Above: St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY (JULY 7, 1207-NOVEMBER 17, 1231)
Princess of Hungary and Humanitarian
Also known as St. Elizabeth of Thuringia
St. Elizabeth of Hungary has three feast days. Since Advent 1969 her feast has fallen on November 17 in the Roman Catholic Church. The Book of Catholic Worship (1966), reflecting the calendar current that year, lists her feast day as November 19. Common Worship (The Church of England, 2000) lists her feast day as November 18. Her feast day in The Episcopal Church is November 19. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, 2006) and its predecessor, the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), list her feast day as November 17, however.
St. Elizabeth was royalty. Her father was Andrew II, King of Hungary (reigned 1205-1235). Her mother was Queen Gertrude of Merania (1185-1213), sister of St. Hedwig of Andechs/of Silesia (feast day = October 16), Duchess of Silesia (1201-1238) and of Greater Poland (1231-1238). St. Hedwig, who became a lay sister (without monastic vows) after her husband died, was extravagant in her generosity to the poor, especially widows, orphans, the ill, and lepers. She founded hospitals for them, in fact. Her generosity found an echo in the good works of her famous niece. St. Elizabeth, born at Pozsony, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia), on July 7, 1207, grew up (from the age of four years) in the court of Thuringia (now Hesse, Germany), where she prepared for an arranged marriage to the future Louis/Ludwig IV, Landgrave of Thuringia (reigned 1217-1227). They married in 1221; he was 20 years old; she was 14. The couple had three children:
- Hermann II (1222-1241; never reigned as landgrave);
- Sophie of Thuringia (1224-1275); and
- Gertrude (1227-1297), also known as Blessed Gertrude of Aldenberg, Abbess of Aldenberg from 1248 to 1297. Her feast day is August 13.
Louis/Ludwig, also known as Blessed Louis/Ludwig IV of Thuringia (feast day = September 11), died of fever in Italy in 1227, en route to join the Sixth Crusade (1228-1229). He was 26 years old. The Landgrave had approved of his wife’s extravagant generosity to the poor. She gave state robes to the poor, fed them from the royal granaries, spun wool cloth for clothing for them, sold her jewels to finance a hospital for the poor, and visited the patients daily. Certain relatives, however, objected strongly to such generosity. In 1228 she and her children left the court of Thuringia and moved to Marburg. She might have left involuntarily. (Sources disagree on that point.)
St. Elizabeth, as a widow (1227-1231), had a difficult life. She took monastic vows, including celibacy (which proved politically useful for her, preventing a loveless marriage) and obedience to her confessor, Konrad von Marburg (1180-1233), in the Third Order of Franciscans. Konrad was a cruel man, unfortunately. He, for example, ordered her beaten and commanded her to send her children away. She did, however, regain her dowry, which she used to help the poor. One of the ways she did this was to finance a hospital for the poor at Marburg.
St. Elizabeth died at Marburg on November 17, 1231. She was 24 years old. Pope Gregory IX canonized her in 1235.
May we find the most effective way to help those vulnerable people to whom God sends us and whom God sends to us. Not all of us can afford to finance hospitals, for example, but we can do something, even if it is just to donate food to a local food bank.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 6, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Almighty God, by your grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary
recognized and honored Jesus in the poor of this world:
Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble,
in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 689