Saints of the Day – Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal, Queen

detail of the painting 'Santa Isabel Reina de Portugal', by José Gil de Castro, 1820, Museo Colonial de San Francisco, Santiago, ChileArticle

Born in Aragon, Spain, 1271; died at Estremoz on July 4, 1336; canonized in 1625 (1626?); feast day formerly on July 8.

Elizabeth, daughter of King Peter III of Aragon, was named after her great-aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, but she is known in Portugal by the Spanish form of that name, Isabella. At age 12 she married the dissolute and selfish Denis, king of Portugal. The first of their two children was born seven years later. King Denis was not a good man, but he was a strong, effective ruler and did not interfere with her commitment to good works though he did not join her in them.

She rose early each morning to pray, made provision for pilgrims and poor strangers, and sought out and relieved the distress of those in want. She provided dowries for girls and founded many charitable establishments: a hospital at Coimbra, hospices for travellers, a residence in Torres Novas for wayward women who wanted to leave a life of sin, shelters for wayward girls, and an orphanage. She herself would tend the sick.

With heroic patience she endured the infidelity of her husband and even provided for the education of his illegitimate children. Her son Alfonso, who was to succeed his father, grew up rebellious, partly in response to his father’s treating his illegitimate sons favorably. Twice he sought to start wars, and in both cases his mother brought about a reconciliation between the opposing parties.

She also suffered persecution when unjustly accused of inciting her son against the king. All her goods were confiscated and she was banished from court. Despite all this, she refused to join with insurrectionists and urged loyalty to the king. She was finally vindicated of the false charges brought against her.

Elizabeth was a gifted arbitrator, and she cut short of prevented war between Ferdinand IV of Castile, and his cousin Alfonso IV of Aragon; and between Ferdinand and her brother, James II of Aragon. She came to be called the “Peacemaker.”

When King Denis fell ill in 1324 and was dying, she forgave all his cruelties and nursed him in his last illness until he died in Santarem in 1325. The only time she left his side was to attend Mass. During his illness the king, who had been a capable leader, repented.

Elizabeth was 54 at the time of her husband’s death. After his funeral, Elizabeth made a pilgrimage to Compostella. She then tried unsuccessfully to enter the convent of the Poor Clares that she had founded at Coimbra, Portugal. Failing that, she became a Franciscan tertiary and lived the monastic rule very simply in a house she built near her convent. It was her lifelong practice to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. There she devoted herself wholly to the service of God and the needy people of the neighborhood.

Elizabeth died seeking peace and reconciliation amongst the fierce monarchs of her age. Her son was now King Alfonso IV, and in 1336, he set out to do battle with his son-in-law the King of Castile. Elizabeth, though sick, set off to bring peace between them. She succeeded in her mission, but the exertions and heat were too much for her ailing body and she died before she could return to her beloved nuns at Coimbra. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was buried in the magnificent convent she founded in Coimbra, where she had often humbly served the other nuns at table.

Her chapel in honor of the Immaculate Virgin at the convent of the Trinity in Lisbon is perhaps one of the first sanctuaries in which the Immaculate Conception was venerated. It is said that Saint Elizabeth’s last words were, “Mary, Mother of grace.” One of her favorite sayings was, “If you love peace, all will be well.” Miracles were reported at her tomb (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Martindale, White).

In art, Saint Elizabeth is depicted carrying roses in her lap in winter; crowned with roses; or as a Franciscan tertiary nun, sometimes with a beggar near her or with a rose or jug in her hand (Roeder, White). She is easily confused with Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who is also a queen and Franciscan tertiary. Elizabeth is venerated in Saragossa and is invoked in time of war (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 June 2020. Web. 10 July 2020. <>