St. Isabel, Virgin
THIS holy princess was daughter of Lewis VIII. king of France, and Blanche of Castile, and only sister to St. Lewis. She was born in 1225, and lost her father when she was but two years old. She was trained up in the purest maxims of religion, and in the heroic practice of all virtues, and attained so perfect a knowledge of the Latin tongue that she often corrected the compositions of her chaplains in that language. Her character, from her infancy, was a combination of every eminent virtue, and her whole life, from thirteen years of age, was almost, one continued course of prayer, reading, and working. At that age she took a resolution to consecrate her virginity to God, and always shunned all vain amusements, and, as much as obedience to the queen would permit, all ornaments of dress. A match was proposed between her and the young Conrad, the emperor’s eldest son; and her mother, St. Lewis, and the pope joined in persuading her, for the public good of the church and state, to accept so advantageous an offer. But she considered matters in another light, alleged the consecration she had made of herself to another state, and answered the pope in a letter, that it was something much greater to be the last among the virgins who are consecrated to the divine service, than to be an empress, and the first woman in the world.
Her courageous resolution was honoured with congratulations from his holiness and St. Lewis, and the sequel showed how much the better choice she made, in preferring the calm harbour of a retired life to the tempests and vices of such a court. Isabel fasted three days a week, and never ate but of the coarsest food, and only what seemed absolutely necessary for the support of nature. She sent from her table the nicest dishes to the poor, and reserved for them almost whatever was at her disposal. St. Lewis one day found her at her work, making a cap, and begged she would give it him as a token of her friendship, saying he would wear it for her sake. “This,” said she, “is the first work of the kind that I have spun; I therefore owe it to Jesus Christ, to whom all my first-fruits are due.” The king was exceedingly pleased with her answer, and desired she would spin another for him; which she accordingly did, after she had given the first to a poor man. 1
Humility was the favourite virtue of St. Isabel, and she called the nunnery which she built at Longcamp, four miles from Paris, Of the Humility of our Lady, saying she chose that title because the Blessed Virgin was exalted to the dignity of Mother of God, chiefly on account of her profound humility. Our saint founded this house in 1252, for Minoresses or Clares; but obtained of Urban IV. a dispensation for them to be allowed to enjoy rents and possessions. After the death of her mother, she retired into this monastery. William of Nangis says she professed the Franciscan rule; but this is generally looked upon as a mistake; for all other writers assure us, that on account of her frequent infirmities, she never made a religious profession, though she lived in the monastery, strenuously labouring to sanctify her soul by assiduous prayer, mortification, and patience under continual sicknesses for the six last years of her life. St. Lewis, who tenderly loved her for her extraordinary virtue, frequently visited her. She died on the 22d of February, 1270, being forty-two years old. Her relics are enshrined at Longchamp. She was beatified by Leo X. in 1316. Urban VIII. granted an office in her honour. See her life, written by Agnes of Harcourt, her maid of honour. Ed. Du Cange, Joinville, Chalippe, Vie de S. François, t. 2. p. 285. 2
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VIII: August.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.