Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary
Monday, November 19, 2012
The Lord be with you
Elizabeth, the daughter of King Andrew of Hungary and his wife Gertrude, was born in the summer of 1207 in Pressburg, Hungary. In order to seal a political alliance, she was betrothed at the age of one to Ludwig, the young son of the Landgrave of Thuringia, and when she was four she was taken to the castle of the Wartburg near Eisenach to be raised with her future husband. (You may remember that the Wartburg was the castle where Luther was hidden several centuries later and where he translated the New Testament into German.) Elizabeth was a serious child, generous to those who had less than she had, and a devout Christian. Some of the people at the Thuringian court disapproved of her as the future duchess, but Ludwig was very fond of her.
In 1216 Ludwig succeeded his father as Landgrave, and in 1221 when he was twenty-one and Elizabeth was fourteen, the marriage took place. In the course of the next few years they had three children, a boy and two girls, and the marriage was a happy one. Elizabeth in her new position was even more generous to the poor. On one occasion in 1225, when there was a severe local famine, she gave away most of her own fortune and supply of grain to the poor of the area. She was criticized for doing this, but her husband upon his return gave his approval to her action.
Elizabeth founded two hospitals during this period, one at the foot of the steep rock on which the Wartburg was located. She regularly tended the patients in these hospitals herself and gave money for the care of children, especially orphans. In helping the poor, she and her husband also tried to find suitable jobs for those who had no way of earning a living. In 1221, when the Franciscans entered Thuringian, Elizabeth put herself under the spiritual direction of Brother Rodeger, who guided her in the spirit of Francis of Assisi. Her kindness extended to all kinds of unfortunate people, and there is a well-known story of her lodging a leper in the house. The Landgrave was startled and repelled to find him in their bed, but he almost immediately realized that in helping the leper, his wife was serving the crucified Lord.
On September 11, 1227, Ludwig died of the plague while on a journey to join a crusade. During that winter, Elizabeth left the castle—some accounts say that her brother-in-law expelled her—and she went to live in Eisenach. (You may recall that Eisenach was Luther’s childhood home and the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach.) She was rejected by the townspeople and suffered great hardship until she received the protection of her uncle the Bishop of Bamberg. On Good Friday 1228, she formally renounced her worldly cares, adopted coarse garments for clothing, and devoted herself as a follower of St. Francis. After the care of her children was assured, she built a small house near Marburg and with it a hospice for the sick, the aged, and the poor, and devoted her life to their care.
In her last years St. Elizabeth lived a life of unnatural austerity and isolation from her friends, partly out of obedience to her confessor, Conrad of Marburg, who seems to have been almost sadistic in his treatment of her. Her health broke, and on November 17, 1231, she died, at the age of twenty-four. Four years later the Church began annual commemoration of her. Elizabeth was buried in Marburg.
She is known as both St. Elizabeth of Thuringia and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Since her time countless hospitals have been named for her in Europe, America, and other parts of the World.
Collect for the Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary: Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary. She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the thorned one her Savior donned for her sake and ours, that we, too, might live a life of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom. Amen.
Other things Elizabeth might inspire you to pray about:
- For the poor
- For the sick and suffering
- For the unemployed
- For the spirit of self-sacrificing service
- For those who embrace austerity for the love of Christ
- For the medical profession
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert