Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, by Father Hugh Francis Blunt

(12071231)

“The dear Saint Elizabeth!” What a charming name has been given to her, the young wife and mother! She was dear to those of her age, dear to those of every age, a wonderful saint that so impressed her personality on the world that she is still as vital today as she was more than seven hundred years ago when she spent her few years of existence in this world. But she is especially redolent of her age. She may be regarded as the personification of the wonderful thirteenth century, which, as Montalembert says, was perhaps “the most important, the most complete, and the most resplendent in the history of Catholic society.”

One of the greatest princes that reigned in Germany at the beginning of the thirteenth century was Hermann, Landgrave (or Duke) of Thuringia. He was the nephew of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, was the owner of vast estates in the centre of Germany, and had so much power that he virtually determined the choice of emperor, since it was his influence that decided the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Besides being so powerful as to take and give crowns, he was noted for his generosity, learning and piety. He was an ardent lover of poetry and a good patron of the Minnesingers, who always found a welcome at his castle.

In the year 1206, when he was at his castle at Wart- burg, there were assembled at that place six of the most renowned poets of Germany. They engaged in a contest of song, five of them nobles and one a poor burgess. So wonderful was the poetry sung on that occasion that the Duke could not choose the winner, and sent the simple burgess, Heinrich, to Transylvania to induce Klingsohr, renowned for his wisdom, to come to Eisenach and decide the contest. At the end of the year Heinrich returned with the great Klingsohr. When Klingsohr entered the garden of his host there was a great crowd to greet him. They asked him to tell them something new, and Klingsohr, after contemplating the stars for some time, said: “I will tell you something both new and joyous. I see a beautiful star rising in Hungary, the rays of which extend to Marburg, and from Marburg over all the world. Know even that on this night there is born to my lord, the King of Hungary, a daughter who shall be named Elizabeth. She shall be given in marriage to the son of your prince, she shall become a saint, and her sanctity shall rejoice and console all Christendom.”

At once the news of this was brought to the Duke at his castle, and immediately he rode with a great escort to visit Klingsohr, and to bring him to the castle, where he was treated with the highest honor. He answered all the questions of the Duke in regard to the King of Hungary, presided at the new poetical contest, in which he upheld the poor Heinrich, and then returned to his home.

The King of Hungary of whom he had spoken, the father of the dear Saint Elizabeth, was Andrew II. He was a noble ruler, noted for his piety and charity, building churches and convents and giving alms to the poor. His wife was Gertrude of Merania, a member of one of the most illustrious houses of the empire in the thirteenth century, and a direct descendant of Charlemagne. Her brother had refused the imperial crown; one of her sisters was Hedwige, Duchess of Silesia and Poland, afterwards Saint Hedwige; while another sister, Agnes, was wife of the King of France. Gertrude was as pious as her husband and withal a courageous woman; and she and her husband loved each other devotedly.

Into this royal house was born, in 1207, Elizabeth. As the royal babe was carried under a canopy of the richest stuffs to be baptized, no one guessed that she was to give to her native land undying fame.

It is said that even in her cradle the little Elizabeth gave signs of her future greatness and holiness. The first words uttered by her were the sacred names. Even at the age of three she expressed her compassion for the poor, and sought to alleviate their misery by gifts. How well her biographer expresses the history of those baby days: “Her first act was an almsdeed, her first word a prayer.”

It is related that immediately after her birth the wars in which Hungary was engaged ceased. Peace and prosperity reigned throughout the kingdom. The people used to say that Elizabeth had brought these blessings with her.

Meanwhile the Duke of Thuringia, as soon as he had verified the predictions of Klingsohr as to the birth of the child, and had learned of the peace and happiness that had come with her, eagerly desired the fulfillment of the rest of the prophecy – that his son should be espoused to her. Travelers who came from Hungary always had something wonderful to relate about her. Once there came to the court a monk who declared that he had been blind from the age of four years and was cured by the touch of the little princess. “All Hungary,” said he, “rejoices in this child, for she has brought peace with her.”

And so the Duke sent an embassy of lords and ladies to the King of Hungary to ask, in the name of his young son Louis, the hand of Elizabeth, and, if possible to bring her back with them. It was a lordly embassy of at least thirty horses in the train, received with the greatest respect by all the princes and prelates through whose estates they passed. When they announced to the King of Hungary the purpose of their coming, he assembled his council to decide the matter. Klingsohr made an address, in which he told how desirable the match would be, both on account of Hermann’s wealth and power and his fine personal character. The King was impressed, and yielded to the influence of his wife Gertrude, who was in favor of the marriage. They both agreed to give up their child to be trained by Hermann as the future wife of his son Louis. A great feast lasting three days, with games, dances, music, and poetry, was then given in honor of the little Elizabeth, after which the ambassadors took leave, bringing with them the little girl, four years of age, whom the attendants laid in a cradle of massive silver and covered with a silken robe embroidered with gold.

The King and Queen wept at losing their dear child; but it was the custom of the times, and they felt that they were making the sacrifice for the benefit of Elizabeth herself. It was a glorious dowry they sent with her, presents such as never before had been seen in Thuringia. With the little girl went thirteen noble Hungarian maidens as companions, all of whom Duke Hermann dowered and married in Thuringia. Elizabeth was received with great outbursts of joy. The Duke pressed her to his heart, and thanked God, who had sent her. The Princess was then solemnly affianced to the Duke Louis, then aged eleven, and the castle resounded with jubilation.

The profound piety which Elizabeth seems to have inherited from her good parents became intensified when to her, a little maiden in a foreign land, the news was brought that her mother Gertrude had been assassinated by her husband’s subjects, whether from revenge at a crime of her brother or through accident from the plot against the life of her husband is not now certain. But it must have been a heavy blow to the precocious, serious little Elizabeth.

On her arrival in Thuringia, the Duke had selected seven maidens of the noblest houses to be her companions, amongst them his own daughter, Agnes. One of these companions was Guta, five years old, who remained with Elizabeth, her constant companion up to a short time before Elizabeth’s death. From her we get the details about the girlhood of Elizabeth. All the child’s thoughts seemed centred in God. Even before she knew how to read she would take a large Psalter, go to the chapel, open the book and kneel and give up her soul to prayer and meditation. In the games she would lead the other little girls to the chapel. If it were shut she would kiss the door as a mark of love to her dear Lord. Even in her games she thought of God. Fancy her leading her playmates to the cemetery and saying to them, “Remember that one day we shall be nothing but dust!” And then she would make them kneel and pray with her. Every moment she had was given to prayer. And even in those days of childhood, when most little girls think of dolls, she was beginning the life of charity for which later on she was to be so noted. All the money she could get she gave to the poor, and she would even go into the kitchen of the castle to gather the remains of victuals to carry to the needy. A precocious child? Rather a child to whom had come in the infant days the wisdom of God.

When she was nine years old, in the year 1216, the Duke Hermann died, and his eldest son, Louis, then sixteen, succeeded him. The death of the Duke was a blow to Elizabeth, for he had loved her as his own child, especially so on account of her great piety. Louis was still too young to rule, and his mother governed in his stead. She cared little for Elizabeth. The great piety of the child provoked her, as it did also Agnes and the other companions, who felt that Elizabeth’s devotion was a reproach to them. Agnes used to tell Elizabeth that she was fit only to be a servant. To none of them did she appear as a real princess. And so even in those young days she had to suffer insult.

Elizabeth cared little for society. She was happiest when among the poor children, giving alms to them. It bothered her little that the others made fun of her. A story is told that once, when she went with the Duchess and the Princess Agnes to church on the Feast of the Assumption, Elizabeth, as soon as she saw the crucifix, took off her crown and laid it on a bench, and then prostrated herself. The Duchess reproached her for lack of dignity in “behaving like an ill-reared child.” But Elizabeth replied, “My coronet would be a mockery of His thorny wreath”; and then she wept at the sufferings of Our Lord.

Already Elizabeth was being made to bear the Cross. When the time of her marriage approached all the relatives of Louis and all the councilors tried to prevent the union, saying that she ought to be sent back to her father, that she had too much of the peasant in her manners, and was not worthy to be the wife of the great Duke of Thuringia. The Duchess even tried to prevail upon her to enter a convent, and Agnes continued to insult her; but the persecution brought her nearer to God and she trusted in Him. She would do His will, whatever it was.

The only real friend she had at court was Louis himself. He rejoiced in what others condemned in his future wife, and his love for her increased day by day. In her moments of sadness he came to console her, and every time he returned from a journey he would bring her a gift. When one of the courtiers asked him if he intended to marry her, he exclaimed: “I love her, and love nothing better in this world. I will have my Elizabeth; she is dearer to me for her virtue and piety than all the kingdoms and riches of the earth.”

So in 1220 the marriage was celebrated with great pomp at the castle of Wartburg. The tongues of the slanderers were silenced; Elizabeth was exonerated before the world. Louis was twenty, she was thirteen; two young hearts united in love, united in faith and virtue. The old biographers tell us that they loved with an inconceivable love. It was one of the happiest marriages in the history of the world, a romance of holiness.

The young Duke Louis was a man of whom any woman would be proud. He was celebrated for his beauty, having a perfect figure, fresh complexion, long fair hair, and a gentle expression, with a smile that was irresistible. No one could see him without loving him. And withal he was modest and bashful as a girl, so great was his unaffected purity, a great tribute to a youth who at the age of sixteen had become master of one of the richest principalities of Germany, and who was surrounded by insidious flatterers who would have been delighted to see him overcome, and who in fact did seek to entrap him in sins of lust.

Every morning he assisted at Mass. Religion was to him a practical matter, and the Church and the monasteries found in him an able defender. He enjoyed the society of religious men, and often came to the Benedictine Abbey where he had chosen his burial-place. On arriving there, his first visit was to the sick and poor, whom he would console, bestowing upon them alms, and sometimes leaving with them part of his rich costume. And in the midst of all his wealth he practised mortification, a true knight without fear and without stain. Yet he was no weakling. He was noted for his courage and for his physical strength and agility; a big man, big in strength and big in virtue. No wonder the young wife loved him dearly. It was a happy home, full of gaiety and good cheer, a truly royal house. And above all was the Duke’s sense of justice. He banished from the court all who were haughty to the poor, all who did violence to others, and all bearers of slander. If a subject blasphemed or used an impure word, he was made to wear publicly for a certain time a mark of ignominy. He worked for the good of his people. Once he made war against Franconia in order to exact retribution for an injustice committed against a poor peddler. It was a happy reign, all too short, and all was due to the splendid, manly virtue of Duke Louis and the prayers of his noble lady, the dear Saint Elizabeth.

And dearer than his kingdom to Louis was the possession of Elizabeth. What a handsome couple they must have been! She is represented as a perfect beauty, with a complexion clear brown, black hair, elegant figure, and wonderful eyes of tenderness. And more beautiful than all else was her lovely soul. Her love for Louis was almost childlike. She looked Jo him as her head, as a wonderful being whom she should respect as well as love. Her consideration was ever for him, and she answered his least sign or word. He was her king, and she his loving slave. She loved him all the more because she loved God so much. Piety was no obstacle to their affection; rather did it encourage her in her devotions and her works of charity. Together they advanced in virtue, just as they had grown together in life as “Brother” and “Sister,” the loving names they called each other even after their marriage.

Louis and Elizabeth were inseparable. They could not endure being absent from each other. On his hunting excursions she went with him, even though it were over rugged roads and through storms. But when he went on long journeys and she had to remain at home she would lay aside her royal robes and dress as a widow and spend the time of his absence in prayer and mortification. But as soon as word came that he was returning, she would array herself in all her magnificence and go forth in simple, childlike joy to meet him. She sought to please him alone.

The only fear of the young wife was that she was too happy. Hence she sought to mortify herself. Sometimes, when her husband was away, she would spend the whole night in prayer. Under her royal robes she always wore the hair shirt. Every Friday, in memory of the Passion, and every day during Lent she had herself scourged, after which, joyful and serene, she would return to court. They were heavy penances that she endured, yet she was never gloomy. She was as merry as anybody at court and would take her part in the dance and play. She was a joyful saint, indeed. She used to say of those who prayed with long faces: “They seem as if they wished to frighten our good God; can they not say to Him all they please with cheerful hearts?” Yet she chastised her body, mortified her appetite by fasting, even at the royal table, without drawing attention to herself, and without making those who ate with her uncomfortable. Some days her only food was a bit of black bread. And all this from a girl who was only fifteen!

No wonder that Elizabeth was reproved by the whole court for these “extravagances,” which were a reproach to the lives of those who were less spiritual. But she cared not so long as she pleased her God and her husband.

One day, when she entered the church, a crown on her head, and dressed in regal splendor, her gown covered with precious stones, she glanced at the Crucifix, and seeing her Saviour naked and crowned with thorns, she fell fainting to the ground. From that moment she resolved to renounce all pomp of dress, save when the duties of her rank or the will of her husband required it. But even when she dressed in robes of state she would wear under them her simple robes and her hair shirt. She was a reformer in dress, and induced others of the noble ladies at court to imitate her simplicity, even making patterns of dresses for them.

Strict with herself, she was generous to the poor, so much so that she merited to be known as the “Patroness of the Poor.” We have seen that even as a little girl she loved to help the poor; and now, with her husband encouraging her in this holy work, it became one of the dominating thoughts of her life. Rich as she was, it often happened that she would despoil herself of her clothes rather than see any poor person unaided, so great was her generosity to the poor.

But she gave them more than money and food and clothes: she gave them love, her personal care, visited them in their homes, tended their sick-beds, and always with that matter-of-fact simplicity that put them at their ease. Poor women about, to become mothers were her special care. She would take the new-born babe and dress it with garments she herself had made, and many a time would hold it at its baptism. When one of her poor died she would come and watch the body, and cover it with her own hands, often with sheets from her own bed, and many a time she would take part in the funeral procession as the humblest mourner.

And with all that charity to others, she was not idle at home. She spun wool with her maids, and made it into garments for the poor. She was, in fact, always solicitous for the poor, and when she discovered that any one of them had been treated unjustly she would denounce the injustice to her husband and seek redress for him.

There is a beautiful legend that one day, as she left the castle carrying under her mantle food for some of her poor people, she was suddenly met by her husband as he was returning from the hunt. Astonished at seeing her carrying a burden, he said, “Let us see what you carry,” and at the same time lifted her mantle. But beneath it he saw only red and white roses, the most beautiful he had ever seen, and this, too, when it was not the season of flowers. Seeing that she was troubled, he sought to caress her, and then he beheld over her head a luminous crucifix. He told her to continue on her way, and he went on to the castle, carrying one of the roses, which he always preserved. At the spot where this meeting took place he had a pillar erected surmounted by a cross to consecrate the place of the vision.

The more repulsive the sickness, the more eager was Elizabeth to tend the sufferer. Lepers especially touched her heart. While others drew away from them, she drew near. On Holy Thursday she would gather a great number of lepers, wash their hands and feet, and kiss their sores. There was one poor little leper whose condition was so deplorable that no one would come near him. Elizabeth, however, tended him and then laid him in her own bed. The Duke’s mother, who was still unfriendly to her, came to her son and told him what had happened, leading him to the room where the leper lay. The Duke was irritated that a leper had been put in his bed, but as he raised the covering he saw in the place of the leper the figure of Jesus Christ crucified, and he burst into tears. Shortly after that Elizabeth got his permission to build an almshouse, and there she kept twenty- eight sick and poor, whom she daily visited, feeding and tending them. She loved the poor and she loved poverty. “O my God,” exclaimed Saint Francis de Sales, “how poor was the Princess in her riches and how rich in her poverty!” Sometimes she would remove her royal robes and put on a mantle like those worn by the poor, and, walking before her companions, would feign to beg her bread. “Thus will I walk,” she said* “when I shall be poor and in misery for the love of my God.” She little knew that the day would come when these words would prove true. She loved the poor, but she loved God more. Her greatest happiness was to be in church. She received Holy Communion frequently. Holy Thursday night she would remain in the church. “All her glory,” said one of her contemporaries, “was in the cross and passion of Christ; the world was crucified to her and she to the world.” She wept over her simple faults, seeing how they withdrew her from God, but often as she was in tears, the beauty of her countenance was never harmed.

The spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi was then in the air. His abandonment of the world took place the year Elizabeth was born. He had established his Third Order for those whose duties kept them in the world, an Order that required special sacrifices from those who joined it. The Order spread rapidly everywhere. No one encouraged it more than Elizabeth. She founded a convent of Franciscans in the capital city, and was the first person in Germany to be associated with the Third Order. Francis, at the request of the Cardinal Protector of the Order, afterwards Gregory IX, who canonized her, sent her his poor old mantle, which she cherished until her death. And all the while, under the direction of Conrad, a learned and holy priest, she was making remarkable progress in sanctity.

In 1223, at the age of sixteen, Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, a son who was called Hermann. A year later she gave birth to a daughter, Sophia. She had two other daughters, one also called Sophia – though her existence is denied by some biographers – and Gertrude, who later on took the veil. After each of her confinements, as soon as she was able, she went secretly from the castle, barefoot, clothed in plain woolen robes, to the Church of Saint Catherine outside the city, and laid the infant on the altar, offering it to Christ and His Blessed Mother.

When the Duke joined the Emperor in the war against the Bolognese a frightful famine overspread all Germany, and especially Thuringia. The poor were reduced to the extremity of eating roots and stuff such as only animals eat. They even ate dead horses and unclean beasts. Many died, so that the roads were covered with dead bodies. It may be easily imagined that the Duchess Elizabeth had no other thought than the alleviation of this distress. She spared nothing. She emptied the ducal treasury, sold its lands, opened the granaries of her husband, and gave all the grain to the poor. She had bread baked at the castle and with her own hands served the needy. She gave the poor her personal attention, and even built two almshouses in the city, visiting them morning and night, and going from bed to bed to console the afflicted, making their beds, washing their faces, and all with a kindness and gaiety that made them regard her as an angel from God. In one of the hospitals she established an orphanage, and there she found her delight sitting in the midst of the little ones, who called her “Mamma.” She was everywhere, in the hospitals, in the huts of the poor, in the prisons, wherever there was suffering to be alleviated. She even sold her jewels and other precious articles in order to get money to carry on her charities.

When the Duke returned from the wars the officers of his household went out to meet him, and told him of what they considered the reckless extravagance of the Duchess in giving his possessions to the poor. “Is my dear wife well?” he asked. “That is all I care to know; the rest matters not. I wish that you would allow my good little Elizabeth to give as much alms as she pleases, and that you would rather assist than contradict her. We shall never be impoverished by almsdeeds.”

The joy of Elizabeth at the return of the Duke was boundless; she kissed him a thousand times, happy to be reunited with him. But the joy of the reunion did not last long. They were soon again separated, and this time forever. The occasion of the separation was the new Crusade to rescue the tomb of Christ, a desire that animated the whole thirteenth century. To none did it appeal more than to Louis when he was summoned by Emperor Frederick II in 1227, and at once he was eager to go, as his ancestors had gone. When Elizabeth heard of it – she was then pregnant with her fourth child – she swooned at the thought of losing her dear husband and at the thought of her unborn child. But when he told her of the vow he had made she overcame her grief, and bade him go in the name of God. But it wrenched her heart. With sobs they parted, and as he went she put on widow’s mourning which never again would she lay aside. For scarcely had Louis set sail than he was stricken with fever and died at Otranto, a man in the vigor of youth – he was only twenty-seven – one of the noblest men that ever lived.

When the news reached home Elizabeth had just given birth to her daughter Gertrude. It was the Duke’s mother that broke to her the bad news. The young wife cried out in her grief, “O Lord my God, my God, now indeed is the whole world dead to me; the world and all it contains of happiness!” Then she rose from her bed and ran distractedly through the castle, crying out, “He is dead! He is dead!” The young widow of twenty was heart-broken, for after God she worshipped her husband. So ended one of the happiest marriages history records, a union not only of love, but sanctified by piety of heroic degree on the part of both husband and wife.

But God, who had sent her the years of happiness, now sent her the years of pain. Scarcely had the nine days’ wonder of the Duke’s death on foreign shores passed away than there was plotting against his widow. The Duke’s brothers, Henry and Conrad, taking advantage of the powerlessness of Elizabeth and her children, assumed control of the government and ordered them to leave the castle. She pleaded with them for delay, but they were inexorable. Their mother also pleaded with them, for she pitied deeply the misery of her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren. But they would not relent in their course of injustice. Out of the castle they turned her, penniless, and the gates were closed on her and her helpless little ones. On foot, carrying her infant and with her other children following, accompanied by her two faithful companions, she descended the rugged road, not knowing where she was to find shelter. She came into the city of Eisenach, where so often she had befriended the poor, but no one would give her a helping hand. The Duke Henry had issued a proclamation that whosoever received the Duchess Elizabeth and her children would incur his displeasure. Door after door they came to, only to be turned away, until finally they found a lodging in the miserable outhouse of a tavern, where the owner kept his swine.

Elizabeth, however, for her own sake rejoiced in the humiliation, happy to suffer for the love of God; and, going to the Franciscan convent to assist at the office, she begged the monks to sing a Te Deum in thanks to God for the trials He had sent her. She remained in the church that night and part of the next day, until the cold and hunger drove her forth to beg for her children. A poor priest took her and her children in and gave them shelter and food. But as her misery soon increased, she found it necessary to give up her children to the care of friends, and they were taken away and concealed in different places. Now that they were provided for, she cared not for her own destitution, and tried to earn her living by spinning. Yet even in those days of poverty she divided what she earned with the poor. Some later biographers have questioned this story of her persecutions, and say that she left the castle voluntarily in order the better to serve God. But whatever the case, she endured great trials, and they served only to bring her nearer to God. She suffered for Him, and, as a reward for those trials, it is related that she had many ecstasies and visions to console her.

Word was soon brought to her aunt, Matilda, abbess of Kitzingen, the sister of her mother, of the deplorable condition of the young widow. Immediately she sent carriages for her and her children to bring them to the abbey. Elizabeth, glad to be with her children once more, accepted the invitation, and there in the monastery found peace for her soul. She even expressed the desire, if she were free from the care of her children, to become a nun.

Meanwhile her uncle, the Bishop of Bamberg, desired her to marry again, and invited her to his dominions, assigning to her the castle of Botenstein as her residence, where she lived with her children and servants. It is said that he wished her to wed the Emperor Frederick, who had lost his wife. But she would not listen to the proposal. “Sire,” said she, “I had for my lord a husband who most tenderly loved me, and who was always my loyal friend. I shared in his honor and his power; I had much of the riches, jewels, and pleasures of the world; I had all these, but I always thought, what you, my lord, know full well, that the joys of this earth are worthless.” During her husband’s life, even, she had made a vow never to marry again if he died.

When the Crusade was ended the body of the Duke was brought home by his companions to be buried in his own country. Elizabeth was summoned to take part in the final service. Her grief was heart-rending. She threw herself upon the coffin and wept out her love and her misery. “You know, O my God,” she exclaimed, “how I loved this husband who loved you so much; you know that I would prefer him to all the delights of the world, if your goodness permitted it. You know that with him I would be willing to spend my life in misery, and beg my bread from door to door, throughout the whole world, solely to have the happiness of being by his side, if you willed it, O my God. Now I resign myself and him to your divine pleasure, and I would not, even if I could, purchase him back again at the price of a single hair of my head, unless it were agreeable to you, my good God!”

The procession then set out for Thuringia, and the noble Louis was laid to rest in the place he himself had chosen. As soon as this was done, the knights who had been his friends, having heard of the woes endured by Elizabeth and her children, demanded redress and obtained it. The usurping brothers expressed their repentance, and Elizabeth and her children were restored to their rights. Elizabeth resumed her place in the castle, and was given all the honors due her rank, as also the privilege to continue her works of piety and charity. She founded the hospital of Saint Mary Magdalen, and again devoted herself to the sick and poor. But the courtiers did not relish such heroic virtue. They again called her a mad woman and a*fool, and some of them refused to speak to her. Finally she prevailed upon her brother-in-law, the Duke Henry, who was regent for her oldest son, to set aside a residence where she might dwell by herself.

Elizabeth was granted the city of Marburg with all its revenues. She had constructed near the convent of the Friars Minor a small house, like a poor cabin, and there she dwelt with her children and her faithful servants. She yearned for poverty, and even sought permission from her confessor to embrace the Franciscan rule in all its severity and beg her bread like the Poor Clares. But he refused to allow her to do this, thinking that for one in her position and with her responsibilities it was better to continue as a member of the Third Order. But in her heart she renounced all wealth, sought to draw herself away from the world, even trying to curb the excessive love she bore her children. And so on Good Friday, in the presence of her children and friends, she laid her hands on the altar-stone and vowed to renounce her will, her children, her relations, her companions, and all the pomps and pleasures of the world. Her hair was cut off, and she was clothed with the gray robe and girded with the cord. Ever after she went barefooted. She separated from her children, though it must have broken her heart to do so, Hermann and Sophia being sent to the castle of Creutzburg, and the other two girls placed in convents. She had made the supreme sacrifice for the Cross of Christ. She was criticized for this, called heartless, a fool, but she did not heed the insults. God had called her, and she had answered the call; that was all.

It was a life of poverty. The revenues from her property she gave to the poor, and then supported herself by her own work, living in a poor cottage and spinning wool. What a life for a duchess, slaving day by day, dividing her food, poor as it was, with the needy, wearing clothes that even the poor would have despised! No wonder her former friends regarded her as insane. But, like all saints, amid her trials she never lost the sweetness of her disposition.

When her father, the King of Hungary, heard of her poverty, he was displeased, and sent an ambassador to find out the reason. Her brother-in-law, the Duke, said to the ambassador: “My sister has become quite mad; every one knows it; you will see it yourself.” And then he told of Elizabeth’s voluntary poverty, and her predilection for the poor and the lepers. The ambassador wept when he saw her poverty, and asked: “When did any one ever see a king’s daughter spinning wool?” He begged her to return to her father, but she refused, saying that she was happiest in her poverty, serving the King of kings.

So she served her King in lowliness and charity, till at last He called her home. She was but twenty- four when she died, just beginning life, one would say, but how much she had crowded into those few years! One day she was stricken with a fever. For twelve or fourteen days she suffered under it, always joyous, however, and always praying. She knew that she was going to die and her heart was glad. She wished to see none of her friends; the time was all too short to give herself wholly to the preparation for death. Humbly she made her confession, received the last sacraments, and then during the night of November 19, 1231, passed to her God.

When the news of her death was made known there was universal sorrow. It was known then what a loss the world had suffered in her who in her life had been despised and calumniated as a fool because she had chosen to be a humble follower of the Lord rather than a proud duchess. On the night before her obsequies in the Franciscan church in which she was buried, it was said that on the roof of the church an immense number of birds congregated to sing such music as never had been heard before. “These little birds,” said Saint Bonaventure, “rendered testimony to her purity by speaking of her in their language at her burial, and singing with such wondrous sweetness over her tomb.”

As Elizabeth had herself worked miracles during her life, so when she was dead great wonders were wrought through her intercession. Scarcely was she buried when there was a movement toward her canonization, which took place at Pentecost, May 26, 1235. And thus, within five years after her death, Elizabeth was raised to the altars of God amid the universal acclaim of the people who through all the generations since have loved her.

What an example she was! A woman, daughter of a king, a duchess, with all that the world holds dear, a woman who loved her husband and children, a woman blessed with wonderful affection, yet eager to sacrifice all for the service of God. To us who complain of hardship, who set our hearts on worldly treasures, what an example she is of the truth, that, after all, the only thing that really counts is to love God. The dear Saint Elizabeth!

– text taken from the book Great Wives and Mothers by Father Hugh Francis Blunt, 1917