Born at Pressburg in 1207, the daughter of King Andrew the Second of Hungary, Elizabeth (Erzsébet) was brought up in Thuringia and in 1221 married Louis the Fourth, Landgrave of Thuringia. Ardent, passionate, and handsome, she enjoyed a married life of extraordinary happiness, bore three children, and was generous to a fault. Louis was sympathetic to her extravagant almsgiving and allowed her to spend her dowry in providing for the poor. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, while he was in Italy, Elizabeth sold her jewels and established a hospital for the sick and the poor, and she opened the princely granaries to supply their needs.
In 1227 Louis went on crusade under Frederick the Third, and in less than three months he died of plague. Elizabeth was first incredulous, then distraught almost to the point of insanity. His death was a turning point in her life.
Her brother-in-law Henry, regent for her young son the Landgrave Herman, drove her from the court. Some advisers wished her to marry again, but she refused. In 1228 she settle at Marburg under the spiritual direction of her confessor, Conrad of Marburg, whom she had known since 1225. Conrad’s direction was domineering and severe, and he made Elizabeth dismiss her favorite ladies-in-waiting, for whom he substituted two harsh companions, who would punish her with slaps in the face and with blows from a rod.
Already attracted to their piety and special charism by her longtime concern for the sick and the poor, Elizabeth became a Franciscan tertiary, expressing her ardor in a love of poverty, the relief of the sick, the poor, and the aged by building and working in a hospital close to her modest house. She made ample provision for the education of her own children (her son Herman was deposed by Henry and sent into exile as well). She occupied herself with such tasks as spinning and carding, and cleaning the homes of the poor and fishing to help feed them. She refused an offer to return to Hungary, preferring to live out her life in resilient exile, a life of self-denial and service to the poor that lasted only two or three years. She died on the sixteenth of November 1231 at the age of only twenty-four, exhausted by her austerities. She was canonized only four years later by Pope Gregory the Ninth, and her relics were translated to the Church of Saint Elizabeth in Marburg where they remained until they were removed to an unknown place by Philip of Hesse in 1539. With Louis of France, Elizabeth shares the title of patron of the Third Order of Saint Francis.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
Almighty God, by your grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honored 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 Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.