Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is the patron saint of bakers, countesses, death of children, falsely accused, homeless, nursing services, tertiaries, widows, and young brides. These seem unrelated, but they all factor into the life of this princess. Born in 1207 to King Edward II of Hungary, Elizabeth served tirelessly for the poor until her death in 1231. She was canonized in 1235, and her saint's day is November 17 or 19, depending on the source. Saint Elizabeth is a historical saint, although legend surrounds her life.
At the age of fourteen, Elizabeth married the landgrave of Thuringia, Ludwig IV. Although it was an arranged marriage, the two were deeply in love. They had three children and lived happily together for six years at Wartburg castle. Ludwig was very supportive of his wife's religious conviction; he didn't even mind when she awoke in the middle of the night to say prayers. According to the account given by Rutebeuf, Elizabeth was doing more than praying when she awoke at night. In this version she explains, "'I want to chastise my flesh, / Since it cannot endure / Doing what is necessary for the soul.' / Leaving her sleeping husband, / She would go secretly to a room / And have her servants beat her / Until they were tired. / This accomplished, / She would happily go back to bed" (Cazelles 158).
Elizabeth's dedication to the poor was phenomenal. 1225 was a year of great distress for Germany, as many crops were destroyed by inclement weather. Elizabeth opened the granaries of the castle, giving corn to the poor. Her husband did not stop her from doing this; Elizabeth claimed that God would always provide. Her castle of Wartburg was on a steep hill, so she built a hospital at the foot of the hill so that the infirm would not have to make the trek to her abode. She also founded another hospital and fed 900 people daily at her gate. Elizabeth did not promote idleness, however, and employed those suitable to work.
Also in 1225, Elizabeth pledged devotion to Master Conrad of Marburg, her confessor. Influencing the remainder of her life, this brutal but learned man, "once he got Elizabeth in his iron grasp, never released his hold till he had crushed the trembling, pure life out of the fragile body" (Lives of the Saints 429). Master Conrad had a profound effect on Saint Elizabeth's life; click here to read more about Master Conrad's brutal treatment of Saint Elizabeth.
In 1227, Ludwig joined the crusaders in Apulia, and he never returned as he was killed by the plague in Otranto. When the news reached Elizabeth, she was devastated, and ran shrieking through the castle. There is some discrepancy as to what occured next in Elizabeth's life. However, according to the testimony of Isentrude, one of her ladies in waiting, Saint Elizabeth and her three children were driven out of the castle by her brother-in-law Henry as he wanted the throne for himself. Elizabeth endured many hardships as she sought shelter that cold winter. The bishop encouraged her to marry again for security and protection, but Elizabeth refused. Instead, after providing for her children, Elizabeth "formally renounced the world, put on the dress of the third order of Saint Francis, and devoted herself to the care of the poor and sick at Marburg in Hesse" (Attwater, 112).
She spent the remainder of her life working tirelessly for those in need. For an account of Saint Elizabeth's most famous miracles, click here. Unfortunately, the remainder of her life was overshadowed by the imposing Master Conrad, who is blamed for her failed health. On her deathbed, Elizabeth quietly said: "Now comes the hour when the Mother Maid Mary brought the child Jesus into the world, and the star appeared in the East to guide the Wise Men to his cradle. He came to redeem the world, and He will redeem me. And now is the time when he rose from the grave and broke the prison doors of hell, to release the imprisoned souls, and He will now release me." Afterwards she said, "I am very weak, but I have no pain" (Baring-Gould) 456. Elizabeth died on November 17th or 19th of 1231, depending on the source. Many more miracles occured at her tomb, and her grave in the church of Marburg was a popular pilgrimage site for many years. There is a picture of her tomb below.
Attwater, Donald. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. New York: Penguin Books 1983.
Butler's Lives of the Saints. Ed. Herbert J. Thurston, and Donald Attwater. vol. 4. Westminster: Christian Classics, 1988.
Cazelles, Brigitte. The Lady as Saint. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
The Golden Legend. ed. F.S. Ellis. vol. 6. London: J.M. Dent & Co., MDCCCC
The Lives of Saints. ed. Rev. S. Baring-Gould, M.A. vol. 14. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co. MDCCCXCVIII
For more online information, link to these sights:
For a rather story-like, interesting account of the life of St. Elizabeth, click here.
For the Catholic Encyclopedia's account of St. Elizabeth's life, click here.
To see beautiful stained glass windows click here.
If you'd like to go to St. Elizabeth's Anglican Church in Tuxedo, New York, click here. There is a nice painting of her at this site.
To order a book about St.Elizabeth, click here.
To order a children's book about St. Elizabeth, click here.
To see a third grader's web page on St. Elizabeth, click here.