the War of the Spanish Succession).  Madrid had basically given the Franciscans all of California to colonize and cultivate; good manners required at least one mission to be named for a French saint, and Louis the Bishop was a cousin of the Spanish Bourbons. 

Of course, if the Austrian Hapsburgs had won the War of the Spanish Succession, Father Serra would have named missions for Santa Hildegunde or the Madonna of the Lederhosen.  So California lucked out.

  1. Wimple says:

    All this is well and good, but where does the banana slug come in?

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      I think that you’d have a better explanation than I possibly could.

      Eugene

      • Wimple says:

        UC San Luis Obispo is well renowned as a “hippy college” – no structured grading system, relaxed atmosphere, and of course their mascot – the banana slug. I think the Archbishop, as you’ve described him, would have loved it there.

    • I think you’re confusing Santa Cruz with San Luis Obispo. The Banana Slug is the mascot of University of California Santa Cruz. Cal Poly is in SLO, which is about three very beautiful hours south of SC.

  2. Absolutely hilarious. I burst out in laughter half way through and couldn’t stop. GREAT WRITING!

    We seem to miss those sly french connections a lot, huh?

    I’d go with the madonna of the lederhosen, but I am biased. Thanks for sending.

    Elizabeth

  3. kathy says:

    hey hey hey ,more family history…whoo whoo bourbons…k

  4. Eugene,
    You are incorrigible. When did the church and the state get so cosy? Did it start with Constantine?’ Is it all about power and corruption?

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Hello Barbara,

      Constantine expected the Church to work for him. That was a slight miscalculation.

      As for the appeal and corrupting nature of power, you know Lord Acton’s aphorism. Did you realize that he was describing the Papacy?

      Eugene

  5. April says:

    Find the history of SLO naming quite interesting since my origins is not CA. Thank you for clarifying that the ‘Banana Slugs’ are from UCSC where I currently work as the Arts & Humanities Career Advisor.

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