November 17: St Elizabeth of Hungary




            When Elizabeth was Countess of Thuringia, before she was driven out by the family of her deceased husband, she lived in Wartburg Castle. Three hundred years after Elizabeth, Martin Luther was given refuge there by the same family. The castle is a magnificent museum dedicated to him.


            There is also a small room dedicated to St Elizabeth. When I visited this room, I copied a notice written by the Lutherans that reveals a deep understanding of the Saint. It reads like this:


            Elizabeth's entry into the Secular Franciscan Order was not equivalent to entering into a form of  life which meant retiring into a convent. On the contrary, it would be truer to say that she removed the distance between her position and the poor, and that she went out among ordinary people.


            It was not her leaving but her entering the world, her love for Christ and for her fellow-man that made this Hungarian daughter of a king, born in 1207, Countess of Thuringia and saint, become one of the most significant women of the German Middle Ages, whose popularity has endured to the present day.


            Her activity was closely bound up with the Wartburg, where she lived from earliest childhood and where in 1221 she became the wife of Ludwig IV, Count of Thuringia.


            Following as her model Saint Francis of Assisi, she dedicated herself with great self-sacrifice to charitable works, particularly caring for the sick. At the foot of the Wartburg she had a hospice erected for the poor in 1226. Today the site is marked by a simple wooden cross. Elizabeth died at the age of twenty-four on 17 November 1231, in Marburg. (End of notice.)


            One of the tragedies of the Protestant Reformation involves the relics of St Elizabeth of Hungary. One of her descendants, a nobleman of Thuringia, after he became a Lutheran, desecrated the tomb and scattered the ashes.


            Now the tomb, in the Lutheran church of St Elizabeth in Marburg, that had been a famous Catholic centre of pilgrimages, is hardly noticed. It remains as a marble exhibit, empty and alone, in a cold corner of the church’s small museum.


            But the lively spirit of St Elizabeth continues to inspire the Franciscan Family in our following of Jesus Christ and his gospel. The Secular Franciscans worldwide are especially dedicated to their patroness.