St Elizabeth of Hungary - November 17

Elizabeth, daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, a vivacious girl, was given in marriage at fourteen years of age to Count Louis IV of Thuringia, in Germany. She was a rich and powerful Lady, the mother of three boys, very much given to prayer and to works of charity for the poor, the sick and those dying of the plague. On one occasion, the young bride took the sick into her own home, and nursed victims of the plague in her own bedroom. Louis must have been very patient!

Above all, Elizabeth spent her wealth and that of the tiny State of Thuringia on building hospitals and shelters. She acted against every injustice done to the people, and was fully supported by her husband. They were a very happy couple.

When Elizabeth was only twenty years old, Louis died during a Crusade. His family evicted her with her three boys from Wartburg castle. She accepted her new condition of extreme poverty and persevered in her previous commitments, raising her sons and caring for the sick in hospitals. She gave everything to Jesus Christ, whom she recognized as "alive" in the sick. The gospel that we read on her feast day (Matthew 25:31-46: "... I was sick and you visited me ...") came to life in this young widow.

Three hundred years after Elizabeth, Martin Luther was given refuge in the Wartburg by the same family that drove her out. The castle is a magnificent museum dedicated to Luther, but there is a small room dedicated to St Elizabeth. The Lutherans have written a notice that reveals a deep understanding of the Saint. It reads like this:


Elizabeth's entry into the Secular Franciscan Order was not the same as entering into a form of life like retiring into a convent. On the contrary, it would be truer to say that she closed the distance between her privileged 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 her 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 your patroness.

Elizabeth became a Franciscan Tertiary a year after the death of St Francis. She had found a hovel near the friars, was happy to have God alone and entrusted herself to him.

She was canonized four years after her death. Her Christian and Franciscan experience, although in such a short span of life, is an example for every lay person, whether rich and powerful or poor and defenceless, especially for wives, mothers and widows.

I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers,
you did it for me.
Come, you have my Father's blessing!
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the creation of the world.

Magnificat Antiphon