While so many of us are entertained and fascinated by the lifestyles of royalty and their romantic adventures in movies, St. Elizabeth was a genuine princess, who served as an exemplary model of the heroic virtues of charity and humility. The authentic biography of her life, devoid of the legends and the rumors, is a true love story.
Born in Bratislava, Hungary in 1207, Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew of Hungary and his wife Gertrude. Her aunt was St. Hedwig and her great niece was St. Elizabeth of Portugal.
Elizabeth was betrothed at the age of four to Prince Herman of Thuringia (in central Germany) and grew up in his father's court. In 1216, Hermann, who Elizabeth was to marry, died; after this she then became engaged to Ludwig, the second son. The couple married when she was fourteen and he was twenty - one. She loved him and bore him three children. They were very happy together and deeply devoted to one another. Ludwig was protective of his wife and the couple often prayed together, holding hands while kneeling in prayer.
In the real world, as opposed to the fairy tale world, this princess was not content with living a life of luxury, but dedicated herself to caring for the poor, the sick, and the elderly. She was so moved by the plight of the poor that she sought to become one with them. Instead of wearing luxurious gowns, she dressed in simple clothing to display her solidarity with them.
In 1226, when floods, famine, and disease created chaos in Germany, and Princess Ludwig was attending to business in Italy, Elizabeth came to the rescue. Not only did she distribute food (bread) and clothing to hundreds of the needy, but she built a hospital with twenty-eight beds and personally cared for the patients. When Prince Ludwig returned from his business trip to Italy, he assured Elizabeth that she had done the right thing and was pleased with all that she had done.
A strong and courageous man, Ludwig joined the Crusades, but died within the year. Elizabeth, who received the news just after giving birth to her third child, cried out: “The world with all its joys is now dead to me.” She was twenty years old.
Elizabeth chose to leave the castle which had been her home for sixteen years. Her royal uncle made a castle available to her and began making plans for a second marriage for her. However, she had taken a vow never to remarry, but to become the bride of Christ.
On Good Friday 1228, Elizabeth became a Third Order Franciscan, sold all that she had, and worked to support her children. She settled into a small house and spent the few remaining years of her life serving the sick, the poor, and the elderly. Elizabeth’s strength was expended by her charitable work, and in 1231, she passed away at the tender age of twenty-four. She was canonized in 1235 by Pope Gregory IX and is known as the “greatest woman of the German Middle Ages.”
St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers, countesses, the homeless, nursing services, Catholic charities, widows, and young brides.
~ copyright Jean M. Heimann November 2014