St. Elizabeth of Hungary, also known as St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, was born in Hungary on July 7, 1207 to the Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While Elizabeth was very young, her father arranged for her to be married to Ludwig IV of Thuringia, a German nobleman. Because of this plan, Elizabeth was sent away at the age of four for education at the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia.
Elizabeth’s mother, Gertrude, was murdered in 1213, when Elizabeth was just six-years-old. According to history, the murder was carried out by Hungarian noblemen due to the conflict between Germans and the Hungarian nobles. From this point on, Elizabeth’s perspective on life and death dramatically changed and she sought peace with prayer.
Happiness was returned to her young life in 1221 when she was formally married to Ludwig, whom she deeply loved. Together the couple had three beautiful children, two of whom became members of nobility and the third entering the religious life, becoming abbess of a German convent.
Elizabeth continued to live a life full of prayer and a service to the poor. Ludwig, who was now one of the rulers of Thuringia, supported all of Elizabeth’s religious endeavours even though she was a part of the royal court. She began to lead an austerely simple life, practiced penance, and devoted herself to works of charity. She used her royal position to advance her mission for charity. She wore simple clothing and set aside time every day to take bread to hundreds of poor people in her land. Ludwig and Elizabeth were politically powerful and lived with a remarkable generosity toward the poor.
Elizabeth’s life was full of love and faith. However, tragedy struck when Ludwig passed away from illness in 1227. It is said upon hearing the news, she said, “He is dead. He is dead. It is to me as if the whole world died today.” Elizabeth vowed to never remarry and to live a life similar to a nun, despite pressure from relatives.
Elizabeth’s life was consumed deeply by her devotion to God and her charitable labor. She passed away at the age of 24, on November 17, 1231 in Marburg, Hesse.
One of her greatest known miracles occurred when she was still alive, the miracle of roses. It is said that during one of her many trips delivering bread to the poor in secret, Ludwig met with her and asked her questions to erase everyone’s suspicions that she was stealing treasures from the castle. He asked her to reveal the contents under her cloak, and as she did a vision of white and red roses was seen. To Ludwig, this meant God’s protection was evident.
Another living miracle involved a leper lying the bed she shared with her husband. Her mother-in-law discovered Elizabeth had placed a leper in the bed, and feeling enraged, she informed Ludwig. Annoyed with the situation, Ludwig removed the bedclothes and instantly the “Almighty God opened the eyes of his soul, and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed.”
After her death, miraculous healings began to occur at her graveside near her hospital. Examinations were held for those who had been healed from 1232 to 1235. The investigations, along with testimony from Elizabeth’s handmaidens and companions and the immense popularity surrounding her, provided enough reason for her canonization. Pope Gregory IX canonized her on May 27, 1235.
St. Elizabeth is often depicted with a basket of bread to show her devotion for the poor and hungry. She is also painted in honor of the “Miracle of Roses” and “Crucifix in the Bed.”
St. Elizabeth has been praised by Pope Benedict XVI as a “model for those in authority.”