On June 9, 1660, King Louis XIV – the future “The Sun King” – married a Spanish princess, Maria-Theresa of Austria. The royal wedding in Saint Jean de Luz was part of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, a peace agreement between the kingdoms of France and Spain, aiming to put an end to decades of fighting.
Louis XIV made a triumphal entrance into Saint Jean de Luz in May 1660, weeks before the wedding took place. Maria Theresa arrived a few weeks later, and joined her future mother-in-law, Anne of Austria, in a beautiful home reminiscent of Italian palaces, located by the town’s harbor.
The king stayed in the most opulent house in town, (it belonged to a wealthy sea merchant,) complete with towers and a corbeled façade. It is challenging to take a photo of the house in the summer months, as it overlooks the trees of place Louis XIV.
On June 9, 1660 the King, his Spanish princess and hundreds of French and foreign dignitaries headed over to nearby Saint John the Baptist church. The original building, erected over the centuries, had been destroyed several times by fires during repeated Spanish invasions. By the time the French King arrived into town in 1660, Saint Jean de Luz had turned into a prosperous town, thanks to the maritime trade, whale hunting and cod fishing.
The town had commissioned a new church, designed as early as 1649 by Louis de Milhet, an architect based in nearby Bayonne. The main goal was to double the size of the church to accommodate the growing population. Construction was not completed until 1680: Louis XIV and Maria-Theresa of Austria got married on a construction site! One year later, Louis – probably missing construction dust – tackled his most ambitious project: The construction of a magnificent palace in Versailles.
The church’s main entrance, featuring St John the Baptist, was not yet built when the wedding was celebrated. The actual door the French king and the congregation used that day was walled off years later. Today, a plaque marks the former entrance.
The church is striking. Some unique features include a single nave covered by a remarkable hull-shaped wood-paneled vault, three floors of oak balconies (one can picture the congregation watching the wedding from above!) and a golden altar piece featuring statues. The photos and video below provide a peek into this special place.
The organ is well-known and St John the Baptist church is a popular concert venue in southwestern France.
Notice the beautiful painted ship, an ex-voto, brought back from Newfoundland (where many Saint Jean de Luz sailors and merchants made their fortune) by a local family who donated it to the church in 1865. Its name: “A.S.M. L’IMPERATRICE EUGENIE” a tribute to Empress Eugenia, Napoleon III’s wife, who made her mark on this area.
I hope you have enjoyed joining the royal wedding in Saint Jean de Luz!
Live-streamed stroll in Saint Jean de Luz REPLAY
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