Patroness of Widows - Brides -- Young Girls - the Poor
The following is an excerpt of a chapter in Bob and Penny Lord’s book
Saints, Maligned, Misunderstood and Mistreated.
This is the story of a precious child of God, who was born into royalty, yet never used or abused it. It is the story of a great woman, a daughter, a wife, a widow, a benefactress of the poor, a glowing example of a soul endeavoring to love her Lord more purely, yet faithful to her calling as wife and mother. As the story of her life unfolds, you will see, in addition to the titles attributed to her above, we could add these below to the number: Patroness of bakers, beggars, charitable societies, charitable workers, countesses, parents who have lost children to death, the innocent who are falsely accused, homeless people, hospitals, those having problems with in-laws, nursing homes, people in exile, the faithful persecuted for their love of Mother Church, Sisters of Mercy, Tertiaries (Third Order), and on and on. Quite a rich list for one whose life would be snuffed out at the young age of twenty-four!
She lived at a time when the Lord blessed His children with a wealth of Saints, including St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, St. Dominic Guzman, St. Bonaventure, Blessed Angela of Foligno and many others, whose contributions were powerful weapons of the Lord to defend the Church of the Middle Ages.
Anthology of a future Saint
In the year 1207, a baby girl was born to Andrew II, King of Hungary and his wife Gertrude, of the Counts of Andechs-Meran. They named her Elizabeth. She was a precious bundle of joy not only to her parents, but to her brother as well. At her birth, it was predicted to Hermann, the Landgrave of Thuringia (Germany) that a child was born to the King and Queen of Hungary. It was told to him that she would be a very holy girl, and should become the wife of Hermann's son, of the same name. Elizabeth was born into a time where it was not uncommon for marriages to be arranged between royal families of different principalities. This was usually done in an effort to solidify their lands, and by a coalition to add new lands to their domains. In addition, it was a form of protection against other powers who would like to take over by force, these little principalities.
By the time Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was four years old, her marriage was sealed with the young Prince Hermann of Thuringia. She was even taken to the court of her future husband to be brought up with him and to learn the customs and niceties of his people. You must remember that although she was a very spiritual girl, she was only a little person. She was obedient, some would say to a fault, but not in those days. While our women of today would think that a match made by the heads of two families for the sole purpose of power and politics would be unthinkable, and we're not suggesting they're wrong, it's the way things were done at that time. And so whatever her parents or the parents of her betrothed felt was to be, had to be.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is sent to her future husband's court.
She never behaved other than who she was, this beautiful flower of the Lord. Her demeanor was perfect; we can't say the same for the people with whom she had to associate in the court of Thuringia. They treated her terribly, possibly because of jealousy that she was going to marry the Landgrave's son, or perhaps just because she was so nice. Many people can't handle nice people. Landgravine Sophia, who would become her mother-in-law, embraced the child at first. However, some of Elizabeth's piety rubbed Sofia and her daughter the wrong way. There were many reverent gestures which St. Elizabeth performed in the normal course of her religious life which upset Sofia and her daughter.
One example was when they would enter the chapel. Elizabeth would remove her coronet; the others would leave them on. When questioned about this, Elizabeth said that she could not bear wearing a coronet adorned with jewels, in the presence of Jesus who was crowned with thorns. The noble family's feathers were ruffled at what they considered the child claiming false piety. Their suggested remedy was to send the girl to a convent, rather than having her stay at court. This is how it began, and through little things that continued to irk the family, they wanted her out.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungaryhad one friend at the castle at Thuringia, Ludwig, the second-oldest son of Landgrave Hermann. He was very kind to Elizabeth. When he would return from a trip, he always brought her little gifts, all of which she loved, especially the Rosaries he brought for her. It was very obvious to all that they cared for each other. Elizabeth went into deep sorrow upon learning just two years after having left her home, that her mother had died, murdered as part of the political situation at home. It was thought that she was killed by Hungarian nobility, who hated her for her ties with the Germans. This had the effect of devastating the child, who felt all alone, save for her friend, Ludwig.
To make matters worse, three years later, her betrothed, Hermann, son of Landgrave Hermann, died. She was all of nine years old. All her enemies in court took this as a perfect excuse to get her thrown out of the country. They accused her of all kinds of things, but most importantly, she was not one of them, and now that the reason she had been brought to the court was gone, the prince having died, there was no justification for her to stay. However, what they didn't count on was the younger brother, Ludwig, who had fallen in love with this beautiful child. They also did not consider that nothing had changed in Landgrave Hermann's need for an alliance with the father of Elizabeth, the King of Hungary. Elizabeth was betrothed to the second son, Ludwig, whom she really cared for. It was as if the Lord had planned that these two were destined to be one, even though there was a great difference in their ages, he being sixteen, and she only nine.
Another blow to the family and the marriage proposal took place the following year. Landgrave Hermann had great difficulties trying to put through his great political plans in an effort to build a kingdom, or at least protect what he had. He made enemies in the Church, and was finally excommunicated. This was a shock to his whole family, who were very close to the Church, especially his daughter-in-law to be, Elizabeth, who was totally committed to the Church as was her husband-to-be. Landgrave Hermann lost his mind, and died in 1217, never having made amends with the Church.
A Fairy Tale Romance
The good thing that came about was that his son and Elizabeth's betrothed, Ludwig, became the Landgrave of Thuringia. He was well-respected by other principalities, especially in areas where his father had not been, and so he was given more and more titles and positions of importance.
It was against this background that Ludwig IV and Elizabeth were married in 1221, he being twenty one, and she fourteen. This took place amidst a great deal of controversy. The people in the court still didn't want her to be a Thuringian countess, no matter how much Ludwig loved her. He fought them vehemently. He is quoted as having said in her defense, "I would rather cast away a mountain of gold than give her up."
It was truly a marriage made in Heaven. The lovely couple lived an exemplary life, not only as husband and wife, but as rulers of their country. She was a benevolent ruler, caring more for the welfare of her subjects than for her own well-being. He was truly a Saint of a man. To this day, the Germans call him St. Ludwig, not only for being married to a Saint, but as an acclaim to having been one of the best men of his time. They are described as being the perfect couple, not only in spirituality and temperament, but also in their physical appearance. She is said to have been "perfect in body, handsome, of a dark complexion; serious in her ways, and modest, of kindly speech, fervent in prayer and most generous to the poor, always full of goodness and divine love." They don't go to such lengths in describing Ludwig, other than he "was handsome and modest as a young maid, wise, patient and truthful, trusted by his men and loved by his people."
They led a glorious life. Theirs was truly a story-book marriage. They had eyes only for each other. True, they were both beautiful people. But remember, he was becoming more and more important as right hand man to the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. People, women in particular, looked on him as a great catch. But he saw no one other than his beloved, his Elizabeth. And she saw no one but him.
Six glorious years of marriage
We have to take a moment out here to talk about the death of Elizabeth's husband, and its effect on her and her life. Elizabeth and Ludwig were extremely in love. In addition to their early years of courtship, as children really, and four years of betrothal, they shared six glorious years of marriage together. It was a fairy-tale romance, he being the prince and then ruler of their little country, and she being the benevolent, and very loving countess, or consort. They did everything together, wherever possible. Because he became more and more trusted by high ranking members of the nobility, he was called upon to take on responsibilities which took him away from their home. She understood this, but grieved all the time they were apart.
Her husband adored her. She could do no wrong as far as he was concerned. Very often, while he was out of the country, she had to take matters into her own hands. As we said, she cared more for others than herself. This was evidenced on many occasions, but one in particular took place when a great famine threatened that area of Germany. Ludwig was away, handling matters of state for Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. Elizabeth depleted most of their own assets, including their entire stock of corn. She fed the poor, aided the sick, built a hospital, then another; she was just completely at the service of her people.
The members of his household and the court couldn't wait for Landgrave Ludwig to return, so they could complain bitterly against her, saying she was frivolous, and caring more about the commoner than the nobility of the country. He never bothered to investigate the claims. After ascertaining that no one was left out of her generosity, he said "Her charities will bring us Divine blessings." That was truly a prophecy which came true.
SaintElizabeth of Hungary actually tickled her husband. While she was a perfect consort, she was such a free soul, such a beautiful child of God, he couldn't help but enjoy everything she did.
We tell you this about them and their life together just to bring a point across. You must know how much they meant to each other if you are to understand how devastated she became when she received news of his death. They were each other's next sentence, next thought, next breath. They were each other's life.
When she fully understood what had happened, she lost control completely for a time. She ran all over the castle, shrieking as if she had lost her mind. She cried out: "The world is dead to me, and all that was joyous in the world."
a time of trial and tribulation
When Ludwig had gone off to war, Elizabeth had put on clothes of a widow. She had promised not to take them off until he came home. Now, she wept bitterly and said, "If my husband be dead, I promise to die henceforth to myself, and to the world and all its vanities." While we don't believe the Lord caused what happened next to her, we believe He may have let loose the powers of hell which had been building up against her for years, but were held in check because of her husband's power. Her enemies were bound and determined to get her out of the royal court, and to strip her of her title.
They were able to use all of her corporal works of mercy against her. While we consider what she did for the starving people of Germany as a noble act, she was accused of squandering the country's revenue. Now her husband was not there to protect her, and so all the good things she had done were twisted and became bad things. Her brother-in-law, Prince Henry, took over the reins of the country at the death of his brother, and promptly threw her, the children and two of her loyal attendants out of the castle in the dead of winter, without anything, no money, no clothes, not even a stick of furniture.
It was a complete shock, even to some of those who had advocated her removal. It was one thing to do it. It was another thing to do it so quickly, and so brutally. But at any rate, it was done. It was what everyone at court had wanted from the time she was a child. They were finally giving her what they thought she deserved. There was such an outpouring of anger against this child and her family, it was impossible to conceive. She was only twenty years old. It was the beginning of four years of suffering.
From the day she was thrown out of the castle, she was to know rejection from the ones whom she had helped, and was to see the hatred that had been covered over with cosmetics for so many years. Her first night out, she had to take refuge in one room in a poor person's inn. The next night, a priest, who could not believe how low she had gone, took pity on her and her family and attendants, and gave her shelter. She never said a word in her defense against what was happening to her. To the contrary, she praised God in all things for the gift of suffering. Her only regrets were what was happening to her children. Though she felt it was good to reject things of the world, this was not the way she wanted it for them.
So that when her aunt, who was the abbess of a monastery in the diocese of Wurzburg, heard of her plight, she suggested that Elizabeth appeal to her uncle, the Bishop of Bamberg for aid. He immediately offered them a home in his diocese - her and her family. This uncle was a very powerful man, who was also very influential. He suggested to Elizabeth that in view of her youth and beauty, and her position in society, (remember, she was a princess in Hungary), that she remarry. She refused, explaining to her uncle the vow she and her husband had taken never to remarry, just before he left for the Crusades.
It was just about this time that the remains of her husband were being brought back from Otranto, Italy, where he died. His was truly a royal ceremony, as his coffin was escorted by royalty in every country it traveled through. There were royal guards to accompany his body, and as the cortege passed from one country to another, the sovereign of the country being entered took over. This continued until the body reached the diocese of Bamburg, where the bishop, uncle of St. Elizabeth, went out to meet the convoy. He brought the body into the Cathedral, and there, our Saint was reunited with her beloved husband. At first, she found herself reliving the pain and anguish she had first felt upon receiving news of his death. She went to pieces. She wept deep agonizing cries, from the pit of her stomach. But then, realizing she had to be strong for him, and for their children, she withheld her emotions and remained stalwart throughout.
The Bishop used the great honor being shown the head of the House of Thuringia to appeal to the brother-in-law, Henry, to end the outrageous treatment he had subjected his brother's wife and children to, and restore her back to her previous position in the court. Various knights and princes who had accompanied Landgrave Ludwig appealed to his younger brother, Henry, to stop this scandalous conduct towards Elizabeth. The Lord must have touched his heart, or the spirit of his brother, considered by all to be a Saint, whispered into his ear, or the pressure exerted by all the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire, and he relented of his former disgraceful behavior, and reinstated her income and properties to her. At first, she didn't want to accept the money or lands, but her spiritual director felt she should be in control of her finances, so that she could give her money to any cause she felt worthy, and so she did maintain control, only to give the money away to the poor as she wished. And so, that part of her plight had ended.
Four years of suffering
However, she was just beginning to experience what would become a purging of her soul for the remainder of her short life. While her husband was still alive, and through the recommendation of the Pope at the time, Gregory IX, she was given a Spiritual Director, Conrad of Marburg, who, while he was a very pious man, was also a very stern disciplinarian. His background would seem a little strange for such a delicate task. Prior to taking over as her Spiritual Director and confessor, he had been an inquisitor of heretics. He truly loved Elizabeth's soul, and knew the Lord had great plans for her, but that she was overpowered by materialism in her position as Landgravine, and had been all her life as the Princess of Hungary. There are those who felt that this man had not been a good choice for her Spiritual Director, he being so forceful and she being so gentle. Whatever the case, the Lord was in charge, and in spite of, or because of her austere lifestyle for the next four years, she is a powerful Saint today.
He began a program of stripping Elizabeth of all that she had known, material possessions which had never been considered luxurious by her or her family, but according to certain poorer classes in the world, would have been looked upon as almost sinful. She had never taken herself seriously. She never cared about the splendor surrounding her. There was a time, long before Conrad came into her life when she would feed the poor and hungry and physically take care of the sick at the hospitals she opened at the foot of the castle in Marburg. Actually, she had become a third order Franciscan when the Franciscans first came to Germany in 1221. She was vested in the harsh, rough wool of the Franciscan habit, which she was not allowed to wear except on special occasions. At that time, she also had a confessor and Spiritual Director from the Franciscans, Friar Rodeger, one of the first Germans who joined the Franciscan community.
So the fact of the matter is, she had already begun to dress down, almost to the point of a peasant, when her husband was out of town, or when she was not needed for any matters of state. And so she dressed as one who worked with the poor and sick. But she always made sure that she was ready and available for when her husband needed her to be his noble lady.
Except for one time. This is recorded as only one of the Angelic intercessions on her behalf when she might have gotten into trouble. The story goes that on this particular occasion, she was working diligently at her hospital for the poor, so deeply involved was she that time got away from her. Suddenly she realized that she was supposed to be in royal garb at the castle with her husband, entertaining guests of great importance to him and the kingdom. She ran to the castle, still dressed in her plain wool dress, which she used when she worked with the poor. There was no time to change. She had to be at the right side of her husband. So she prayed all the way to the main ballroom where he was with his guests. As she approached, Angels came down from Heaven with the most exquisite gown and tiara, slippers and the like, and actually dressed her as she kept moving towards her husband. When she finally arrived by his side, she was a picture of majesty. No one could imagine where she got the material for the exquisite gown and headdress, slippers and the accessories that she wore. Only she, the Angels, and Our Lord Jesus knew.
However, when Conrad of Marburg took over as her confessor and Spiritual Director, he immediately began to strip her of her possessions, while never taking away her ability to handle her own money or possessions. She left the court of Thuringia and settled into a small house for her and two attendants until a proper house could be built for her at the edge of her husband's lands, far from the center of noble activity. With the exception of being out of touch with the poor people at her hospitals, this was good for her. She preferred the quiet time, away from all that she had disliked in court.
We can't say for sure if the life imposed on her by Master Conrad was the cause of an early death for Elizabeth, or if she chose that life for herself, especially after the death of her beloved. We do know that in a short period of time, four years after the death of her husband, St. Elizabeth went up to Heaven. Her life to that point was exemplary. She spent all her time with the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. They had always been very important in her life; now they became the focal point of her whole life. The only thing she may have neglected was, to quote St. Francis of Assisi, "Sister Ass" (her body). Whenever she was not taking care of the poor, she was on her spinning wheel, making cloth for the Franciscans, rough, scratchy, itchy wool, to remind all who wore it that it was a gift from God, and to remind all when they itched, that it was made and given with love.
She ate very little, and whatever she did eat was plain, tasteless. But that didn't just happen towards the end of her life. She was that way when her husband was alive. She also maintained a rigorous prayer life. Because she occupied herself with constant communication with God through prayer, she would go into ecstasies and rapture. There are times when she would just get lost with her God in a place where no one could follow. She was halfway between Heaven and earth. So much so that it had been reported that when she came out of any given ecstasy, she radiated; she glowed; she reminded Master Conrad of Moses coming down off the mountain. She was also a powerful intercessor for the conversion of sinners. There are many accounts of conversions of hardened sinners through the works of St. Elizabeth.
An Explosion of Grace
This dear Flower of God reminds us very much of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Her greatest work began after her death. St. Elizabeth was given a word from above regarding when she would die. She kept working up to the end of her life. She could not leave her loved ones, her sick and poor alone. So she continued. However, just a few days before her death, she couldn't continue; she had to be put to the bed.
According to a letter by Master Conrad, she wanted everything distributed to the poor after her death. . When all this had been decided, she received the Body of Our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died."
Our Lord Jesus came for His precious child on the evening of November 17, 1231. Did her dear husband come with Jesus to bring his bride, his princess, home, to where they would never be separated again? It had not been that long by man's standards, but by this dear couple's measure, it could have been a series of lifetimes. We know she had to be happy in Heaven with her husband, with all of her sick who had passed away during her time on earth. The reason we know this has to be so is the amount of work she continued to do from Heaven. She was reminiscent of the prophecy made by St. Thérèse of Lisieux on her deathbed: "I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth: yes, I will come down; I will come back."
She was treated as royalty by all Germany, and probably many other countries on her death. Keep in mind, she was a princess in her own right, and she was married to the Landgrave, or Prince of Thuringia, who was also considered a Saint by the German people. Her body lay in state at the chapel of the hospital she had founded in Marburg. Miraculous healings began to take place immediately upon the body being placed there. The Archbishop of Mentz, in which Thuringia was a part, had examinations made of all those who claimed miraculous healings, and there were very many! He forwarded his findings on to Pope Gregory IX. The Pope knew of the holiness of this girl. He had chosen Master Conrad as her Spiritual Director, and had received reports over the years that the priest was in that position.
But he took four years before he proclaimed her a Saint in 1235. Remember, this was at a time when St. Anthony of Padua was proclaimed a Saint one year after his death (1232), and St. Francis of Assisi was proclaimed a Saint two years after his death (1228) by the same Pope, Gregory IX. But he could not take a chance of anyone accusing him of playing favorites to the Saint herself, having known her personally, or Emperor Frederic, so prudence was the key in waiting those four years.
But all the time the Church was waiting to proclaim Elizabeth a member of the Communion of Saints, miracles continued to happen. Records were kept by Master Conrad, the Archbishop of Mentz and Montanus. We're just going to mention the ones we found in Butler's Lives of the Saints.
"Many instances are mentioned by Montanus and by the Archbishop of Mentz, and the confessor Conrad, of persons afflicted with palsies, and other inveterate diseases, who recovered their health at her tomb, or by invoking her intercession; "...of a boy three years old, dead, cold, and stiff a whole night, raised to life the next morning by a pious grandmother praying to God through the intercession of St. Elizabeth, with a vow of alms to her hospital, and of dedicating the child to the divine service attested in every circumstance by the depositions of the mother, father, grandmother, uncle, and others, recorded by Conrad:
"...of a boy drawn out of a well, dead, and stiff for many hours, just going to be carried to burial, raised by the invocation of St. Elizabeth;
"of a youth drowned, restored by the life prayer;
"of a boy drawn out of a well, dead, black and etc. and a child still-born brought to life;
"others cured of palsies, failing-sickness, fevers, madness, lameness, blindness," and on and on.
When word got back to the Archbishop of Metz that the Canonization was going to take place in 1235, he went with all haste to Thuringia to supervise the proper Shrine for this Saint of royalty. Everybody from all over Europe came to the Canonization, which took place on Whit-Sunday.
Her relics were transported from her tomb to a grand Shrine at the hospital, named St. Elizabeth after our Saint. The Emperor was there to take the first stone from her grave and place it on her Shrine, and then placed a crown of gold on her Shrine. The assembled dignitaries included cardinals, bishops, priests, kings, princes, and of course, her favorite, the poor and destitute. It was estimated that there were over 200,000 people in attendance for the ceremony. Her relics were placed in a rich red case, and put on the altar of the church in the hospital. A Cistercian monk testified that just prior to the translation of the relics, as he was praying at her tomb, he was cured of a palpitation of the heart which he had suffered for forty years. It just went on and on. She is one of the greatest intercessors in Germany.
But that's not the end of the story.
Or at least we don't think it is. We believe Our Lord Jesus has prepared a mansion for Elizabeth and Ludwig in Heaven. We believe she's just as free-spirited as she was on earth, or even more so, and she's probably got everyone in Heaven working overtime to help the poor, the sick, the destitute, and all those categories of people we gave her credit as being benefactress for. Only now, she's not alone. Her dear husband has all the time in the world to help her in her quest for the glory of God's people. And their honeymoon continues. We truly believe that the Fairy Tale Romance of Elizabeth and Ludwig, has all the Angels and Saints in Heaven sighing, that they are just so beautiful and so in love. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Why not? Praise God!
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
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in medieval Germany, the title of certain German Princes.
Thuringia was a large part of central Germany. It was a strategic location for anyone who wanted to get or maintain a strong position in the area.
Butler's Lives of the Saints
Butler's Lives of the Saints
Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church - Bob & Penny Lord
James Montanus of Spire, an early biographer of St. Elizabeth
Harmony Media copyright 1997
Whit Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. The origin is unclear. There are those who believe it comes from Old English, whit, meaning Spirit, or from the word white because those are the vestments for that day.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
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