St Elizabeth of Hungary (November 17)
Catholic hagiography is rarely shy of mentioning distinguished birth, and in the case of Elizabeth of Hungary there is the extra frisson of prophecy to add to the excitement of good breeding.
I.n 1207, the story goes, a minstrel announced to the Landgrave Herman of Thuringia that a daughter had been born that night to the King Andrew ll of Hungary. This girl, it was promised, would not merely be exalted in holiness; she would many the Landgrave's son.
The birth of Elizabeth conformed to this programme and in 1211 a match was arranged between her and the Landgrave's eldest boy, another Herman. The little girl was taken to the Thuringian Court in the lofty castle of Wartburg, near Eisenach, to be brought up with her fiancé. Young Herman died, however, so she was rebetrothed to his younger brother Louis.
The extremes of virtue evinced by the fledgling Elizabeth provoked some resentment at court. Louis, however, remained loyal, and in 1221, when she was 14 and he was 21, they were married. Elizabeth, we are told, was "perfect in body, handsome, of a dark complexion; serious in her ways, and modest, of kindly speech, fervent in prayer and most generous to the poor, always full of goodness and divine love".
In 1222 a son was born and christened Herman; two daughters followed. Eliza beth, however, spent her nights in prayer and her days in carrying out works of charity so generous that they became a matter of reproach at court.
On one occasion Elizabeth introduced a leper into the matrimonial bed. Louis, briefly indignant, dragged off the bedclothes. "At that instant," Elizabeth's biogra pher Dietrich of Apolda recorded. "Almighty God opened the eyes of his soul, and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed."
Alas, in 1227 Louis departed to join the Emperor Frederick 1.1's crusade, only to die of the plague at Otranto.
There was no question of Elizabeth marrying again. According to one account, her brother-in-law, the Regent Henry, drove her and her children from court; at any rate she became a Franciscan tertiary at Marburg, where she came under the harsh, even sadistic, direction of her confessor, a former inquisitor named Conrad.
He made her dismiss her favourite ladies-in-waiting, required her to moderate the more ostentatious of her charities, and did not hesitate to slap her in the face and even apply the rod.
"If I am so afraid of a mortal man," Elizabeth reflected, "how awe-inspiring must be the Lord and Judge of the world." She dedicated herself to the menial service of the poor. before being driven to her grave in 1231. Only 23 at her death, she was canonised in 1235.