Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Elizabeth of Hungary: The Miracle of the Roses

Elizabeth of Hungary (canonized 27 May 1235)

Born on 7 July 1207, Elizabeth of Hungary became a saint in a family of saints--her maternal aunt was canonized as St. Hedwig of Silesia, her cousin was St. Agnes of Bohemia, her great-niece was St. Isabel of Portugal, and her husband Louis IV of Thuringia was venerated as a saint, although he was never canonized. 

A late fifteenth-century altar illustration
of Elizabeth of Hungary caring
for the poor and sick
The daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania, Elizabeth was married in 1221, at the age of fourteen, to Louis IV, landgrave of Thuringia (a landgrave was a title of nobility in Germany). Although the young woman was already devoted to a life of charity, she was highly influenced by the the ideals of the Franciscans, who arrived in Thuringia in 1223.

In 1226, while her husband was attending the imperial diet of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, Elizabeth managed the affairs of state in his absence. She continued her charitable work, which included the construction of a hospital for the poor near the castle of Wartburg. 

Louis died in Italy in September of 1227, on his way to the Holy Land, as part of the Sixth Crusade (led by Frederick), leaving Elizabeth a widow just months after she turned twenty.

After her husband's death, Elizabeth devoted herself to a holy life, probably as a third-order Franciscan, building yet another hospital, this one at Marburg.* She died in 1231, just twenty-four years old.

During the brief years of her marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to three children: a son, born in 1222, who would succeed his father as landgrave of Thuringia; a daughter, Sophie, born in 1224, who would marry the duke of Brabant; and a daughter Gertrude, born in 1227, who became abbess Aldenberg. Like her father, Gertrude never became a saint, but she was beatified by Pope Clement VI in 1348.

One of the miracles associated with St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the "miracle of the roses." As the story is told, Elizabeth was taking bread to the poor when she met her husband, who was out hunting, in the forest. Members of his hunting party suspected that Elizabeth was stealing--but, when she was asked to open her cloak to reveal what she had concealed, a miracle occurred. When she revealed what she was hiding, the bread had been transformed into red and white roses.

There are several devotional biographies of Elizabeth of Hungary. Perhaps the best is Lori Pieper's The Greatest of These Is Love: The Life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. For a more scholarly account, Kenneth Baxter Wolf's The Life and Afterlife of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: Testimony of Her Canonization Hearings offers primary texts for a view of the politics of becoming a saint and for the testimony of ordinary people who found inspiration in her life.

The Miracle of the Roses,
nineteenth-century stained glass,
St. Peter's Basilica, Ottawa
*A tertiary or third-order Franciscan is someone who, for a variety of reasons, may not take formal vows to join the religious order but who, as a lay person, lives outside the convent according to the ways of life of those who live inside.