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Secular Saints

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth was born in the year 1207 to Andrew II of Hungary and his wife, Gertrude of Andechs-Meran. To obtain a favorable political alliance, Elizabeth was promised in marriage to Louis (Ludwig), the eldest son of Landgrave Herman of Thuringia and Hesse (now Germany). At the age of four she was taken to the Thuringian Castle of the Wartburg, near Eisenach, there to be groomed as the wife of the future Landgrave.

During her maidenhood, 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.

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.

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 ardor, 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."

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.

Taken from Secular Saints by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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