Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

illustration of Saint Elizabeth and a Beggar, artist unknown; from 'Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Patroness of the Third Order', by Father Hilarion Duerk, OFM, 1919There is a little golden blossom growing on many of the heaths and mountain sides of Germany, which the peasants call “Elizabeth’s Flower,” in memory of the Saint who dwelt in their land long ago, the child of Andrew, the pious King of Hungary, and his Queen Gertrude.

These parents had been happy when God gave them this little daughter, but their joy increased as they heard her baby tongue first lisp the Names of Jesus and Mary, because they believed she would grow up to be a very holy servant of Christ.

Before Elizabeth was four years old, a rich prince asked her parents to promise her to his son Louis when she was of an age to marry, and, though they grieved to part with her, they granted this request, because they thought it was for her good, giving her into the care of this German landgrave, who, with many nobles and ladies in attendance journeyed with her into Thuringia, which was to be her home. The young Prince Louis was then eleven years of age, and from that time they were brought up together, calling each other by the names of brother and sister.

The good landgrave tried to make the little stranger child happy, and chose out some of the noblest girls of her own age belonging to his court for her companions, one of whom stayed with her nearly all her life. This friend was named “Guta,” and she has told a great deal about the Saint’s early days in Thuringia.

The little Elizabeth was very merry and fond of play, but she loved God so much that in the midst of her amusements she thought of Him, and often she would hop on one foot to the castle chapel with her young friends hopping after her, and even if she found the door fastened she would kiss it, and kiss the lock and the walls, for love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament Who dwelt there.

Before she was old enough to read, she would go to the altar steps, and putting a great, open psalter before her, folded her tiny hands reverently, thinking of God, and praying to Him. At other times she would persuade the children to go with her to the cemetery, and offer up prayers for the souls of those persons who had been buried there. If a child loves Jesus so much she becomes very sweet and gentle, and thus Elizabeth’s companions delighted to be with her, and they declared that the Holy Child Himself came frequently to play with her. She fixed upon certain prayers to say every day, but if anything kept her from finishing all, she would pray quietly to God, as she lay in bed, while others supposed her to be sleeping.

Elizabeth began, even as a young child, to practise giving up her will every day in little trifling things, so that she might be imitating Jesus, and getting ready to make larger sacrifices for Him when she grew older. In the midst of a game, when she was enjoying herself the most, she would atop, saying, “Now I am quite full of happiness – I will leave off for the love of God.”

And in dancing, which she liked so much, she would cease when she had made one turn, exclaiming, “That will do for the world; the rest I will give up for Jesus Christ.”

This gentle little Elizabeth had placed herself particularly under the protection of the Blessed Virgin; but she had so great a love for Saint John the Evangelist that she chose him for her patron saint, and remained faithful in her devotion to him until the end of her life. From her infancy, Elizabeth had felt an intense love for the poor, and a great desire to relieve them, and, as she grew older, she gave away all the money which was allowed her, and would go through the passages and kitchens of the castle, seeking the scraps of meat and bread which were cast aside by the servants, but received so gratefully by the half-starved beggars who came to ask alms at the gate.

Thus, in prayers, and amusements, and good works, the time passed, until Elizabeth was nine years old, and then a great sorrow happened to her. Since she had been in Thuringia she had heard of the death of her own mother – now the good landgrave, the father of her future husband, was taken from her to her very great grief, for he had loved her as dearly as if she had been his own child, snd after he died the landgravine and the other ladies of the court turned against the little Elizabeth, and treated her unkindly. All they complained of was the manner of life she led, her love of the poor, her desire for prayer; and they said she was unfit for a princess, and ought not to be the wife of Louis. But through all this, we are told that no angry or impatient words escaped her; the more harsh they were, so much the more did she fix her heart on God, whose love made up for all she suffered.

One year, upon the Feast of the Assumption, the landgravine desired Elizabeth and her own daughter Agnes to put on their richest dresses, and crowns of gold, and go with her to the large church in Eisenach to hear Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin. They obeyed, and accompanied her to the city, and into the church, where places had been specially prepared for them; but at the sight of the crucifix Elizabeth forgot the landgravine’s presence, and, taking off her golden crown, lay prostrate on the ground.

“What is this for, my Lady Elizabeth?” said the landgravine, angrily. “Cannot you behave better than an ill-brought-up child? Do you find your crown too heavy that you lie crouching there like a peasant girl?”

Then Elizabeth rose, and with great humility and sweetness answered, “Be not angry, dear lady. How can I wear gold and jewels when I see before me God my King adorned with sharp thorns? My crown would be a mockery of His!”

And she wept so bitterly, covering her eyes with the folds of her mantle, that the princesses could not help doing the same, and hiding their faces also, although in their hearts they were more than ever displeased with her.

But the dislike to Elizabeth grew with her growth, and some of the greatest counsellors urged the young landgrave to send her back to her father, while his mother would have wished to place her in a convent, so that she could never be his wife.

Elizabeth was often very sad when she heard such things said of her; she felt lonely in that foreign land away from her home, and without any father’s care; but God her Father in heaven had her in His keeping, and when she was most sorrowful she would kneel before her crucifix, and pour out her heart in prayer, and then, with fresh peace of mind, would return to her companions without a shadow upon her sweet face.

Although so much was done to make Louis dislike his future wife, he never ceased to love her, and when he returned home after his short absences he would bring her some little gift as a proof of his affection. Once, however, he omitted doing this, which caused Elizabeth some pain, and one of the young nobles who had come with her from Hungary spoke to Louis, asking him if he meant to break his word, and let her return home to her father. The landgrave sprang to his feet, declaring he would never give her up, that he loved her more because of the piety which all condemned, and very soon afterwards his marriage with Elizabeth took place at the Castle of Wartburg, when he was twenty, and she about thirteen years old.

Louis of Thuringia was worthy to be the husband of the Saint, for he also loved God above all things, and they lived very happily together; but her affection for him never caused her to neglect her prayer, or the works of charity she ha# practised before. Constantly in the cold winter nights she would rise to meditate upon the birth of Jesus in the chilly ^darkness of the stable at Bethlehem; she would go away from rich banquets having eaten nothing but dry bread, and yet, though she was hard with herself, she was so happy and had such a bright joyous countenance, that every one felt peace and comfort in her presence.

It pleased God in return for her faithful love to show some wonderful signs of His grace upon her. Once she was sitting down alone to a meal of bread and water, when Louis happened to come in quite unexpectedly, and raising his wife’s cup to his lips, he found it full of a richer wine than he had ever before tasted. He asked the steward from whence he had drawn it, but when he heard that Elizabeth’s cup was never filled with anything but water, Louis said no more, for he saw now that it was the work of Almighty God in blessing for the love she gave to Him and His poor.

Although the dear Saint’s gifts to the flick and suffering were so constant, she also waited upon them and visited them herself, no matter how keen the wind, or how rough and steep the road which led to their dwellings. She also obtained the landgrave’s permission to build a hospital half-way upon the rock where the castle stood, so * that about twenty-eight sick people might be received there who were too weak to climb up the hill to the gate for relief. These she visited every day, carrying them food with her own hands, washing their sores and kissing their feet in the greatness of her charity.

It happened once that as Elizabeth, with her servant, was coming down a very steep path, she suddenly met her husband and a company of nobles returning from a day’s hunting. She was almost bending beneath the weight of bread, meat, and eggs she was carrying to the poor, and folding her cloak tightly round her, stood aside to let them pass by; but Louis insisted on knowing what she had with her, and opening her mantle, he saw with surprise that it was filled with the most beautiful red and white roses he had ever beheld, and it was the more astonishing because the season for such flowers was long since passed. But the dear Saint was so troubled by God’s favours to her being thus made public, that Louis tried to soothe her, but he drew back with reverence as he saw the light of a glowing silvery crucifix appearing above her head, and bidding her farewell, he rode homeward musing over God’s wonders, carrying with him one of the miraculous roses, which he wore near his heart to the day of his death. Meantime Elizabeth, with great simplicity, went on her way, and when she reached the homes of the sick and destitute, the roses had vanished, and the food for their relief was again visible.

As time passed on the landgrave and his young wife had several children given them by God, and soon after the birth of each one the mother would take the newly-born baby up the steep path to the church of Saint Catherine, and there offer it upon the altar, beseeching God with many tears to make the little one grow up His friend and servant.

While the life of Elizabeth was passed in these lovely deeds of charity and holiness, Germany was calling upon all her princely knights to gather together in a fresh crusade to wrest the holy sepulchre of Christ from the power of the infidel Turks. Douis of Thuringia joined the number, and received the cross worn by crusaders from the hands of. the Bishop of Hildesheim. It was a terrible sorrow to the Saint when she heard that he was leaving her, and at first she cried bitterly, begging him to remain at home; but when he told her that he felt called by the love of Jesus Christ to undertake this holy cause, she ceased weeping, and, begging God to watch over him, bade him farewell. They never met on earth again, for the brave Louis was one of the first to be slain; he had gone for the love of God, and he died for that love willingly, without a murmur or regret.

Poor Elizabeth! Now, indeed, she was solitary. “I have lost everything,” she said. “Oh! my Jesus, strengthen my weakness.” Just at first everyone pitied her, but very soon the old dislike to her returned, all manner of evil things were spoken of her, and at last her cruel relations drove her from the castle with her little fatherless children, and not even those whom she had fed in their hunger would shelter her. From door to door she went, only to be turned away. Like Jesus, her Master, she ” had not where to lay her head but at length she was admitted into a miserable little inn, and put to sleep in an outhouse where pigs were usually kept. While resting there she heard the bell of the Franciscan church close by, and hastening to the friars, she begged that the “Te Deum” might be sung, in thanksgiving for the humiliation and suffering God had sent her; and as the music rose up to heaven, peace and joy filled her sad heart, and never again left it. But though dear Saint Elizabeth was glad to suffer so as to be more like Christ when He was on earth, she could not bear to hear her little children crying with cold and hunger, therefore she resolved to bear the pain of sending them away from her, and some friend took them to places of safety.

But though every one forsook Elizabeth, God took care of her, and gave her more and more wonderful proofs of His great love, allowing her many times to have beautiful visions of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, which comforted her in her great sufferings.

After a time the Landgravine Sophia and her sons were sorry for their treatment of the Saint, and restored to her a great part of her property, so that her children were provided for, but Elizabeth chose for herself a life of continual poverty and hardship. Her coarse dress was patched with all shades and colours; she worked for her bread by preparing wool for spinning, and took part with her two companions, Isentrude and Guta, in the labour of their home.

It was God’s Will that Elizabeth should become quite perfect in suffering, so He even allowed the priest, who was her confessor and a very holy man, to be often severe and harsh with her, giving her difficult commands to obey, and humbling her by great penances which needed much patience and gentleness to bear; but through every trial the Saint drew nearer to God, setting all her love upon Him, never failing in obedience to her confessor, whom she regarded in the place of Jesus Christ. Even when he sent away her two early friends, and put in their places coarse, rough women, who were very unkind to her, she behaved with perfect sweetness and submission, although at first the parting with her beloved companions made her shed many tears.

Soon she was to receive her reward, for one night, at the close of the year 1231, as Elizabeth lay praying in her bed, she had a vision of our Lord in the midst of a golden brightness, Who bade her prepare for her approaching death. She arose, and began very gladly to arrange for her burial, visit her poor friends, and divide the few things she possessed between them and her two companions; and after four days she felt the beginning of illness. For a fortnight she suffered from violent fever, but she was almost continually engaged in prayer, and was quite calm and happy. One evening, when Elizabeth seemed to be sleeping, the woman who watched her heard a sweet soft song coming from her lips, and afterwards she exclaimed, “Oh, madam, how beautifully you have been singing.”

“Did you hear it V said the Saint. “I will tell you how it was. A little bird came and sang so sweetly to me that I could but sing with him, and he revealed to me that I shall die in three days.”

From that moment she refused to see any visitors, desiring to keep herself alone with God; she made her confession to the Blessed Conrad, and afterwards talked with him of God and the joys of heaven; then, having heard Mass, she received the last sacraments with a love only known to Jesus, and on the night of the 19th November she died, having just reached the age of twenty-four years.

Those who came to look at her in death said that never before had she appeared so beautiful, for the glory of her wonderful holiness rested upon her sweet calm face, a fragrant perfume was observed in the room where her body was lying, and angel voices were heard singing above her.

Four years afterwards, when all the accounts of her life had been made known, the Pope declared Elizabeth a Saint in heaven, whose name was to be honoured in the Church on earth; and the tidings spread far and wide, so that pilgrims from all countries began to visit her shrine, to make prayers and offerings there.

And now, in closing this story of Elizabeth’s childish days, and the sweet suffering life she led when she grew older, we will put here a little prayer which has been addressed to the Saint, begging her to get us grace to love and serve God as she did.

“Oh, dear Saint Elizabeth, I honour thy pious childhood, I grieve for thy sufferings and persecutions. Why have I not passed my first years in holiness? why have I not borne my little sorrows patiently? I entreat thee, by thy. blessed childhood, crush my childish wilfulness and sin, and by thy great patience obtain for me the pardon of all my faults. Amen.”

– from Stories of the Saints for Children, by Mary F Seymour