St Elizabeth of Hungary (1207 – 1231)





To mark the 800th centenary of the birth of St Elizabeth of Hungary




Norbert Pittorino, ofm


See also








            In the introductory letter “Living according to the Gospel” which was circulated on the feast of All Saints, 2006, we were reminded that our instruction over the next two years is not aimed at a mere commemoration of a great event, but we wish to call to mind the origins of the Franciscan charism. In the year 2009, we will mark 800 years since St Francis and his small band of friars approached Innocent III for approval of their Gospel life project. Francis always believed that his actions were divinely inspired and as more and more men gathered around him, he saw these as God’s gift to him and the world. So also, when Clare approached him, he also saw God’s hand at work; and finally, when ordinary folk from the villages also expressed their desire to follow him, he drew up some simple guidelines based on the Gospel for them to follow. In this way, the Franciscan Family was formed.


            The Rule of St Francis was expressed in three different ways for men and women in three different forms of Gospel life. Thus, based on this original Rule of 1209, we Franciscans have the spirit of the Gospel at the heart of our daily lives as we see it expressed in each of our Rules. Also essential to each of one of these Rules is the living of “a fraternal life lived in radical poverty,” as it is described in the letter of the Minister Generals. We are also invited to live in “minority, subject to all creatures, brothers and sisters to all men and women.” This is what Francis saw as the heart of the Gospel message.


St Elizabeth of Hungary – Patroness of the Secular Franciscan Order


            The eighth centenary of the birth of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207 – 2007) is particularly important to all Secular Franciscans who share her vocation and who see her as one of the first of Francis’ disciples and an exemplar of apostolic charity. She presents to us a profound example of Franciscan spirituality which is evident from the enormous number of initiatives that she has inspired over the years. She has truly shown herself to be a genuine follower of St Francis of Assisi. As a Secular Franciscan (Third Order of St Francis), she lived in her own home and was considered a penitent. She gathered with others in fraternity and helped spread the Gospel message throughout Europe by her life of charity.


            In order to understand her spirituality, it is important that we see her in the historical context in which she lived. Spirituality cannot be considered in a vacuum. We must be able to see the problems she faced and the way she resolved those problems. In this way we will be able to discover a way of acting in our own time in conformity to Franciscan ideals just as she did in her time. That is why we must first understand the environment into which she was born and bred and the expectations of her time as a member of a noble family.


            God acts in our lives and wants us to respond to his calling. When we examine the life of St Elizabeth and reflect on it, we can discover how she responded in her way despite contrary expectations by her relatives and friends. Perhaps her situation can speak to us when we experience a somewhat similar set of circumstances that could face us.






            Introduction                                                                                                      1


            Table of Contents                                                                                             2


            Reflection 1:     St Elizabeth’s Birth, Family and First Home                               3                     


            Reflection 2:     Thuringia and Elizabeth’s Marriage                                            5


            Reflection 3:     Family Life                                                                               7


            Reflection 4:   Trials in Elizabeth’s Married life                                                   8


            Reflection 5:   Family Relationships                                                                    9


            Reflection 6:   Conscience – The Sense of Justice                                              10


            Reflection 7:   Elizabeth’s Perseverance in time of trial                                        11


            Reflection 8:     Widowhood – Dealing with Loss                                              12


            Reflection 9:     Dealing with Change                                                                 13


            Reflection 10:   Elizabeth Encounters the Ideals of St Francis                             14


            Reflection 11: Elizabeth and the Franciscan Family                                             15


            Reflection 12: Youth and Formation                                                                  16


            Reflection 13: A Life of Penance                                                                       17


            Reflection 14:   The “Conversion” of Elizabeth                                                   18


            Reflection 15:   Elizabeth – Apostle to the Poor                                                 20


            Reflection 16:   Elizabeth: Her Life of Prayer and Action                                    21


            Reflection 17:   Elizabeth and Apostolic Activities                                              22


            Reflection 18:   Elizabeth and the Will of God                                                   23


            Reflection 19:   Elizabeth’s Last Illness and Death                                             24


            Reflection 20:   The Heritage of Elizabeth of Hungary                                       25


            Conclusion                                                                                                       26


            Appendix         Suggested Websites for further study                                         27


Reflection 1: St Elizabeth’s Birth, Family and First Home




            Like many of the early Saints of the Franciscan Family, we know more about St Elizabeth of Hungary (or sometimes called Elizabeth of Thuringia) from legends rather than from historical sources. These usually present more edifying aspects of her life and do not always give a clear picture of the human qualities of her life. Early writers of the lives of saints sought to edify their readers by even reading into the facts a particular interpretation that would enhance our understanding of that saint’s holiness of life. The purpose of writing was to inspire others to conversion and to follow the example of the saint they wrote about. Sometimes, they even copied activities in the life of one saint to show the holiness of another one. For example, many incidents in the life of St Martin of Tours (c. 316 – 397) can be found reflected in the life of St Francis, such as, the meeting with a beggar and Francis’ meeting with a leper. This way of copying one incident in the life of one saint and finding a similar one in the life of another was a way of complimenting the saint being described. St Elizabeth became such a model in her day and would be regarded as the exemplar of Franciscan Secular life. For example, in the famous book by Delahaye, The Legends of the Saints:

“We read in the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary that, before starting on the Crusades, her husband presented her with a ring of which the precious stone possessed the property of breaking when a calamity happened to its donor. This legend, introduced into her life, no doubt on the strength of some historic incident, may be found with slight variations in the life of St. Honoratus of Buzançais. It is a popular theme which has not only been turned to account in the romance of Flores and Blanchfleur, but in the Arabian Nights, in a Kalmuk folk-tale, and in more than one Indian story.”[1]

            Thus, as we examine the life of St Elizabeth, we must keep this in mind and discover what the historical truth was and what we can learn from the incident for our own spiritual development. Note that a certain amount of repetition will be necessary in order to cover the various aspects of Elizabeth’s life.


Elizabeth’s Birth, Early Childhood and Youth


            Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary (1205 – 1235). She was born in Hungary, probably at Pressburg in 1207. Her mother’s name was Gertrude and she was also of a noble family. When Elizabeth was only fours years old she was promised in marriage to a German prince, Hermann I, from Thuringia and was entrusted to the Thuringian court to be educated. There she was raised with the other children of the Landgrave’s family. This plan of marriage was the result of political considerations to ratify a great alliance to band against the German Emperor Otto IV who had quarreled with the Church.


            The court of Thuringia at this time was renowned for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately castle of Wartburg which overlooked the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach. It was there that the Landgrave Hermann lived surrounded by poets and minnesingers who enjoyed his generous patronage. Despite the turbulence and purely secular life of the court, Elizabeth grew up a very religious child. She loved to pray and carry out pious exercises and small acts of self-mortification. These practices were probably influenced by the sad circumstances of her life.


            In 1213, Elizabeth’s mother was murdered by Hungarian nobles when Elizabeth was six year old. This was probably due to their hatred of the Germans. On the 31 December, 1216, the eldest son of the Landgrave Hermann, who Elizabeth was to marry, died. Consequently, Elizabeth was betrothed to his brother, Ludwig, the second son. It was probably at this time that Elizabeth had to suffer the hostility of the more frivolous members of the Thuringian court because of her piety and devotion to prayer. However, Ludwig protected her from ill-treatment. Despite some legends to the contrary, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Sophia, who was leader of the reigning family of Bavaria, was very religious and kind to Elizabeth.[2]


            Elizabeth despised the vanities of court life. She was often criticised because she did not follow traditional customs at court. Her deep spirituality led her to hate the external show and pomp at court. For example, she would deliberately fail to wear signs of rank on holy days. As a princess, she had a whole wardrobe of gowns that she could wear to fulfil the duties of her state and to please her husband. But even when she did wear these, she also wore a penitential hair shirt underneath to prevent her from becoming too attached to vanities.

As Elizabeth approached marriageable age, her prayerful life instigated a general explosion of persecutions and insults. All members of the court declared themselves against her marriage to Louis, while Sophia, his mother, even attempted to persuade Elizabeth to take the veil in a convent.

Discussion Questions


  • Could you imagine living in the time of Elizabeth? She was bound by a number of family customs and political intrigue, yet God used all these things to bring her to holiness. What difficulties did she have in her early life and how did she respond to them?


  • What can we learn from Elizabeth’s response to God’s inspirations?


  • What are some ways we could follow Elizabeth’s example?



Scripture Reflection:             Mt 6:25 - 33


To Learn More


            Here is an internet site you could look up:


                            Interesting fables


Reflection 2: Thuringia and Elizabeth’s Marriage

















            Here is a map of Thuringia. Examine its position and its delicate political situation.


Geography: Thuringia borders on (from the north and clockwise) the German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Bavaria and Hesse.

The most conspicuous geographical feature of Thuringia is the Thuringian Forest (Thüringer Wald), a mountain chain in the southwest. The Werra River ("Werratal") separates this mountain chain from the Rhön Mountains, which are partially in Thuringia. In the northwest Thuringia includes a small part of the Harz Mountains. The eastern part of Thuringia is generally a plain. The Saale River runs through these lowlands from south to north.


It is clear that, being in the position it is strategically, there would be many political intrigues to take control of this area. Conflict among small provincial areas was a frequent event in those days.


            The old Landgrave Hermann became involved in some political plans that landed him in great difficulties and which led to his excommunication. He snapped under the strain and became insane towards the end of his life. He died on the 25th April, 1217 without being reconciled with the Church. His son, Ludwig, succeeded him as Ludwig IV in 1221. Ludwig and Elizabeth were married that same year. Ludwig was 21 years old and Elizabeth was fourteen. After a week of festivities life returned to normal and new couple were free to rule the Castle without interference of Ludwig’s mother. In fact, Sophia retired as a nun in the Cistercian monastery of St Catherine which her husband had built.


            Then there follows a romance of chivalry, the young count's initiation into knighthood and the beginning of his reign, the glittering wedding and the young wedded bliss of the royal pair, Elizabeth's life as a countess at the side of her husband: festivals, hunts, horseback rides in all directions throughout their land. And placed between all this was her silent concern for the poor and sick in the vicinity of the Wartburg. Then there came the increasing seriousness of a ruler's concerns: her husband's sallies into battle, regency in his absence, struggles against the hunger and pestilence that was bringing down the people, and simultaneously against the opposition of her surroundings that would not permit her to address these needs with all her strength.


            Elizabeth came from a family of Saints. Her aunt, her mother’s sister, was St Hedwig who married at age 12 and later gave away her great fortune to enter a monastery to live a life of penance; her grand-niece was another tertiary, St Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal who died in 1336. It is not surprising, then, to find Elizabeth carrying out her works of mercy even more after her marriage to Ludwig. Their marriage, in fact, was a very happy and exemplary one. The two were devoted to each other and Ludwig proved himself worthy of his wife. He protected her acts of charity, her penances and the two prayed together at night beside his bed. Ludwig was also a capable ruler and a brave soldier. The Germans call him “St Ludwig” to indicate his holiness and devotion to Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s daughter, Gertrude, is also a Blessed in the Church.


Questions for Discussion


·        How do you think the political situation affected Elizabeth and her husband Ludwig in their married life?


·        How did Elizabeth respond to tragedy in her life? Can we learn from her example?


Scripture Reflection               Mt 6:16 – 21 or Ephesians 5:21 - 33


To Learn More


Websites: Interesting fables


        ;shtml  Maps & history of Thuringia;


ALSO see


and    for history of Thuringia



Reflection 3: Family Life


            Elizabeth and Ludwig had three children: Hermann II (1222 – 1241) who died young at the age of 19; Sophia (1224 – 1284) who married Henry II, Duke of Brabant. She died at 60 years of age; and Gertrude (1227 – 1297) who was born only weeks after the death of her father. She later became abbess of the convent of Altenberg near Wetzlar. She is Blessed Gertrude in the Church’s calendar of Saints.


            Ludwig was a great friend of the Emperor Frederick II and was often employed by him to attend meetings, etc. on his behalf. In 1226, floods, famine, and disease caused havoc in Thuringia and Ludwig was in Italy attending the Diet at Cremona on behalf of the Emperor and the Empire. Elizabeth, therefore, assumed control of the affairs of state and distributed alms in all part of the territory of her husband, “giving even state robes and ornaments to the poor.” She even built a hospital for the sick with twenty-eight beds. She attended to the sick herself daily and also assisted 900 poor daily. It was this period that preserved her fame for posterity as the gentle and charitable lover of the poor at Wartburg. On his return, Ludwig confirmed all that she had done. It was the next year, 1227, that he joined Frederick II on a crusade to Palestine but died that same year at Otranto from the plague. Elizabeth did not hear of his death until a month later when she gave birth to her third child. This had a profound affect upon her for the rest of her life.


Legends to Read


            The is told that once she was on her way and carried food and good things in her cloak for her beloved poor and sick when she met her husband who teasing her blocked her path until she showed him what she was carrying. When she opened her cloak, he was surprised to see her cargo consisted of fresh, fragrant roses even in mid-winter. He reverently allowed her to go about her business.


            It is also related that once Elizabeth took in a little leper boy that no one wanted. She cared for him as if he were her own child and placed him in the royal bed. Ludwig returned unexpectedly and the angry dowager told him what Elizabeth had done and how she would certainly cause him to catch the dreaded disease. Ludwig was upset and went to the bed and tore aside the covers. He as astounded when he saw there the form of the Crucified. He turned to his wife and said, “Dear Elizabeth, you may always receive guests like that. I shall even thank you for it.”[3]


Discussion Questions


  • How did Elizabeth and Ludwig make sure their family remained as a close unit?


  • How did they express their affection for each other and the children?


Scripture Reflection           Ephesians 6:1 – 4


To Learn More


            Websites: The Golden Legend

                           The Legend of St Elizabeth


Reflection 4: Trials in Elizabeth’s Married Life


            Once Elizabeth was married, Wartburg Castle became the centre of activity and excitement. Ludwig saw to a number of renovations to the castle which included a large banquet hall. He invited troubadours back again and happy times resumed but without the extravagance of the previous landgrave. Ludwig was very proud of his wife even though he did not know of her spiritual motives.


            Elizabeth wrote of her life in court in this way: “It is not through carnal pleasure or vanity that I deck myself thus. God is my witness, but only through Christian charity that I may remove from my brother all occasions of discontent or sin; if anything in me should displease him, that he may love me in the Lord, and that God who has consecrated our lives upon earth may unite us in heaven.” Again, she says, “It is in God that I love my husband; may He who sanctified marriage grant us eternal life.”[4] St Francis de Sales describes Elizabeth as a young bride who “...played and danced and was present at assemblies of recreation, without prejudice to her devotion, which was so deeply rooted in her soul. Her devotion increased among the pomp and vanities to which her condition exposed her. Great fires are increased by the wind, while small ones are extinguished, if not screened from it.”[5]


            The new banquet hall gave greater opportunities to entertain and one night a German storyteller came in his grey habit. He was a member of the newly-founded Order of Friars Minor and he entertained the party with his tales of the “poor little rich man” named Francis and his new Order. Elizabeth was greatly moved by what she heard and desired to become a follower of this poor man. She also felt the need to “rebuild the Church” by serving the poor.


            Today, Elizabeth challenges Franciscan Tertiaries to think about their marriage and family life, as well as their profession and social engagements. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth lived her marriage with Ludwig as the sacrament to the eternal wedding to the Great King, the most handsome of men. She lived out her marriage with Ludwig in companionship and harmony by adhering to her vocational call which shaped her and her husband. Even though she was the wife of the Landgrave, she practiced the most authentic humility in her service to the poor, those who were marginalized and the most repugnant. She even hid her identity so that she could reach even the most despised people in society.


            Elizabeth is said to have been "perfect in body, handsome, of a dark complexion; serious in her ways, modest, of kindly speech, fervent in prayer, and always full of goodness and divine love." Yet with all these attributes she did not meet with approval or affection from her new family. Instead, her humble and retiring habits annoyed Louis' sister Agnes, who often told her that she was fit only to be a servant. The other young girls of the court, who saw that Elizabeth no longer participated in their games, dances and frivolous life, were accustomed to repeat what Agnes said and would openly mock her. Even influential officers of the court, disregarding the respect that was due Elizabeth, would publicly insult her, saying that in nothing did she resemble a princess.


Discussion Questions


  • How did Elizabeth’s spirituality show in her married life?


Gospel Reflection                  Mt 11: 7 – 19


Reflection 5: Family Relationships


            There was a close bond between Elizabeth and Ludwig right from the start. What was meant to be a marriage of convenience turned out to be a model union. Elizabeth showed herself to be a caring, loving wife and Ludwig showed the same care and protection for her.


            While Ludwig was involved with business affairs overseas, Elizabeth took charge of the castle. Some jealous members of the family began to spread vile rumours about her honest and her works of charity. However, Louis, far from sharing their opinions, once told Lord Gauthier, while the two were resting during a hunt: “Dost thou see that mountain before us? Well, if it were of pure gold, from its base to its summit, and that all should be given to me on the condition of sending away my Elizabeth, I would never do it. Let them think or say of her what they please; I say this -- that I love her, and love nothing better in this world: I will have my Elizabeth; she is dearer to me for her virtue and piety than all the kingdoms and riches of the earth.”


            The wedded life of Elizabeth and Louis has been called by one chronicler, "an idyll of enthralling fondness, of mystic ardour, of almost childish happiness, the like of which I do not remember in all I have read of romance or of human experience." We are also told that when Louis had visited a city he would always bring back a present for her -- a knife or a bag or gloves or a coral rosary. "When it was time for him to be back she would run out to meet him, and he would take her lovingly on his arm and give her what he had brought."


            Louis, we know, put no obstacles in the way of his wife's charity, her simple life or her long prayers. In 1225, when Germany was experiencing famine, the Saint nearly exhausted the store of grain through distribution to the needy during her husband's absence. On Louis' return, the officers of his household complained to him of Elizabeth's generosity to the poor. To this Louis replied, "As for her charities, they will bring upon us a divine blessing. We shall not want, so long as we let her relieve the poor as she does."


            Ludwig himself was much inclined to religion and highly esteemed Elizabeth’s virtue. He encouraged her in her exemplary life. They had three children when tragedy struck - Louis died in Sicily from sickness which he contracted there.[6] After his death, Elizabeth left the court, made arrangements for the care of her children, and in 1228, renounced the world, becoming a tertiary of St. Francis. She built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and devoted herself to the care of the sick until her death at the age of 24 in 1231.[7]


            The story of the children Ludwig and Elizabeth reminds us of the intimate relationships in German folk tales. They grew up together, deeply loving each other deeply like brother and sister, and clung to each other in steadfast faithfulness when everything was working to separate them from one another, when everyone gradually turned away from the foreign and unusual child who would rather spend time with ragged beggars than celebrate joyful festivals, who seemed to fit better in a convent than on a royal throne as the centre of a luxuriant, radiant life at court, to which the nobility of Thuringia had been accustomed on the Wartburg from the time of Count Hermann. Ludwig died on one of his military campaigns, succumbing to the plague, not war wounds. Their third child was born shortly after his death.


Discussion Questions


  • How did Elizabeth and Ludwig build up their family relationships? Give concrete examples of this.


Scripture Reflection:              Eph 4: 3 – 7


Reflection 6: Conscience – the Sense of Justice


            Elizabeth often acted contrary to accepted protocol but out of the highest of motives. The facts presented so far, pointing to her spontaneous way of doing things, seem to say so. But the sources recount other facts that no less clearly point to a will as hard as steel, to a relentless battle against her own nature: The lovely, youthfully cheerful, enchantingly natural person is at the same time a strictly ascetic saint. Early enough she had to recognize that giving oneself over to the pull of one's heart without restraint is not without its dangers. Extravagant love of her relatives, pride, and greed caused Queen Gertrud to be hated by the Hungarian people, caused her sudden, unexpected death at the hands of murderers.


            Untamed passion led Gertrud's sister, Agnes of Meran, into a relationship with the king of France that broke up his marriage and brought ecclesiastical censure to all of France. Reckless political ambition entangled Count Hermann in a lifetime of unremitting warfare and left him to die while excommunicated. From time to time Elizabeth even had to see her own husband involved in unjust power struggles and anathematized. And was even she free of these sinister forces in her own breast? By no means! She knew very well that she, too, could not give herself over to the guidance of her own heart without danger.


            St. Elizabeth had a great deal of suffering. Ludwig’s relatives, who had never liked the way she acted, accused her of mismanaging the estate because of her great charity. Money that belonged to her as a widow was withheld and she was forced to leave Wartburg probably be her brother-in-law, Heinrich, regent for her young son and might have wanted Ludwig’s estate. She was put out of the castle in the depths of winter on a wet night with a baby at her breast In Eisenach, people would not help her in of fear of her enemies. Upon much asking of a shepherd of the landgrave, he allowed her to use an abandoned pig sty. People were not allowed to visit or help her. She had three children. The youngest was only a few months old. They had to wander around in the cold.[8]


            One story narrates: An old woman she met, while crossing a stream on some stepping stones, pushed her into the water and said: “There! That’s where you belong. When you were a princess you wouldn’t act like one. I wouldn’t stoop to help you either!” That was the thanks she received, she who had done so much for the poor, why should we expect gratitude? In any case, she suffered much until she was taken away from Eisenach by her aunt Matilda, abbess of Kitzingen, who gave shelter to Elizabeth and her children.[9]


Discussion Questions


  • Love and hate plays a large role in the life of St Elizabeth. What comments would you make about her response to insult and maltreatment?
  • How can you explain people’s way of acting towards her? Can we learn from this?


Scripture Reflection:             Lk 6:27 – 38


Reflection 7: Elizabeth’s Perseverance in Time of Trials


            Elizabeth was tried in the crucible of suffering. Not only did she have to bear with a hostile court who hated her because she showed them up by her own holiness, but she also suffered when the man she was to marry died. Her acceptance of Ludwig in his place was an act of trust in God’s Providence. The two found loved each other and respected each others wishes. They understood each other’s needs and allowed space for their expression. Both were very capable and able to handle their lives and work well. When Ludwig was away, Elizabeth was able to take care of things very well. Ludwig respected her judgment and stood by her when others criticized her actions in his absence. He supported and protected her. The two “were one flesh” and brought up the family in a loving atmosphere of trust.


            Both were able to cope with the human demands of a family, but also the spiritual needs of all. Elizabeth’s outgoing nature and loving concern for everyone made her very popular among the people who loved her for her wisdom and understanding. Both Ludwig and Elizabeth were persons of deep faith which stood by them in every circumstance of their lives.


            When Ludwig went on the Crusade with Frederick II to the Holy Land in 1227, he died from the plague in Sicily. When the news reached Thuringia, Ludwig’s brothers rose up against Elizabeth and drove her out of the palace. Only two faithful maids went with her. In Eisenach the people were afraid to give her shelter lest they suffer from their new masters in revenge. It was mid-winter and Elizabeth was out in the dark with her four little children. The youngest child was barely two months old and they were all left destitute and homeless.


            A man finally offered her shelter in a stable[10]. Elizabeth was grateful for his kindness and thought how the Son of God was rejected in Bethlehem on that first Christmas and found shelter in a stable. This thought filled her with a greater joy than she had ever experienced in the palace. At midnight, when the bells of the nearby Franciscan friary which she had built sounded and marked the beginning of the chanting of the Divine Office, she begged the friars to sing the Te Deum of Song of Praise in thanksgiving for the favour she and her children were granted in being made like Jesus to take shelter in a stable.


            Elizabeth arranged things as best she could. With her servants, she spun flax for a livelihood, saving something from her meagre income to give to the poor. Later Elizabeth was re-instated in the Wartburg and the Emperor, Frederick II, sought her hand in marriage. However, Elizabeth had so learned to love poverty and seclusion that she had no desire for worldly greatness. Her children were given the education due to princes, but she and her maids went to a small house in Marburg. Elizabeth joined the Third Order of St Francis as the first member of the Third Order in Germany while her husband was still alive. She even received a message from St Francis himself. She now went to live near the Franciscan church in Marburg and lived a quiet life as a tertiary nursing the sick and caring for the poor.


Discussion Questions


  • In Elizabeth’s situation, many would have complained and rebelled against fortune. What made her respond the way she did?
  • Elizabeth’s experience of life can show us how to read God’s plan in our lives. How did Elizabeth approach this?


Scripture Reflection:             Ephesians 4:1 – 6


Reflection 8: Widowhood – Dealing with Loss


            Early in 1228, the body of Louis was solemnly brought home. Accompanied by her faithful servants, Isentrude and Guda, Elizabeth was conducted to the place where the coffin lay. The coffin was opened, and Elizabeth was permitted to look upon the remains of her husband. "Then what her heart felt of grief and love none could know but Him who reads the secrets of the hearts of the children of men." All the afflictions Elizabeth had first experienced on learning of her husband's death were renewed in her soul as she threw herself on the bones and fervently kissed them.


            But what happened next is new and has no parallel. She who is sunk in grief raises herself like a “strong woman”, as the liturgy of her feast extols her, and takes her fate into her hands. At night during a storm, she leaves the Wartburg where people will no longer permit her to live as her conscience dictates. She seeks refuge for herself and her children in Eisenach, and, failing in that, she accepts for the time being the hospitality of her maternal relatives. And even when reconciliation with her husband’s brothers has come about and she is returned to the Wartburg in utmost honour and brotherly love, she cannot stand it there for long. She must walk the path laid out for her to the end, must leave the place on the heights in order to live among the poorest of the poor as one of them, must place her children into strangers' hands, in order to belong to the Lord alone and to serve him in his suffering members. Stripped of everything, she vows herself to the Lord who gave everything for his own.


            On Good Friday in the year 1229, she puts her hands on the stripped altar of the Franciscan Church in Marburg and dons the clothing of the Order. She had belonged to it for years already as a tertiary without being able to live by its spirit as her heart desired. Now she is the sister of the poor and serves them in the hospital that she built for them. But not for very long, for only two years later her strength is exhausted and the twenty-four-year-old is permitted to enter into the joy of the Lord.[11]


Discussion Questions


  • Tragedy seemed to mark the short life of Elizabeth of Hungary all the time. At an early age she was taken from her parents, her future spouse died before they were married, her husband died of the plague, she was cast out of her home with her children. How can God be so harsh on such a good person?


  • What answer did Elizabeth find to her problems?


Scripture Reflection


            See the story of Job in Job 1:1 - 22


Reflection 9: Dealing with Change

            Overflowing love and joy led to a free naturalness that could not be contained by convention. How could one walk in measured stride or lisp pretentious speech when the signal resounds before the castle gate, announcing the master's return? Elizabeth forgot irretrievably all the rules of breeding when her heart began beating stormily, and she followed the rhythm and beat of her heart. Again, is one to think about socially acceptable forms for expressing one's devotion even in church? She could only do what love asked of her, even though it produced strong criticism.

            In no way could she understand that it was improper to take gifts to the poor herself, to speak with them in a friendly way, to go into their huts, and to care for them in their own homes. She did not want to be stubborn and disobedient and to live in discord with her own, but she could not hear human voices over the inner voice governing her. Therefore, in the long run she could not live among the conventional who could not and would not release themselves from age-old institutions and deeply rooted ways of thinking about life. She was able to remain among her peers as long as a holy union held her fast and a faithful protector remained at her side, sympathetically taking into consideration her heart's command while at the same time prudently considering the demands of the surroundings.

            After the death of her husband, she had to leave the circles into which she was born and raised and to go her own way. It was a sharp and painful separation, certainly for her as well. But with a heart full of love that was stopped by no barriers separating her from her dear brothers and sisters, she found the path that so many today vainly seek, despite their great good will and the exertion of all their strength: the path to the hearts of the poor.[12]

Discussion Questions


  • Elizabeth was so gifted that she was able to cope with change in her life. She frequently had to adapt her behaviour and reactions to varying circumstances. Her tolerance and loving acceptance of the situation gives us a model to follow. What circumstance in your life do you find difficult and where you need to adapt? How do you solve your problems in regard to change?


  • How have you responded to change in the past e.g. to the changing Liturgy of the Church? Would you act differently now?


Scripture Reflection               Acts 9:1 - 30


Reflection 10: Elizabeth Encounters the Ideals of St Francis


            In 1221, the followers of St Francis of Assisi made their first permanent settlement in Germany. This was the second mission to the country. The first mission was sent in 1217 and failed. Br Rodeger was one of the first Brothers to be received into the Order by the Provincial, Brother Caesar of Spier, and became the spiritual instructor of Elizabeth at the Wartburg. He opened up to her the ideals of St Francis and she was immediately attracted to them. The Friars Minor arrived in Eisenach, the capital of Thuringia, at the end of 1224. With the aid of the Friars Minor, Elizabeth founded a monastery in Eisenach in 1225. Brother Rodeger[13] taught Elizabeth how she could observe chastity, humility, patience, the exercise of prayer and charity according to her state in life. It was clear from her remarks to her attendants that she was completely taken by the ideal of poverty that Francis taught. She desired the life of poverty as he had described it with all her heart, but because of her position, she was unable to carry out the ideal of voluntary and complete poverty.


            After some time, Brother Rodeger’s post was filled by Master Conrad of Marburg who did not belong to any Order, but he was an ascetic and a somewhat rough and very severe man.[14] He was well-known as a preacher of the Crusade. He was also an Inquisitor or Judge in the dreaded Inquisition in cases of heresy. Because of this position he has been severely judged by posterity, perhaps rather unfairly. Pope Gregory IX used to write to Elizabeth occasionally recommending her to this God-fearing man. However, Conrad treated Elizabeth with undue severity, “even using corporal means of correction.” However, he taught her self-mortification that led to her holiness.[15]


            But even under the direction of the austere Conrad, Elizabeth’s femininity, lovingness and conjugal love was strengthened and fortified. She expressed her love for Ludwig when he returned from his long trips. Her generous spirit is shown in her care and devotion to the Franciscan Friars when she helped them find a place to live and work in Marburg.


            After Elizabeth’s death, Conrad was very active in the cause for her canonization. Although he forbade her to follow St Francis in complete poverty as a beggar, she was commanded to keep her dowry and this enabled her to carry out works of mercy.



Discussion Questions


  • Elizabeth lived in another era and approach to spirituality. What are some of the differences that you noticed in her behaviour to “modern” approaches?


  • What do you see as the role of self-denial today? How is this expressed in the SFO Rule?


Scripture Reflection:             Romans 8:9 – 17


Reflection 11: Elizabeth and the Franciscan Family


            Elizabeth became associated with the Franciscan Friars soon after they established their first settlement in the region in 1221, and she obtained spiritual instruction from them. The ideals of St. Francis appealed to her: chastity, humility, patience, prayer, and charity. Because of her royal position, the vow of poverty that Franciscans took was not easy to pursue and her retention of funds made the charitable work she pursued more fruitful; over time she distributed everything she had. It was with her financial aid and spiritual support that the Franciscans in 1225 founded a monastery in Eisenach. Conrad of Marburg, who had been held in high esteem by Ludwig, became her spiritual advisor. It is said that he treated Elizabeth with all the severity of his nature, for which he had a considerable reputation, but through this led her to new levels of sanctity and charity; after her death he was very active in her canonization.


            One of the characteristics of Elizabeth was her influence on those with whom she came in contact: People either loved her and were felt challenged by her and consequently acted towards her in a manner in keeping with their attraction or hatred for her. Many of the poor loved her and sought her not only for her physical assistance but for her love which she poured out upon them. Love nurtured love in others. Her own husband had many fine qualities but it was Elizabeth who brought out in him the spiritual side of their relationship.


            They are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. She serves the Lord when she serves them. But she must also ensure that through faith and love they become living members. Everyone close to her she tried to lead to the Lord, thus practicing a blessed apostolate. This is evident in the life of her companions. The formation of her husband is a persuasive witness to this, as well as the interior change of his brother, Conrad, who after her death, obviously under her influence, entered an Order. The love of Christ, this is the spirit that filled and informed Elizabeth's life, that nurtured her unceasing love of her neighbours.


            Elizabeth also came to influence Popes and people of importance because of her noble actions and her great humility. Her penances brought her in a close relationship with others by making her aware of suffering in others and their needs. Her compassion for the sick, rejected and poor shaped her life. That is why many others in the Franciscan Family have found her a model of apostolic action and mission.


            It is true that even in her lifetime, Elizabeth influenced many people because of her position in the castle, but she also influenced many more after her death through the works that she initiated especially for the sick and needy. She has inspired the entire Franciscan Family by her close following the spirit of St Francis in all that she did and which have been testified by the number of miracles that have taken place at her intercession.


Discussion Questions

  • What virtues in Elizabeth do you admire most? 


  • Why do you think Elizabeth attracted so many followers?


Scripture Reflection   1 Cor 12:12 - 31


Reflection 12: Youth and Formation


            Here we are going to consider Elizabeth and her growth in holiness from her early years until her maturity which was very early in her life. For a person who died aged 24, she achieved an enormous amount in a short time. The stories about Elizabeth reveal her early maturity and wisdom that singled her out as special and particularly gifted by God.


A Legend


            When Elizabeth was twelve year old, Elizabeth shocked the court by her disregard for pomp and show. On the feast of the Assumption she was required to go in state to attend the High Mass. “This meant that she and the princesses would be dressed in the full magnificence of their rich silk and velvet clothes, with long embroidered sleeves and surcoats, edged with fur, with magnificent long mantles carried by pages, their gloves sewn with pearls and precious stones, and their persons adorned with golden chains and jewels. The young princesses probably did not wear the customary linen coif but would have loose veils and coronets on their flowing hair. On entering the packed church, they knelt before the crucifix, and then instead of moving to her place of honour with the others, Elizabeth took off her crown, laying it before the cross, and remained prostrate on the ground with her face covered.”


            All eyes turned towards the Landgrave’s future bride. When his mother corrected her for this want of protocol, Elizabeth responded: “How can I, a miserable creature, remain wearing a crown of earthly dignity, when I see my King, Jesus Christ, crowned with thorns?”[16]


            Later we read about her growing maturity: It is easy to see the action of Jesus Christ in the attention that Elizabeth so lovingly gave to the poor and the sick - and especially to lepers. Her sensitivity above all shows that her whole life as a noblewoman, wife, mother, and widow was suffused with a Franciscan spirituality that constantly challenged her to be "in the world, but not of the world."

            In a very real way
Elizabeth incarnates the meaning of what lay spirituality is all about. ”Even under the direction of the austere Conrad, Elizabeth's femininity, affectivity, and conjugal love was strengthened and fortified. Her manifestations of affection for her husband, Louis, when he returned long trips - and especially on the occasion of his death - are very touching. Her generous spirit is shown in her care and devotion to the Franciscan friars when she helped them find a place to live and work in Marburg.

Elizabeth's tender love is also demonstrated in her desire to serve Christ present in the poor. This is shown so beautifully in the episode of the leper who was experiencing terrible sufferings and who seemed to be miraculously transformed into a kind of living crucifix in the presence of a gathering of his grieving relatives.”[17]

Questions for Discussion

  • What incidents in the life of St Elizabeth indicate her growing maturity in faith?


Scripture Reflection   1Cor 13:11 – 13


Reflection 13: A Life of Penance


            Everyone today recognizes that Elizabeth was a Franciscan Penitent. She most authentically embodied the penitential spirit of St Francis. Forming her life to please God Elizabeth strived for this goal not only for herself and in battle against her own nature. With full awareness and the same inflexible determination, she endeavoured to influence her surroundings. As countess she took pains to counteract excesses in sumptuous clothing and to move the titled ladies to renounce this or that vanity. When she began to avoid all food obtained with illegal revenues and was thus often forced to go hungry at the fully-laden royal table, she assumed that her loyal companions Guda and Isentrud would share her deprivations, as later they would also follow her into the distress of voluntary banishment and poverty. And what a protest this abstention from food was against the whole way of life around her!


            Her increasingly austere way of life made most severe demands on her husband. He had to look on while she treated herself with the utmost harshness, endangered her health, squandered his wealth lavishly; while, by all this, she roused the opposition of his family and of all at court; and, finally, while she fought to detach herself interiorly from him, even bemoaning bitterly that she was bound by her marriage. All this required heroic self-mastery on his part as well, and one readily understands why, as he accepted everything with love and patience, faithfully taking the trouble to stand by his wife in her striving for perfection, the young count came to be regarded as a saint by his people.


            It is true that St. Elizabeth had to suffer a lot throughout her life. When she was forced to leave Wartburg. In Eisenach, people would not help her for fear of reprisals. People were not allowed to visit or help her. She had three children. The youngest was only a few months old. They had to wander around in the winter. These sufferings she took from God’s hand as blessings which helped her come closer to her Lord in his sufferings.


            In 1228, when she joined the Third Order of St. Francis at Marburg, she decided to build a hospital with some property still belonging to her. She herself lived in a small mud house. All her strength and care were now devoted to the poor and the sick; while she obtained the few things she needed by spinning. She even made habits for the Friars Minor.


            Elizabeth demonstrated her commitment by living in poverty, giving away all her possessions and devoting herself to begging – the very thing St Francis demanded of his followers.  St. Elizabeth died when she was only twenty-four years old.


Questions for Discussion


  • What role do you see for penance in your life?


  • What does St Elizabeth teach us about the life of penance and charity?


Scripture Reflection        Phil 3:12 - 21



Reflection 14: The “Conversion” of Elizabeth


            Initially, it was probably the doctrine of the Gospel and the general ascetic practices of her time that guided Elizabeth in her striving for perfection. Every now and then she had an insight and sought to put it into practice. When the Franciscans came to Germany, she found what she was looking for, a clearly outlined ideal and complete way of life; and, as her guest on the Wartburg, Rodiger instructed her about the lifestyle of the Poor Man of Assisi. Now suddenly she knew precisely what she wanted and what she had always longed for: to be entirely poor, to go begging from door to door, to be no longer chained by any possessions or human ties, also to be free of her own will to be entirely and exclusively the Lord's own. Count Ludwig could not bring himself to dissolve the marriage bond, to let her leave him. However, he would help her toward a regulated life, approximating her ideal as closely as possible.


            It was probably better for her guide not to be a Franciscan otherwise her unfulfillable wishes could not be put to rest but someone who dampened her excesses with quiet reason and yet had an understanding of her interior desire. Such a man was Master Conrad of Marburg who was recommended to the count as a guide for his wife. He was a secular priest but as poor as a beggar monk, entirely consecrated to the service of the Lord, and very strict with himself as well as with others. This is how he travelled throughout Germany as preacher of the crusade and warrior for the purity of the faith. Elizabeth took a vow to obey him in the year 1225 and remained under his direction until her death. For her to submit herself to him and to continue submissive to him was surely the severest breaking of her own will, for, in accordance with her own wishes, he not only engaged in the severest battle against her lower nature, but also directed her love of God and neighbour in directions different from her impulse. Neither before nor after the death of her husband did he ever permit her to give up all her possessions. He restrained her indiscriminate almsgiving, gradually limited it and finally completely forbade it to her. He also tried to keep her from tending people with contagious diseases (the only point on which Elizabeth had not entirely submitted by the end).


            The ancient sources speak of a public gesture of “conversion” on the part of Elizabeth. They relate that after she became a widow in 1227 at the death of her husband Ludwig, she dedicated herself “to reaching the highest summit of perfection.” On March 24, 1228, she placed her hands on the altar – which had been uncovered for Holy Friday – and renounced earthly vanities and ‘those things that the Lord advises to abandon in the Gospels’. She adopted grey clothing for herself and her companions that was similar to the clothing worn by the Friars Minor. This public gesture of renouncing the world and adopting a distinctive dress appears to be a true “religious profession” pronounced in a Franciscan oratory.[18]


            In doing this, we know that Elizabeth did not act impulsively. She had received instruction from the Friars who came to visit her. She knew enough about St Francis of Assisi that she wanted to dedicate a hospital to him, and used the proceeds from her own dowry for the project. She herself had carried out works of penance from her youth. She had developed a habit of prayer that caused her a great deal of suffering from her peers. She expressed her love for the poor, the sick and the needy by giving alms even at an early age. It was natural that the Franciscan way should appeal to her where all these practices were confirmed.


            We know that when Elizabeth was forced to leave Wartburg, she met with the Friars Minor and invited them to join her in singing the Te Deum (A song of Praise of God recited on festive occasions in the Divine Office). She found her Friar Brothers a spiritual support for herself when she was facing trials.


            On Good Friday, 1228, in the Franciscan house at Eisenach, Elizabeth formally renounced the world; she received from Conrad the dress of the Third Order of St. Francis. In the summer of 1228 she built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and on its completion devoted herself entirely to the care of the sick, especially to those afflicted with debilitating and disfiguring diseases.


            The letter from the Conference of the Franciscan Family[19] notes that in the biographical sources, we find two professions by Elizabeth and two ways of professing at the time: in the first one, she entered the Order of Penitents while her husband was still alive. With her hands in those of the visitator, Conrad of Marburg, she promised obedience and continence. On Good Friday, 1228, she made a second profession with her companions to a religious life for professed women.


Discussion Questions


  • Elizabeth was inspired by the example of St Francis, but, at the same time, she had to temper her enthusiasm because of her social obligations. The members of the SFO also have obligations which they must fulfil. Do you see any contradiction in this?


  • What does your religious profession mean to you? Have you still retained your “first fervour”? If not, what can be done to revive it?


Scripture Reflection:       Mk 10:17 - 23


Reflection 15: Elizabeth – Apostle to the Poor


            From earliest youth, Elizabeth opened her heart in warm, compassionate love for all who suffered and were oppressed. She was moved to feed the hungry and to tend the sick, but was never satisfied with warding off material need alone, always desiring to have cold hearts warm themselves at her own. The poor children in her hospital ran into her arms calling her mother, because they felt her real maternal love. All of this overflowing treasure came from the inexhaustible source of the Lord's love, for he had been close to her for as long as she could remember.


            There is a unique testimony to the life of Elizabeth of Hungary in a church devoted to her memory. It is a gilded bronze reliquary dating between 1235 and 1945. One of the reliefs on it shows Elizabeth wearing a Franciscan cord and distributing bread to the poor. This is characteristic of St Elizabeth and probably one for which she is best remembered. The attention that Elizabeth so lovingly gave to the poor and the sick – especially to lepers – expresses her recognition of Christ in these suffering victims of their circumstances. Her sensitivity above all shows that her whole life as a noblewoman, wife, mother, and widow was suffused with a Franciscan spirit that constantly challenged her to be “in the world, but not of the world.” In a very real way, Elizabeth incarnates the meaning of what lay spirituality is all about. No matter how severely she had to suffer from other circumstances in her life, she never failed to serve the poor.


            Legends abound that describe her generous spirit in helping those who were in need. The same legend can appear in different forms but still bearing the message of her love for the poor. A story is told of a leper who was experiencing terrible sufferings and who seemed to be miraculously transformed into a kind of living crucifix in the presence of a gathering of his grieving relatives.


A Legend to Read


            When Ludwig was absent she put off her gowns and dressed as a peasant in mourning. Then she would ride through the village helping her subjects and listening to their problems. She saw how they lived, and learned what they really thought of their rulers; that they hated rich people who grew rich at their expense. The peasants endured hard labour, had to pay heavy taxes, and often suffered cruel treatment from the nobles. Her maids would accompany her on her errands...until she went to the leper colony, then she went alone. She brought food and clothing, but more importantly she brought love and consolation of Catholic teachings.[20]


Discussion Questions


  • One of the outstanding characteristics of Secular Franciscans has always been their care for the needy and especially the sick. How faithful have we been to this trait?
  • One of the corporal works of mercy is visiting the sick. In these days when there seems to be so much to do, do we still continue to consider our sick brothers and sisters especially in our region?
  • How can we help the poor and needy in other lands especially where there is so much poverty?


Scripture Reflection        Mt 25:31 – 46


Reflection 16: Elizabeth’s Life of Prayer and Action


            When her father and mother sent her away, he went with her into the far-away, foreign country. From the time that she knew that he dwelt in the town chapel, she was drawn to it from the midst of her childhood games. Here she is at home. When people reviled and derided her, it was here that she found comfort. No one was as faithful as he. Therefore, she had to be true to him as well and love him above everyone and everything. No human image was permitted to dislodge his image from her heart. That is why strong pangs of remorse overwhelmed her when she was startled by the little bell announcing the consecration, making her aware that her eye and her heart were turned toward the husband at her side instead of paying attention to the Holy Sacrifice.


            In the presence the image of the Crucified One who hangs on the Cross naked and bleeding, she could not wear finery and a crown. He stretched his arms out wide to draw to him all who were burdened and heavy laden. She must carry this Crucified One's love to all who are burdened and heavy laden and in turn arouse in them love for the Crucified One.


            When, with cunning piety, the child thought up games which would enable her to skip off to the chapel or throw herself down secretly to say her prayers, a mighty tug of grace must certainly have been working in her heart; but she could have suspected, too, that in her play she was also in danger of getting lost from God. This becomes even clearer when the young lady came home from her first dance with a serious face and said, "One dance is enough for the world. For God's sake, I want to forego the rest of them." When she arose from her bed at night and knelt to pray or left the room entirely to let the maids whip her[21], this surely tells us not only of her general desire to do penance and to suffer voluntarily for the Lord's sake, but that she wanted to save herself from the danger of forgetting the Lord while at her beloved husband's side.


            We are also told that “Notwithstanding the turbulence and purely secular life of the court and the pomp of her surroundings, the little girl grew up a very religious child with an evident inclination to prayer and pious observances and small acts of self-mortification. These religious impulses were undoubtedly strengthened by the sorrowful experiences of her life.”[22]


            On a day of the holy Lent, she was in the church and she beheld attentively the altar like as she had been in the presence divine, and there she was comforted by revelation divine. And then she returned to her house and prophesied of herself that she should see Jesu Christ in heaven: and anon as she lay down for feebleness in the lap of her chamberer, she began to look up into heaven, and she was so glad that she began debonairly to laugh, and when she had been long joyful she was suddenly turned into weeping, and then she looked up to heavenward again, and anon she returned into her first joy; and when she closed her eyes she began to weep, and in this manner she abode till Compline.... Her prayer was of so great ardour that she drew others to good living.[23]

Questions for Discussion


  • The above paragraphs give us different pictures of Elizabeth and her prayer life. Discuss these among yourselves. What do you make of her prayer life?


Scripture Reflection          Mt 6:5 – 15


Reflection 17: Elizabeth and Apostolic Activities

            St. Elizabeth participated in many acts of charity. She helped orphans, widows, the needy, and the sick. When there was a famine, she gave all of the grain from her stocks to lepers. She created a hospital for them. She would kiss their hands and feet.

    To take care of those who were both sick and destitute, she had a small hospital built below the Wartburg castle, with twenty-eight beds. Her personal touch was evident there: she visited the patients daily to attend to their needs; at the same time she aided hundreds of poor people daily through giving food and other supplies.

            The numerous "St. Elizabeth's Hospitals" throughout the world are for the most part named, not for the Biblical Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, but for this princess of Hungary. She was concerned for the relief of the poor and the sick, and with her husband's consent she used her dowry money for their relief. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, while her husband was away in Italy, she sold her jewels and established a hospital where she nursed the sick, and opened the royal granaries to feed the hungry. After her husband's death in 1227, her in-laws, who opposed her "extravagances," expelled her from Wartburg. Finally an arrangement was negotiated with them that gave her a stipend. She became a Franciscan tertiary (lay associate) and devoted the remainder of her life to nursing and charity. She sewed garments to clothe the poor, and went fishing to feed them.

    St. Elizabeth is remembered for her charitable works, especially for the establishment of hospitals. Today, dozens of hospitals and medical centres are named for her, several of them founded by the Sisters of St. Francis. Elizabeth lived at a time when the combined disasters of climate, war, pestilence, and poverty caused great suffering, and she became devoted to helping those who had nowhere to turn.

    She married in 1221. She did both her duties as a servant of God and wife wonderfully. In the middle of the night she would wake up and pray. St. Elizabeth participated in many acts of charity. She helped orphans, widows, the needy, and the sick. When there was a famine, she gave all of the grain from her stocks to lepers. She created a hospital for them. She would kiss their hands and feet.



Almighty God, by whose grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honoured Jesus in the poor of this world: Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble, in the name and for the sake of through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Questions for Discussion


  • What made Elizabeth a Saint and not simply a philanthropist?


  • What drove Elizabeth to be so generous to others?


Scripture Reflection  James 2:14 - 26


Reflection 18: Elizabeth and the Will of God


            Tragedy seemed be a constant companion of St Elizabeth all her life and yet she was able to be cheerful and accepting. She seemed to have that happy way of being at peace. What was her secret? Many who would have been in her position would have rebelled against God when they looked back at the calamities that came one after the other: The first was when she was separated from her parents at the tender age of four and sent from her home in Eisenach to the castle at Wartburg, some 700 km away to prepare her for her future role. The castle was built on a high mountain surrounded by more than 150km of dark forest. According to the custom, Elizabeth was betrothed to Ludwig who was eleven years old. Not long after, Elizabeth’s mother was assassinated and Ludwig’s older brother died and not long after Ludwig’s father, Hermann, died also. At the age of 14, Elizabeth married Ludwig aged 21. Only six years later, her husband died of the plague in Taranto, Sicily. Not long after, she was forced out of her home with her young children and left to fend for herself. God chastises those he loves. This was certainly true in the case of Elizabeth. Of course, there were also spiritual trials she had to suffer especially when she was under the spiritual direction of Master Conrad of Marburg who even whipped her and was so severe towards her. Did God really want this?


            There is no doubt that all these trials brought Elizabeth to sainthood. They shaped her life and she responded generously and lovingly. St Paul said, “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” God wants us to be saved and to be holy. While the normal means of holiness are the sacraments, prayer, the Eucharist particularly, we are also sanctified through everyday life situations – living and not just existing. When we are involved in life, we are living. When we are passively observing it from the sidelines, we are existing. Sanctification involves entering fully into life – living life. Elizabeth lived her life fully and helped others to live life. Her works of charity were an expression of an interior disposition. Her generosity towards others only came from a deep generosity towards God.


            When we are confronted with tragedy, we tend to ask, “Where is God? God is supposed to help us.” Or we might ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” A person of faith believes that God is always with us and that God brings good out of evil. In his own way, God is always at work biding his own time, slowly weaving the tapestry of salvation in this world. Christ himself had to suffer innocent as he was. St Elizabeth realized this, and her deep, personal relationship with Christ taught her this truth. God would never leave her and she only had to trust him and things would be all right. God is a loving God and has to tolerate evil.


            We are sanctified through the realities of our life. This is how we work out our salvation as St Elizabeth has shown us through her life. This attitude is not only what gives meaning to the task at hand, but this is what the spiritual life is all about, facing the realities of life with the mind, spirit and attitude of Christ. Jesus said, “I have come to do the will of the one who sent me.” Jesus was a realist, and he teaches us how to face reality.[24]


Question for Discussion


  • How should we deal with the problem of evil in our lives? What inspiration can we gain from St Elizabeth?


Scripture Reflection:             Mt 13:24 – 30


Reflection 19: Elizabeth and Sickness and Death

Soon after the death of Elizabeth, miracles were reported to occur at her grave in the church associated with the hospital, especially miracles of healing. At Pentecost of the year 1235, the solemn ceremony of canonization of the "greatest woman of the German Middle Ages" was celebrated by Gregory IX at Perugia, with Conrad present.

Conrad had written in support of her canonization a letter, of which a portion is reproduced here:

Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband's empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband's four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door. Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Saviour in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.

Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn-out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.

In August of 1235, soon after her canonization, the corner-stone of the beautiful Gothic Franciscan church of St. Elizabeth was laid at Marburg. On May 1, 1236, Emperor Frederick II attended the taking-up of the body of the saint; in 1249 the remains were placed in the choir of the church of St. Elizabeth (see photo of church, below).

Questions for Discussion

  • There is always something beautiful about the death of a Saint. What impressions do you have of Elizabeth’s passing?
  • How should a Franciscan face death?

Scripture Reflection:           1Thess 4:13 – 18


Reflection 20: The Heritage of Elizabeth of Hungary


            If we look at the list of Patrons who come under Elizabeth, we would find the following: Bakers; beggars; brides; charitable societies; charitable workers; charities; countesses; death of children; exiles; falsely accused people; hoboes; homeless people; hospitals; in-law problems; lace-makers; lace workers; nursing homes; nursing services; people in exile; people ridiculed for their piety; Sisters of Mercy; tertiaries; Teutonic Knights; toothache; tramps; widows.


Symbols: three crowns (virgin, wife, widow triple crown; roses; basket of bread and flask of wine; roses in a robe; infant in a cradle; model of a hospital or of Warburg castle; distaff

Ludwig, Landgrave of Thuringia. We could also add: those falsely accused, Tertiaries, widows, and young brides. Her symbols are alms, flowers, bread, the poor, and a pitcher.


            The physical achievements of Elizabeth of Hungary are many and can easily be seen even today. However, the spiritual heritage she has left behind has been overlooked by many people. It is at this time of her 800th anniversary of her birth that we can come to appreciate her contribution to the spiritual welfare of all Franciscans, and praise God for his gift of Elizabeth to the Church.


            Elizabeth’s ardent inner strength grew out of her contact with God. Her prayer was intense and constant, at times even reaching ecstasy. Her constant awareness of the presence of the Lord was the source of her strength and joy, and of her commitment to the poor. But her encounter with Christ in the poor also stimulated her faith and her prayer.


            Her pilgrimage towards God is marked by resolute steps of detachment, until she was totally stripped bare, like Christ on the Cross. At the end she had nothing left but the poor grey penitential tunic, which she wanted to keep as a symbol and shroud.


            Elizabeth radiated joy and serenity. The depth of her soul was the kingdom of peace. She made the “perfect joy” taught by Francis a reality in hardship, solitude and suffering. ‘We must make people happy,’ she used to say to her handmaid sisters.”[25]

 Questions for Discussion


  • What things do you see in common in those who take Elizabeth as their patroness?
  • What strikes you most about Elizabeth? Discuss this.


Scripture Reflection   1 Cor 12:4 - 11




            At Pentecost, 28th May, 1235, the solemn ceremony of canonization of the “greatest woman of the German Middle Ages” was celebrated by Gregory IX at Perugia, Landgrave Conrad being present. Elizabeth is generally represented as a princess graciously giving alms to the wretched poor or as holding roses in her lap. Sometimes we see her depicted alone, but she is also portrayed, according to Legend, surprised by her husband who met her unexpectedly as she went secretly on an errand of mercy and the bread she was trying to conceal was suddenly turned into roses.


            May this time of celebration bring about a host of blessings which like those of St Therese, the Little Flower, promised to send a shower upon all who appeal to her.


            Perhaps this is a good time to consider what we can do to further the work of helping the poor and marginalized members of society either at home or abroad.


Questions for Discussion


  • Can you suggest areas where we need to do more in assisting the poor and neglected in society either here or abroad?


  • What practical ways can we improve on our life of penance?


  • What spiritual matters should we attend to following the example of St Elizabeth?



For teachers and catechists, there is a Paraliturgy on St Elizabeth on the web. See




Appendix: Websites for Elizabeth of Hungary for Further Study


            I found the following sites useful: The Chaplet of St Elizabeth The Golden Legend     This is very good. “A New Social Order”  Saint of the Day Michael Bihl’s presentation very good Catholic Encyclopedia The Legend of St Elizabeth Wikipedia Ecole Glossary Ludwig defends his wife Interesting fables How the Spirit informed her life Children’s version of life of St Elizabeth Catechist aid very good reflections by TOR Friars Spirituality of Elizabeth SFO presentation of Elizabeth’s spirituality Elizabeth of Hungary, princess and philanthropist;shtml  Maps & history of Thuringia;  Catholic Encyclopedia for history of Thuringia

[1] This is taken from the electronic version of Delahaye’s book on the internet. E. Cosquin, Comes populaires de Lorraine, vol. I., p. 71.

[2] Some biographies speak badly of Sophia blaming her of maltreatment of Elizabeth

[3] Harbig,ofm, M. The Franciscan Book of Saints, Franciscan Herald Press, 1979

[4] Mary Germaine, MICM, op. cit.

[5] ibid.

[6] Some legends claim he was killed in battle while fighting with the Crusaders, but that is doubted by some historians.

[7] Taken from Secular Saints by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc. (website)



[8] Recent studies seem to indicate that Elizabeth left Wartburg voluntarily because of a moral issue: she was not able to obey Conrad’s command to eat only food obtained in a way that was certainly right and proper. New Catholic Encyclopedia.

[9] See the full story at the website

[10] Some say a pig sty

[12] Copyright ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included. Maintained by the Austrian Province of the Teresian Carmel


[13] The name is also written “Ruggero” or “Rüdiger” by different authors.

[14] The extreme severity of this man is described in

[15] Cf. Jordan of Giano, Chronicles, 25

[16] Internet site on St Elizabeth by Mary Germaine MICM, Spiritual Inheritance of St Elizabeth Franciscan Patron

[17] Spiritual Inheritance of St Elizabeth cf. website for the TOR

[18] ibid.

[19]We have come to believe in love”17th November, 2006, n. 5

[20] ibid.

[21] Remember we are dealing with a different era and concept of penance.

[22] New Catholic Encyclopedia

[24] Fr Dennis Byrnes in an article, “Is this the will of God?” in Courier Mail, Brisbane, 14th November, 2001

[25] Quoted from Conference of the Franciscan Family, “We have come to believe in love” n. 7