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March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

St Elizabeth of Hungary - 17th November 2009

Elizabeth of Hungary lived for only a short while during the early part of the thirteenth century, yet experienced life as only few can; she was a child, princess, mother, queen, widow, exile, and one of the most pious women to ever live. She was able to simultaneously balance the role of prosperous sovereign with humble servant of God. Even after her exile by her in-laws, in the years following her husband’s death, she remained strong in her faith and never wavered in her devotion to the poor. She was an extraordinary woman who lived for less than a quarter of a century during the early portion of the 13th century, but made more of an impact on an entire country then most people who live three times as long as she did. She is still remembered in Germany as "dear St. Elizabeth" and her feast is celebrated on November 17 in the Roman Catholic Church.

While most sources refer to her as Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, she is more accurately referred to as Elizabeth of Thuringia and Hesse as she married into the Thuringian family line from Hesse and consequently spent more of her time in her husband's territory. Born in 1207 at the castle at Pressburg (modern day Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia) she was the second child of Alexander/ Andreas/ Andrew (different sources give diverse names) II and Queen Gertrude of Hungary. As a royal daughter, the issue of marriage became an important one, even in her infancy. Ultimately, an offer was accepted and she was betrothed to Landgrafin Hermann I of Thuringia.

Elizabeth was an outstanding child who directed all of her actions and intentions to God. She was intelligent, well-educated, and a willful young girl who practiced penance regularly, refused to go to Mass in embroidered sleeves or gloves (as she felt that these luxuries were unnecessary and gaudy), and regularly gave alms to the poor. She was often being lost in prayer and at an early age, put herself under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and Saint John.

While most children are off frolicking and making trouble, Elizabeth was married between the ages of thirteen and fourteen. Hermann I had died on December 31, 1216; so instead, she married his brother, Ludwig. The match proved to be a happy one. Ludwig loved her deeply and was a kind-hearted husband. He was generous and wary of misusing his power. His ultimate goal was the service of God, and therefore their philosophies and personal morals intertwined perfectly.

Ludwig spent his reign, as he spent his life, acting for the will of God. As ruler, he traveled to Italy on behalf of the empire and emperor. In his absence, he left control of his finances and household to Elizabeth who in turn disseminated alms, including state robes and ornaments, to all parts of the territory. In addition, she built a twenty-eight-bed hospital below the Wartburg and visited the residents daily to attend to their wants. The following year, after a brief return to Germany, Ludwig left yet again, this time on a crusade to Palestine in conjunction with Emperor Frederick II. He died shortly after leaving for Palestine, on 11 September 1227 en route to the crusade for God against the infidels.

Thus, Elizabeth was left with three children, a widow at the age of twenty. She was deeply upset at the loss of her beloved husband. Yet, she turned to God for aid and found it in the guidance of Caesarius of Speyer. With newfound hope, she built a monastery for the Franciscan order in 1225 at Eisenach.

However, trouble was not far behind. In 1227, she felt compelled to leave Wartburg for moral reasons and instead took up residence at Marburg. Ludwig’s brother, Heinrich Raspe, was a cruel and harsh man compared to his brother, and offered to provide her with enough to subsist her each day, but nothing more. She did not agree to these terms and ultimately, his callous and uncooperative manner drove her out of Warburg; without extra money, she could not provide for the poor of the community and her conscience would not permit her to act without regard for others. She found final refuge on Good Friday, 1228 with the Franciscans at Eisenach. Here, she formally relinquished worldly possessions and then proceeded to become one of the first tertiaries of Germany, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. Her last act of the outside world was the completion of the Franciscan hospital at Marburg in the summer of 1228. After this, she devoted her heart and soul to the aid of the poor and sick, especially the most severely afflicted. She died only a few years later, at the age of twenty-four.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, or Thuringia, is the first royal Franciscan tertiary to be canonized. At only twenty-four years old, Elizabeth of Hungary died and the world lost of one of the most pious women to ever live. Within only four years, Pope Gregory IX named her a Saint (in May of 1235). She is most remembered for her gentle, charitable nature and complete devotion to God’ s will. Her popularity was immediate, with most of her followers living in the regions in and around Germany and Hungary. While she is still remembered today for her many works of charity, Elizabeth's popularity has declined due to the historical distance that today's society possesses from the 12th century.

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