ST. LOUIS — The Archdiocese of St. Louis has released a statement in defense of the statue of King Louis IX that sits on Art Hill, amidst calls for it to be removed.
Louis IX is St. Louis' namesake and the only king of France to be canonized in the Catholic Church. A recent formal petition on change.org to get his statue taken down has gained more than 800 signatures. The same group also wants to rename the city.
A counterpetition, "Save the St. Louis statue in Forest Park and keep our name," has gained more than 2,000 signatures.
"For Catholics, St. Louis is an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ," the Archdiocese said in a Sunday statement. "For St. Louisans, he is a model for how we should care for our fellow citizen, and a namesake with whom we should be proud to identify."
In recent weeks, statues and monuments have come down across the U.S. as the history of those figures comes under increased scrutiny.
The petition to remove Louis IX's statue noted that he persecuted Jewish and Muslim people during his time as King of France.
"St. Louis has a large and vibrant Jewish and Muslim community," the petition page said, "and it's an outright disrespect for those who are part of these faith communities to have to live in a city named after a man committed to the murder of their co religionists."
The Archdiocese said that while it is encouraged by calls for change, it believes the energy of that change should be focused on programs and policies that will dismantle racism and promote equity for everyone.
"We should not seek to erase history, but recognize and learn from it, while working to create new opportunities for our brothers and sisters," the Archdiocese said.
On Saturday, at least two groups rallied around the statue of King Louis IX to protest. Some called for the statue's removal, while others wanted it to remain.
Here is the Archdiocese's full statement:
"The history of the statue of St. Louis, the King is one founded in piety and reverence before God, and for non-believers, respect for one’s neighbor. The reforms that St. Louis implemented in French government focused on impartial justice, protecting the rights of his subjects, steep penalties for royal officials abusing power, and a series of initiatives to help the poor.
"King Louis IX’s renowned work in charity helped elevate him to Sainthood. His daily suppers were shared with numerous beggars, whom he invited to the royal table. On many evenings, he would not let them leave before he washed their feet. He personally paid to feed more than 100 poor Parisians every day. His care for the sick was equally moving; St. Louis frequently ministered to lepers. He also created a number of hospitals, including one for the blind and another for ex-prostitutes.
"For Catholics, St. Louis is an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ. For St. Louisans, he is a model for how we should care for our fellow citizen, and a namesake with whom we should be proud to identify. The sword on his statue is not raised for warfare, but rather is held with the blade down—a symbol of peace. In his recent statement on Racism, Justice and Peace, Archbishop Carlson said, in part:
"'…Scripture tells us to turn our swords into plow shares. Let us turn our guns into metal. May that metal someday be the statue in our community that stands as a reminder that here, in the Greater St. Louis Region, we chose justice so that there would be peace…'
- Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson
Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of St. Louis
"Peace is what St. Louisans hoped for in the new twentieth century when they erected the statue of St. Louis the King—and peace is what St. Louisans still strive toward in this century.
"The Archdiocese of St. Louis is encouraged by the winds of change that are at hand, but believes that this energy of change should be focused on programs and policies that will dismantle racism and create a more equal society for all races and religions. As Catholics, we believe that each person—no matter their race, religion, background or belief—is created in the image and likeness of God. As such, all should be treated with love, respect and dignity. We should not seek to erase history, but recognize and learn from it, while working to create new opportunities for our brothers and sisters."