Saints of the Day – Elizabeth, Widow, and Zachary, Prophet

stained glass depiction of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, artist unknown; used with permission of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

1st century. Elizabeth and Zachary were the parents of John the Baptist, forerunner of Jesus. All we know about them is found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. “Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Luke 1:6, NAB). Zachary was a priest of the Old Covenant and Elizabeth was of the family of Aaron. Having reached middle age without the blessing of children, Zachary, while officiating in the temple, had a vision of an angel who told him that his prayers for a son would be answered. Zachary was incredulous. Perhaps to prevent Zachary from sinning against hope, he was struck dumb until the birth of his son who was to be called John, “who shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb and who should bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.”

Elizabeth was visited by Mary, the Mother of God, at which time Mary spoke the hymn of praise now known as the Magnificat, although a few manuscripts indicated it was Elizabeth who sang it.

Generally a child is named after a dead relative. This is what Elizabeth and Zachary’s friends and neighbors expected. Yet his mother insisted that he was to be named John, and his father wrote that he agreed.

The Canticle of Zachariah or Benedictus is prayed daily by Christians in Morning Prayer. It is a song of high praise:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.
He has come to His people to set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of His servant David.

Through His holy prophets He promised of old
that He would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant.

This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship Him without fear,
holy and righteous in His sight
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
to give His people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1::68- 79).

Tradition, supported by Saint Basil and Cyril of Alexandria, asserts that Zachary died a martyr, killed in the Temple “between the porch and the altar” by command of Herod, because he refused to disclose the whereabouts of his son. The Roman Martyrology does not report this incident (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, White).

In art, Elizabeth is shown clad as an elderly lady, holding the infant John the Baptist (anonymous Russian icon); or pregnant and greeting the Virgin Mary (Piero di Cosimo; Marx Reichlich). Zacharias (anonymous Russian icon) is generally pictured as an old priest with a censer and Saint Elizabeth nearby. Sometimes he is shown in scenes of the birth and childhood of Saint John the Baptist (Roeder), or holding a lighted taper (White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 August 2020. Web. 27 September 2020. <>