Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was a royal princess who was known for her acts of charity and her docility. Her father, King Andrew sought out a marriage agreement between his young daughter and the son of a wealthy German landowning family. Not only did King Andrew consent to the marriage, he said the delegation could take the very young Elizabeth with them back to Germany (a distance of 400 miles) to live in the castle right away. Elizabeth was known for her piety, prayer and small acts of mortification. Some in the court were annoyed at her ‘religiosity’ amidst the frivolity that was a constant presence there. Nonetheless, Elizabeth grew all the more charitable.
The chroniclers wrote that on one occasion when the whole Landgravine court had gone to the Church in Eisenach in their stately attire to worship, Elizabeth knelt transfixed at the foot of the large crucifix. She was quite overwhelmed with the contrast between the suffering Our Lord endured and her own life of luxury. In a moment of love and zeal, she removed her crown and placed it at the foot of the cross. When she was rebuked for her action, Elizabeth replied, “Reproach me not! How can I behold the merciful Lord, who died for me, wearing His crown of thorns, and retain mine of gold and gems? Is not my crown a mockery of His?”
Elizabeth’s future husband, Ludwig (Louis), often defended Elizabeth’s charitable inclinations and gave protection to her acts against her detractors. Once as Elizabeth was bringing bread and meat in the skirts of her robes to distribute to a family in need, Ludwig happened to meet her on his way back to the castle on a bitterly cold day. He noticed that she was carrying a burden and inquired tenderly what she was doing. Embarrassed at being detected in her charity, yet not wishing to deceive him, Elizabeth showed him the provisions. Instead of bread and meat, Ludwig saw nothing but masses of beautiful red and white roses! It was all the more astonishing since it wasn’t the season for fresh roses. Surprised by the grace, Ludwig took one of the roses, reverently kissed it, and kept it for the rest of his life.
Ludwig and Elizabeth married in 1221 when she was fourteen and he was twenty-one. They enjoyed a loving marriage. Ludwig was usually away from the court, busy representing the interests of the region to Emperor Fredrick II. In the spring of 1226, Thuringia was struck with flooding, famine and pestilence. Elizabeth mobilized money, clothes, food and even ornaments from the court to give out to the needy. She had a hospital built in the valley below the castle where she went every day to tend the sick and injured. Elizabeth also aided scores of needy people daily despite being a mother of two small children. She was highly regarded among the people of Thuringia for her gentleness and compassion. More tragedy struck the next year when Ludwig, traveling to the Holy Land on crusade, was struck with the plague and died September 11, 1226. Elizabeth bore their third child, a daughter, in October and shortly after was notified of Ludwig’s death. In her grief she exclaimed, “The world with all its joys, is now dead to me.”
After seeing to the burial of Ludwig in the family crypt near Wartburg, Elizabeth’s spiritual director Conrad urged Elizabeth to obtain her widow’s dowry from the estate of her husband and leave Wartburg. Elizabeth received her inheritance from her husband’s estate and promptly distributed a fourth of that to the poor. She wanted to devote herself entirely to religion, so she made arrangements for the care of her children and moved about 70 miles from Wartburg to Marburg. Elizabeth lived very austerely in a cottage in Marburg. In the summer of 1228 Elizabeth established a hospital dedicated to St. Francis in Marburg. On top of spending long hours caring for the sick at the hospital, Elizabeth undertook many penances that wore her down until her death in 1231 at the age of twenty-four. Prior to her death, she asked that her material possessions be distributed to the poor and that they leave just one worn out dress for her to be buried in.
Miracles of healing started to occur through the intercession of Elizabeth. The process for Elizabeth’s canonization was begun. The papacy initiated examinations of the miracles and Elizabeth was declared a saint on May 28, 1235. Elizabeth preceded her father, Andrew in death. Andrew had a largely unsuccessful reign as King of Hungary with never a peaceful moment in the kingdom. He had been excommunicated from the Church by the local bishop in the summer of 1234 for violating some aspects of an agreement he signed into law for governing Hungary. However, he appealed the excommunication sentence to Pope Gregory and was reconciled to the Church about the same time as his daughter’s canonization to sainthood and before his death on September 21, 1235. We can imagine Elizabeth pulling some strings from heaven to aid her father’s reconciliation with the Church.
A magnificent Gothic church was constructed in Marburg dedicated to Saint Elizabeth and still stands today. Marburg was the popular site of pilgrimages to Saint Elizabeth and continues to be today after 800 years.
Additionally, the miracle of the roses is commemorated with a statue of Elizabeth holding roses in front of a Neo-Gothic Church dedicated to her in Budapest’s Roszak tere (Roses’ Square).