26 Feb Blessed Isabella of France, Abbess
Today is the feast day of Blessed Isabella of France. Ora pro nobis.
Blessed Isabella was the daughter of King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche of Castile. Isabelle was born in 1225. At less than two years of age, she lost her father, but her mother gave her a complete formation, assisted by the virtuous and well-educated Lady de Boisemont. From an early age, Isabelle showed an aversion for everything that could remove her from God, and later decided to dedicate her life to His service. (3)
Isabella was endowed with remarkable gifts, and special attention was paid to educate her in the requirements of her high position. She knew Latin perfectly and could read the writings of the Gathers of the Church in that language. She was, however, no less capable in accomplishments that are peculiarly feminine. With consummate artistry she embroidered vestments for divine services, and took great pleasure in working for the poor and the sick.
The princess loved and honored her saintly brother Louis, who was her senior by ten years and had then been king for many a year. But her love for God was still greater. One day she was knitting a new-fashioned nightcap. The king asked her to give it to him when finished.
“No,” she said, “this is the first of its kind and I must make it for my Savior Jesus Christ.”
Accordingly, she gave it to a poor sick person, and then made another for the king. (1)
Louis, her brother, and her mother Blanche of Castile pressed her to marry Conrad, the son of the Emperor Frederic II because the union would be advantageous to France, but Isabelle adamantly refused. A letter from Pope Innocent IV settled the matter: he commended her resolution and advised her to persevere in her decision.
Thenceforth, she began to live in the royal castle a life similar to that of a religious in a cloister, dedicating herself principally to helping the sick and the poor. God sent her many trials: long and grave illnesses, the death of her mother, her brother’s failure in the Crusade and his imprisonment by the Arabs. After he was freed from captivity and had returned, Isabelle left the royal castle and founded a Franciscan house for young women in Longchamp. Later she founded the Convent of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin, of which she became the Abbess. (3)
After a life of mortification and virtue, Isabella died in her house at Longchamp on 23 February, 1270, and was buried in the convent church. After nine days her body was exhumed, when it showed no signs of decay, and many miracles were wrought at her grave. In 1521 Leo X allowed the Abbey of Longchamp to celebrate her feast with a special Office. On 4 June, 1637, a second exhumation took place. On 25 January, 1688, the nuns obtained permission to celebrate her feast with an octave, and in 1696 the celebration of the feast on 31 August was permitted to the whole Franciscan Order. They now keep it on 1 September. The history of the Abbey of Longchamp had many vicissitudes. The Revolution closed it, and in 1794 the empty and dilapidated building was offered for sale, but as no one wished to purchase it, it was destroyed. In 1857 the walls were pulled down except one tower, and the grounds were added to the Bois de Boulogne. (4)
She was beatified on January 3, 1521 by Pope Leo X. (3)
Image: Blessed Isabel of France, copy after the gothic original. Porch of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris.
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff