Our Saint - St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Our Saint - St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elisabeth of Hungary 

(German: St. Elisabeth von Th|ringen, Hungarian: Szent Erzsibet, 7 July 1207 - 17 November 1231) spent most of her short life in Germany. She was born in Sarospatak, Kingdom of Hungary on 7 July 1207. At age 4, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary (1175-1235) and Gertrude of Andechs-Merania was brought to the court of the Rulers of Thuringia in Central Germany, to become a future bride in order to reinforce political alliances between the families. Elisabeth was married at the age of 14, widowed at 20, relinquished her wealth to the poor, built hospitals, and became a symbol of Christian charity in Germany and elsewhere after her death at the age of 24.

Early Life and Marriage

Her mother sent the infant Elizabeth to Germany to grow up there in order to assure her loyalty and the acceptance by the locals there.

At the age of four, Elizabeth was betrothed to Louis IV of Thuringia, called the Blessed. Some have suggested that Louis's brother Hermann was in fact the eldest, and that she was first betrothed to him until his death in 1216, but this is doubtful. An event of this magnitude would almost certainly be mentioned at least once in the many original sources at our disposal, and this is not the case. Rather, the 14th-century Cronica Reinhardsbrunnensis specifically names Hermann as the second son. In addition, the only source document that might support Hermann's claim to be the eldest by putting his name before Louis's relates to a monastery in Hesse. This actually supports the claim that Hermann was the younger of the two, as Hesse was traditionally the domain of the second son. It would therefore be normal to put his name first, as this document deals with his territory.

In 1221, at the age of 14, Elizabeth married Louis, and the marriage appears to have been happy. In 1223, Franciscan monks arrived, and the teenage Elizabeth not only learned about the ideals of Francis of Assisi, but started to live them. Louis was not upset by his wife's charitable efforts believing that the distribution of his wealth to the poor would bring eternal reward; he is venerated in Thuringia as a saint (without being canonized by the Church, unlike his wife).

It was also about this time that the inquisitor Konrad von Marburg - a harsh man and a true product of his age - gained considerable power over Elizabeth as he became her religious advisor and confessor.

In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and plague wrought havoc in Thuringia, Louis, a staunch supporter of the Hohenstaufen Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, represented Frederick II at the Reichstag (Imperial Diet) in Cremona. Elizabeth assumed control of affairs and distributed alms in all parts of their territory, even giving away state robes and ornaments to the poor. Below the Wartburg Castle, she built a hospice with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to them.

Elizabeth's life changed irrevocably on 11 September 1227 when Louis, en route to join the Sixth Crusade, died of the plague in Otranto, Italy. His remains were buried in 1228.

Widow at the Age of 20

With Ludwig's death, his brother Heinrich Raspe of Thuringia assumed the regency during the minority of Elisabeth's eldest child, Landgrave Hermann II, Landgraf of Thuringia (1222-1241).

After bitter arguments over the disposal of her dower, in which Konrad had been appointed as her defensor by Pope Gregory IX, Elizabeth left the court at Wartburg and moved to Marburg in Hesse. The popular tradition is that she was cast out by Heinrich, but this does not stand up to critical examination.

Following her husband's death, Elizabeth made solemn vows to Konrad, similar to those of a nun. These vows included celibacy (which prevented her from becoming the wife of Emperor Frederick), as well as obedience to Konrad as her confessor and spiritual advisor. Konrad's treatment of Elisabeth was extremely harsh, and he held her to standards of behaviour which were almost impossible to meet. Among the punishments he is alleged to have ordered were physical beatings and separation from her three children.

Elisabeth's second child Sophia of Thuringia (1224-1284) married Henry II, Duke of Brabant and was the ancestress of the Landgraves of Hesse, as in the War of the Thuringian Succession she won Hesse for her son Heinrich I, called the Child. Elisabeth's third child, the Blessed Gertrude (1227-1297), was born several weeks after the death of her father; she became abbess of the convent of Altenberg near Wetzlar.

After unsuccessful attempts to force her to remarry, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay Franciscan group, and built a hospital at Marburg for the poor and the sick.

In 1231, Elisabeth died in Marburg at only 24 years of age, either from physical exhaustion due to Konrad's treatment, or from disease.


 Very soon after the death of Elizabeth, miracles were reported that happened at her grave in the church of the hospital, especially miracles of healing.

Elisabeth is perhaps best known for the legend which says that whilst she was taking bread to the poor in secret, her husband asked her what was in the pouch; Elisabeth opened it and the bread turned into roses. This miracle is commemorated with a statue in Budapest, in front of the neo-Gothic church dedicated to her at Roses' Square (Rszsak tere). The architect of the church was Imre Steindl, architect of the Budapest Parliament.

The most popular story about St. Elisabeth is an account by Dietrich of Apolda. In the story, it is said that she laid a leper in the bed she shared with her husband. When Ludwig discovered what she had done, he is said to have snatched off the bedclothes in great indignation, but at that instant "Almighty God opened the eyes of his soul, and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed."

By papal command three examinations were held of those who had been healed: August, 1232, January, 1233, and January, 1235.

She was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1235. This papal charter is on display in the Schatzkammer of the Deutschordenskirche in Vienna, Austria. At Pentecost (28 May) of the year 1235, during the ceremony of canonization she was called the "greatest woman of the German Middle Ages". Her body was laid in a magnificent golden shrine - still to be seen today - in the Elisabeth Church (Marburg). It is now a Protestant church, but has spaces set aside for Catholic worship. Marburg became a centre of the Teutonic Order which adopted St. Elisabeth as its second patroness. The Order remained in Marburg until its official dissolution by Napoleon I of France in 1803.

Elisabeth's shrine became one of the main German centres of pilgrimage of the entire 14th century and early 15th century. During the course of the 15th century, the popular cult of St. Elisabeth slowly faded. However, this was to some extent replaced by an aristocratic devotion to St Elisabeth, as through her daughter Sophia she was an ancestor of many leading aristocratic German families.

Three hundred years after her death, one of Elisabeth's many descendants, the Landgrave Philip I "the Magnanimous" of Hesse, a leader of the Protestant reformation and one of the most important supporters of Martin Luther, raided the church in Marburg and demanded that the Teutonic Order hand over Elisabeth's bones, in order to disperse her relics and thus put an end to the already declining pilgrimages to Marburg.

Philip also took away the crowned agate chalice in which St. Elisabeth's head rested, but returned it after being imprisoned by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The chalice was subsequently plundered by Swedish troops during the Thirty Years' War and is now on display at the National Museum in Stockholm. St Elisabeth's skull and some of her bones can be seen at the Convent of St Elisabeth in Vienna; some relics also survive at the shrine in Marburg.

The rose miracle is commemorated with a statue in Budapest, in front of the neo-Gothic church dedicated to her at Roses' Square (Rszsak tere). The architect of the church was Imre Steindl, architect of the Budapest Parliament.

The legend of the miracle of the roses is taught in all Portuguese schools as having happened with Queen St. Elizabeth of Aragon (1271-1336, Ramnha Santa Isabel), wife of Portuguese King Denis of Portugal. When Portuguese tourists visit Germany or Hungary and are surprised to hear the same legend, it is explained to them that the Portuguese Queen, a grand-daughter of the second wife of Andrew II of Hungary, was named after her step-great-aunt.

The legends are very similar - the Portuguese Queen, when admonished by her husband that she was too generous with the poor who took advantage of her charity, let her folded apron fall and say "But they are only roses, m'Lord!" and the bread became roses.

Like many medieval legends, this one seems to exist in at least two countries far away from the actual places in Germany. Probably, similar legends exist elsewhere. She was always a very loving and kind person. We remember her today as a great saint who always cared for the sick, young, and those who live in poverty.

The year 2007 was proclaimed "Elisabeth Year" in Marburg. All year, events commemorating Elisabeth's life and works were held, culminating in a town-wide festival to celebrate the 800th anniversary of her birth on July 7, 2007. Pilgrims came from all over the world for the occasion, which ended with a special service in the Elisabeth Church that evening.