St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Landgravine of
Hesse and Thuringia
St. Elizabeth, a model of devotion and purity to those who live singly, a mirror of love and retirement for married people, a most perfect example of patience for widows, and whose virtues deserve to be followed by all, high and low, was born in Hungary. She was a daughter of Andrew II., King of Hungary, and of Gertrude, daughter of the Duke of Carinthia. According to the Roman Breviary, Elizabeth began in early childhood to fear God, and increased in piety with age. The walk she loved best of all was going to church, where she prayed with angelic devotion, and whence it was a difficult task to bring her home, as her greatest delight consisted in praying. At the door of the church, she always took off the jewelled coronet which she wore, and when asked why she did this, she replied: “God forbid that I should ever appear with such a crown before the face of Him who was crowned with thorns, and who, out of love for me, was nailed to the cross.” She called Mary, the divine Mother, her mother, and entertained great devotion towards St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, whom she chose as the special protector of her chastity. She never refused what was asked of her in the name of the Blessed Virgin or in that of St. John. The money allotted to her for her recreation, she gave to the poor, requesting them to say the Ave Maria. She was an enemy to luxury, vain adornments and idleness. Nature had not only bestowed upon her unusual personal beauty, but had also endowed her with great qualities of mind.
In obedience to her parents, she gave her hand to Louis, Landgrave of Hesse and Thuringia, and lived with him in continual harmony, her conduct being as blameless in the married state as it had been during her maidenhood. She gave one hour every night to prayer, and spent the day in attendance at the divine service in the church, in devout reading and in working for the poor. She always treated her husband with love and respect, and was a model of all virtues to her subjects. She watched over her domestics with a most careful eye, in order that they might lead a Christian life ; but took always a mother’s interest in seeing that their wages were punctually paid. She herself carried to the church the princes and princesses to whom she gave birth; and it was her custom, on these occasions to lay a rich offering on the Altar, and to give abundant alms to the poor. Under her royal robes, she continually wore a garment of hair-cloth.
For the sick and the forsaken she had more than a mother’s care and solicitude. She erected a hospital in which she nursed the sick and sheltered orphans; besides feeding nine hundred poor people, every day, at the palace, and sending alms to the dwellings of those who were ashamed to beg. She also visited the sick in their houses, and served them most tenderly even when they were leprous. She kissed their hands and feet, and encouraged them to patience. Never did a poor person leave her without receiving alms, and more than once, when she had no money with her, she gave away the veil from her head. She did not hesitate even to mend the clothes of the needy, and during a severe famine, gave all her corn to the sufferers. In one word, she did not neglect anything that Christian charity could do; so that she was universally called the mother of the poor.
There were at court many who, on account of her great charity, laughed at and derided her; some even accused her of extravagance. Elizabeth, however, did not allow herself to be diverted from her deeds of kindness, and the Landgrave dismissed her accusers with indignation, probably because he perceived that the more charitable his spouse was, the more he was blessed with temporal goods. Hence he not only abstained from disturbing her in her kind deeds, but assisted her in them as long as he lived. He ended his life in a crusade, in which he joined with several other Christian princes in order to conquer the Holy Land from the infidels. Elizabeth grieved deeply when the news of his death reached her, but submitted to the will of the Almighty, saying: “It is known to Thee, O my God, that I loved no one on this earth more than my husband; not only because he was my husband, but also because he loved Thee with his whole heart. But as it has pleased Thee to call him, I am well contented with Thy holy will; and if I could, against Thy decree, raise him from the dead by reciting one Pater Noster, I would not do it. I only beg of Thee to give him eternal peace, and bestow upon me the grace to serve Thee faithfully until the end of my days.” After this heroic submission to the will of God, she caused many masses and prayers to be said for the deceased, gave large alms to the poor, divested herself of her royal robes, and, though but twenty years old, she vowed to live in chaste widowhood for the rest of her days.
It pleased the Almighty to try His zealous handmaid most painfully. The nobility made the brother of the deceased Landgrave regent, and accused the holy princess of having impoverished the state by her charity to the poor. Under this pretext, they deprived her of all her possessions, and banished her from the Court, with three children, a son and two daughters. Her former vassals, fearing to draw upon themselves the disfavor of the new government, durst not give her lodgings. Even the hospitals, which she herself had founded, were closed against her. Hence she had to lodge mostly in a stable and to live on the bread she begged. In such unexpected and more than painful circumstances, St. Elizabeth showed a truly heroic, and, to the children of the world, incomprehensible strength and patience. She complained to no one of the injustice of the nobility, not even to her royal father, who was still living; but rejoiced that she could suffer for the love of God. After the first night of her banishment, she went to the Church of the Franciscans and requested them to sing the “Te Deum,” or “Great God! we praise thee,” to give thanks to God for the sorrows with which He had visited her.
The wrongs and outrages which the holy princess suffered, besides her banishment, can hardly be described. An old woman, who had formerly received clothing and nourishment from St. Elizabeth, dared to push her into a pool of stagnant water, in the street, abusing her at the same time most shamefully, for not having immediately made way for her. This outrage aroused not in the least the wrath of the holy princess; she quietly raised herself out of the pool, cleansed her garments, and offered herself to the Almighty for more suffering. God did not fail to comfort His handmaid in her adversity. Christ appeared to her, during her prayers, encouraged her, and promised never to abandon her. After some time, through her father’s influence, a dwelling, suitable to her rank, was conceded to her, and her dowry was refunded. The Saint immediately used one part of the building for a hospital, made her home in the same, and nursed the sick, as if she had been a servant, hired to wait upon them. All her spare time was employed in prayer and other devout exercises. She also chastised her body by fasting and other penances.
At the age of twenty-four years, she learned by revelation, that her end was approaching, for which she prepared herself by most devoutly receiving the holy sacraments. She exhorted all those who were around her death-bed, to love God with their whole heart and to assist the poor to the best of their ability. After this, she continued in prayer, until her soul, richly adorned with virtues and merits, went to her Creator, in the year of Our Lord 1231.
I. The life of St. Elizabeth may serve as a model to persons of every age and station. Children may learn to fear God from their earliest years, and to increase their devotion with their age; single persons, how to live chastely in their state; married people, how husband and wife ought to live together; and the widowed how to sanctify their solitude. Masters and mistresses may learn how to take care of their domestics, and pay their wages regularly. Those of a higher station may learn to set a good example to others, and not to be ashamed to appear at public worship. All Christians can find instruction in it, for employing their time well, helping the needy, and bearing crosses and trials sent by heaven. God permitted a Landgravine, a royal princess, to be banished unjustly from court, to beg her bread, and, besides other ignominies, to be refused a shelter among her own subjects. Still she complained not; but, submissive to the decrees of Providence, gave humble thanks for the Almighty for all that He, in His wisdom, had sent her. Even at the death of her husband, what fortitude, what submission to the divine will she manifested! Oh! that all would endeavor, in trials of much less severity, to unite their will with that of God, and patiently bear the cross that He has laid upon them.
II. The favorite walk of St. Elizabeth, when she was still a child, was to go to church, where she manifested most angelic devotion, and was so happy, that she could hardly be persuaded to leave. What is your favorite walk? Where do you like to remain? And when you do go to church why are you in such haste to leave it again? Why do you much oftener go to theatres, frivolous societies, vain amusements, bar-rooms and ball-rooms, than to Church, to prayers, to sermons, or to public worship? Why does the sermon, the mass, or conversation with God in prayer so soon become wearisome to you, when many hours, nay, even half the day or night seem not long, when you occupy them in gaming, dancing, or silly conversation? Answer these questions if you can; and then tell me, do you expect to justify yourself before God, and to enter the same heaven into which St. Elizabeth entered? “Ah! truly, heaven becomes not the dwelling of those who sleep and are idle, but of those who earnestly endeavor to gain it.” Thus speaks the holy pope, St. Leo.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.