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
Table of Contents2
Reflection 1: St Elizabeth’s Birth, Family and First Home3
Reflection 2:Thuringia and Elizabeth’s Marriage5
Reflection 3: Family Life7
Reflection 4:Trials in Elizabeth’s Married life8
Reflection 5:Family Relationships9
Reflection 6:Conscience – The Sense of Justice10
Reflection 7:Elizabeth’s Perseverance in time of trial11
Reflection 8:Widowhood – Dealing with Loss12
Reflection 9:Dealing with Change13
Reflection 10:Elizabeth Encounters the Ideals of St Francis14
Reflection 11: Elizabeth and the
Reflection 12: Youth and Formation16
Reflection 13: A Life of Penance17
Reflection 14:The “Conversion” of Elizabeth18
Reflection 15:Elizabeth – Apostle to the Poor20
Reflection 16:Elizabeth: Her Life of Prayer and Action21
Reflection 17:Elizabeth and Apostolic Activities22
Reflection 18: Elizabeth and the Will of God23
Reflection 19: Elizabeth’s Last Illness and Death24
Reflection 20: The Heritage of Elizabeth of Hungary25
AppendixSuggested Websites for further study27
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.”
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 ThuringianForest 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.
Elizabeth despised the vanities of court life. She was
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
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.
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?
The most conspicuous geographical feature
of Thuringia is the Thuringian Forest (Thüringer
Wald), a mountain chain in the southwest. The WerraRiver("Werratal")
separates this mountain chain from the Rhön Mountains, which are partially in Thuringia. In the northwest Thuringia includes a small part
of the HarzMountains. The
eastern part of Thuringia is generally a plain. The SaaleRiver 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.
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
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?
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.”
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?
Once Elizabeth was married, WartburgCastle 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.”
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.”
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
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
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.
How did Elizabeth’s spirituality show in her married life?
Gospel ReflectionMt 11: 7 – 19
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.
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.”
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
How did Elizabeth and Ludwig build up their family
relationships? Give concrete examples of this.
4: 3 – 7
Conscience – the Sense of Justice
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
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.
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.
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.
Love and hate plays a large role in the life of St Elizabeth.
What comments would you make about her response to insult and
How can you explain people’s way of acting towards her? Can we
learn from this?
Scripture Reflection: Lk – 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. 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
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
Widowhood – Dealing with Loss
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.
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
On Good Friday in the year 1229, she
puts her hands on the stripped altar of the FranciscanChurch 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.
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?
See the story of Job in Job 1:1 - 22
Dealing with Change
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Elizabeth lived in another era and approach to
spirituality. What are some of the differences that you noticed in her behaviour to “modern”
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
Elizabeth and the Franciscan Family
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
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.
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
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.
What virtues in Elizabeth do you admire most?
Why do you think Elizabeth attracted so many followers?
Scripture Reflection1 Cor - 31
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.
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?”
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.
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 miraculouslytransformed into a kind of living crucifix in the presence of a
gathering of his grieving relatives.”
Questions for Discussion
What incidents in the life of St Elizabeth indicate her growing
maturity in faith?
Scripture Reflection1Cor – 13
Reflection 13: A
Life of Penance
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!
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.
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
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.
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
Scripture Reflection Phil
The “Conversion” of Elizabeth
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
letter from the Conference of the
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.
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 - 23
Elizabeth – Apostle to the Poor
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.
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.
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
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
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
How can we help the poor and needy in
other lands especially where there is so much poverty?
Scripture ReflectionMt 25:31 – 46
Reflection 16: Elizabeth’s Life of
Prayer and Action
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.”
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
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
Scripture ReflectionMt 6:5 –
Reflection 17: Elizabeth and Apostolic
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.
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
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.
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
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
Questions for Discussion
What made Elizabeth a Saint and not simply a philanthropist?
What drove Elizabeth to be so generous to others?
Scripture ReflectionJames - 26
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. Elizabethlived
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.
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 – 30
Reflection 19: Elizabeth and Sickness
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 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
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
How should a Franciscan face death?
Scripture Reflection:1Thess – 18
The Heritage of Elizabeth of Hungary
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.”
What things do you see in common in those who take Elizabeth as
What strikes you most about Elizabeth?
Scripture Reflection1 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
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
 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.