February 27: well worth a mass

2012/02/27 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1594 Henry IV was crowned King of France.

Henri-Quatre (1553-1610), was a Huguenot who (in-)famously changed teams from Calvinism to Catholicism to be eligible for the throne.  Even if he never really pronounced that Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”), he sure acted like it–but one wonders if he was thinking of the Paris he imagined, rather than the Paris that he inherited–which was very medieval and kind of beat up and by sixteenth-century standards of beauty, kind of dumpy.  Quatre set out to change that, and in five short years directed the construction of some of the city’s great chunks of urban furniture.  He built the Grande Galerie of the Louvre, which stretches only 1200-feet (or, in French measure, 554 baguettes) along the Seine, but the view inside the barrel-vaulted galleries looks to be ten times that length.  He built the Pont Neuf, a beefy yet elegant composition of segmental arches and semi-circular projections that was later ornamented by a fine equestrian sculpture of Henri commissioned by his second wife Marie de Medici from Giambologna–showing that Mrs. Quatre had super-awesome taste, too.  He directed the planning of two fine squares that set the standard for such urban spaces in Paris (and elsewhere), most importantly the Place Royale (renamed Place des Vosges in 1800), the capital’s first planned square (and actually a square square, 460 feet on a side).

No one could deny the king’s devotion to his city, although his dedication to worshipping God in a particular manner remained a problem for him til the end of his days–indeed, it was the cause of the end of his days.  As a converted Catholic, in 1598 he enacted the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious freedom of Protestants.  Twelve years later a religious fanatic who thought Henri was going to wage war on the pope attacked him in his carriage, stabbing him to death.

image: Place Royale (by Clio)

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