The baptism of St. Louis Martin in St. Eulalie's Church, Bordeaux on October 28, 1823
Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, the first spouses canonized as a couple, prefigured the realization of the universal call to holiness given to all the faithful at baptism which was later recognized by the Second Vatican Council. Because Louis and Zelie were such prophetic figures in calling us to realize the significance of the sacrament of baptism, the holiness to which it calls us, and the graces it gives us, I have long wanted to learn more about the circumstances of their own baptisms. Lai Ping Cogoluegnes Kong, one of my readers, and her husband, Yves, made it possible for me to share the story of Louis's baptism with you. [See more about the contribution of Lai Ping and Yves in my story about how they recovered St. Louis Martin's birth certificate].
Louis Martin, the third child and second son of Captain Pierre-Francois Martin and Anne-Fanie Boureau, was born in his mother's lodgings in Bordeaux on August 22, 1823, while his father was fighting in Spain Because of the high rate of infant mortality, it happened often in the France of Louis's time that the essentials of baptism (the pouring of the water and the recitation of the formula "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit") were carried out privately at home immediately after the baby was born. This was the case with little Louis. It was no doubt considered too dangerous to postpone the necessary rite of baptism until Captain Martin"s return.
For children who had to be baptized without ceremony and without a priest, the Church offered the "complementary rites of baptism," when the parents and godparents would bring the baby, dressed in a white christening robe, to their parish church. Although the pouring of the water and the words of baptism were not repeated, the priest anointed the child and recited the prayers of baptism; the godparents assumed their positions; and the child's reception of the sacrament was entered in the parish records. These complementary rites were so frequent that it was common for them to be called simply "baptism." Indeed, the priest who conferred the complementary rites on Louis Martin wrote that he had "baptized" the child.
Madame Martin naturally wanted to wait for her husband’s return before completing the joyful celebration of little Louis’s baptism. But, because Captain Martin was participating in the long blockade of Lleida in Spain, no one could say when he would return. Fanie turned to the Abbe Martegoute, the prison chaplain of Bordeaux, who administered the complementary rites of baptism to Louis on October 28, 1823 at the church of Sainte Eulalie in Bordeaux. Father Martegoute conferred on the two-month-old baby boy the names “Louis-Joseph-Aloys-Stanislas.” His godfather, Léonce de Lamothe, and his godmother, Mlle. Ernestine Beyssac, both intimate friends of the family, were present with a few other close friends.
About 1903 the church was noticeably renovated. Below is a photo showing its appearance in the 19th century:
It happened that the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Mgr d'Aviau du Bois de Sanzay, was at St. Eulalie's Church that day. Encountering the party when the ceremony was complete, he said to them "Rejoice! This is a child of destiny."
Because Louis's actual baptism took place the day he was born, this font was not used when his mother, godparents, and friends gathered at St. Eulalie's for the completion of the ceremonies of the Church. Note the rose-colored stone, similar to the stone of the baptismal font at St. Pierre de Monsort in Alencon, where all the Martin daughters except Therese were baptized.
The stained-glass windows in the baptistry, directly above the font, depict Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The words below the window are the Latin for John's protest; "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?" (Matthew 3:14). Below, a photo of the mosaic underneath the window:
In 1925, at the time of St. Therese's canonization, the double stained-glass window shown above, depicting St. Louis and St. Therese being received by Pope Leo XIII, was installed in the baptistry of St. Eulalie's Church to commemorate the baptism of Louis Martin there in 1823. The incident in Rome, which is historical, took place on November 20, 1887.
This article is part three of a series about the birth and baptism of St. Louis Martin in Bordeaux. Read part four, "St. Louis Martin's Baptismal Certificate."