Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Feast Day: November 19

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary


Also called St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, born in Hungary, probably at Pressburg, 1207; died at Marburg, Hesse, 17 November (not 19 November), 1231.

    She was a daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary (1205-35) and his wife Gertrude, a member of the family of the Counts of Andechs-Meran; Elizabeth's brother succeeded his father on the throne of Hungary as Bela IV; the sister of her mother, Gertrude, was St. Hedwig, wife of Duke Heinrich I, the Bearded, of Silesia, while another saint, St. Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal (d. 1336), the wife of the tyrannical King Diniz of that country, was her great-niece.

    In 1211 a formal embassy was sent by Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia to Hungary to arrange, as was customary in that age, a marriage between his eldest son Hermann and Elizabeth, who was then four years old. This plan of a marriage was the result of political considerations and was intended to be the ratification of a great alliance which in the political schemes of the time it was sought to form against the German Emperor Otto IV, a member of the house of Guelph, who had quarrelled with the Church. Not long after this the little girl was taken to the Thuringian court to be brought up with her future husband and, in the course of time, to be betrothed to him.

    The court of Thuringia was at this period famous for its magnificence. Its centre was the stately castle of the Wartburg, splendidly placed on a hill in the Thuringian Forest near Eisenach, where the Landgrave Hermann lived surrounded by poets and minnesingers, to whom he was a generous patron. Notwithstanding the turbulence and purely secular life of the court and the pomp of her surroundings, the little girl grew up a very religious child with an evident inclination to prayer and pious observances and small acts of self-mortification. These religious impulses were undoubtedly strengthened by the sorrowful experiences of her life.

    In 1213 Elizabeth's mother, Gertrude, was murdered by Hungarian nobles, probably out of hatred of the Germans. On 31 December, 1216, the oldest son of the landgrave, Hermann, who Elizabeth was to marry, died; after this she was betrothed to Ludwig, the second son. It was probably in these years that Elizabeth had to suffer the hostility of the more frivolous members of the Thuringian court, to whom the contemplative and pious child was a constant rebuke. Ludwig, however, must have soon come to her protection against any ill-treatment. The legend that arose later is incorrect in making Elizabeth's mother-in-law, the Landgravine Sophia, a member of the reigning family of Bavaria, the leader of this court party. On the contrary, Sophia was a very religious and charitable woman and a kindly mother to the little Elizabeth.

    The political plans of the old Landgrave Hermann involved him in great difficulties and reverses; he was excommunicated, lost his mind towards the end of his life, and died, 25 April, 1217, unreconciled with the Church. He was succeeded by his son Ludwig IV, who, in 1221, was also made regent of Meissen and the East Mark. The same year (1221) Ludwig and Elizabeth were married, the groom being twenty-one years old and the bride fourteen. The marriage was in every regard a happy and exemplary one, and the couple were devotedly attached to each other. Ludwig proved himself worthy of his wife. He gave his protection to her acts of charity, penance, and her vigils, and often held Elizabeth's hands as she knelt praying at night beside his bed. He was also a capable ruler and brave soldier. The Germans call him St. Ludwig, an appellation given to him as one of the best men of his age and the pious husband of St. Elizabeth.

    They had three children: Hermann II (1222-41), who died young; Sophia (1224-84), who married Henry II, Duke of Brabant, and was the ancestress of the Landgraves of Hesse, as in the war of the Thuringian succession she won Hesse for her son Heinrich I, called the Child; Gertrude (1227-97), Elizabeth's third child, was born several weeks after the death of her father; in after-life she became abbess of the convent of Altenberg near Wetzlar.

    Shortly after their marriage, Elizabeth and Ludwig made a journey to Hungary; Ludwig was often after this employed by the Emperor Frederick II, to whom he was much attached, in the affairs of the empire. In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and the pest wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig was in Italy attending the Diet at Cremona on behalf of the emperor and the empire. Under these circumstances Elizabeth assumed control of affairs, distributed alms in all parts of the territory of her husband, giving even state robes and ornaments to the poor. In order to care personally for the unfortunate she built below the Wartburg a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to their wants; at the same time she aided nine hundred poor daily. It is this period of her life that has preserved Elizabeth's fame to posterity as the gentle and charitable ch?telaine of the Wartburg. Ludwig on his return confirmed all she had done. The next year (1227) he started with the Emperor Frederick II on a crusade to Palestine but died, 11 September of the same year at Otranto, from the pest. The news did not reach Elizabeth until October, just after she had given birth to her third child. On hearing the tidings Elizabeth, who was only twenty years old, cried out: "The world with all its joys is now dead to me."

    The fact that in 1221 the followers of St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) made their first permanent settlement in Germany was one of great importance in the later career of Elizabeth. Brother Rodeger, one of the first Germans whom the provincial for Germany, Caesarius of Speier, received into the order, was for a time the spiritual instructor of Elizabeth at the Wartburg; in his teachings he unfolded to her the ideals of St. Francis, and these strongly appealed to her. With the aid of Elizabeth the Franciscans in 1225 founded a monastery in Eisenach; Brother Rodeger, as his fellow-companion in the order, Jordanus, reports, instructed Elizabeth, to observe, according to her state of life, chastity, humility, patience, the exercise of prayer, and charity. Her position prevented the attainment of the other ideal of St. Francis, voluntary and complete poverty. Various remarks of Elizabeth to her female attendants make it clear how ardently she desired the life of poverty. After a while the post Brother Rodeger had filled was assumed by Master Conrad of Marburg, who belonged to no order, but was a very ascetic and, it must be acknowledged, a somewhat rough and very severe man. He was well known as a preacher of the crusade and also as an inquisitor or judge in cases of heresy. On account of the latter activity he has been more severely judged than is just; at the present day, however, the estimate of him is a fairer one. Pope Gregory IX, who wrote at times to Elizabeth, recommended her himself to the God-fearing preacher. Conrad treated Elizabeth with inexorable severity, even using corporal means of correction; nevertheless, he brought her with a firm hand by the road of self-mortification to sanctity, and after her death was very active in her canonization. Although he forbade her to follow St. Francis in complete poverty as a beggar, yet, on the other hand, by the command to keep her dower she was enabled to perform works of charity and tenderness.

    Up to 1888 it was believed, on account of the testimony of one of Elizabeth's servants in the process of canonization, that Elizabeth was driven from the Wartburg in the winter of 1227 by her brother-in-law, Heinrich Raspe, who acted as regent for her son, then only five years old. About 1888 various investigators (B?rner, Mielke, Wenck, E. Michael, etc.) asserted that Elizabeth left the Wartburg voluntarily, the only compulsion being a moral one. She was not able at the castle to follow Conrad's command to eat only food obtained in a way that was certainly right and proper. Lately, however, Huyskens (1907) tried to prove that Elizabeth was driven from the castle at Marburg in Hesse, which was hers by dower right. Consequently, the Te Deum that she directed the Franciscans to sing on the night of her expulsion would have been sung in the Franciscan monastery at Marburg. Accompanied by two female attendants, Elizabeth left the castle that stands on a height commanding Marburg. The next day her children were brought to her, but they were soon taken elsewhere to be cared for. Elizabeth's aunt, Matilda, Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery of Kitzingen near W?rzburg, took charge of the unfortunate landgravine and sent her to her uncle Eckbert, Bishop of Bamberg. The bishop, however, was intent on arranging another marriage for her, although during the lifetime of her husband Elizabeth had made a vow of continence in case of his death; the same vow had also been taken by her attendants. While Elizabeth was maintaining her position against her uncle the remains of her husband were brought to Bamberg by his faithful followers who had carried them from Italy. Weeping bitterly, she buried the body in the family vault of the landgraves of Thuringia in the monastery of Reinhardsbrunn. With the aid of Conrad she now received the value of her dower in money, namely two thousand marks; of this sum she divided five hundred marks in one day among the poor. On Good Friday, 1228, in the Franciscan house at Eisenach Elizabeth formally renounced the world; then going to Master Conrad at Marburg, she and her maids received from him the dress of the Third Order of St. Francis, thus being among the first tertiaries of Germany. In the summer of 1228 she built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and on its completion devoted herself entirely to the care of the sick, especially to those afflicted with the most loathsome diseases. Conrad of Marburg still imposed many self-mortifications and spiritual renunciations, while at the same time he even took from Elizabeth her devoted domestics. Constant in her devotion to God, Elizabeth's strength was consumed by her charitable labours, and she passed away at the age of twenty-four, a time when life to most human beings is just opening.

    Very soon after the death of Elizabeth miracles began to be worked at her grave in the church of the hospital, especially miracles of healing. Master Conrad showed great zeal in advancing the process of canonization. By papal command three examinations were held of those who had been healed: namely, in August, 1232, January, 1233, and January, 1235. Before the process reached its end, however, Conrad was murdered, 30 July, 1233. But the Teutonic Knights in 1233 founded a house at Marburg, and in November, 1234, Conrad, Landgrave of Thuringia, the brother-in-law of Elizabeth, entered the order. At Pentecost (28 May) of the year 1235, the solemn ceremony of canonization of the "greatest woman of the German Middle Ages" was celebrated by Gregory IX at Perugia, Landgrave Conrad being present. In August of the same year (1235) the corner-stone of the beautiful Gothic church of St. Elizabeth was laid at Marburg; on 1 May, 1236, Emperor Frederick II attended the taking-up of the body of the saint; in 1249 the remains were placed in the choir of the church of St. Elizabeth, which was not consecrated until 1283. Pilgrimages to the grave soon increased to such importance that at times they could be compared to those to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela. In 1539 Philip the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse, who had become a Protestant, put an end to the pilgrimages by unjustifiable interference with the church that belonged to the Teutonic Order and by forcibly removing the relics and all that was sacred to Elizabeth. Nevertheless, the entire German people still honour the "dear St. Elizabeth" as she is called; in 1907 a new impulse was given to her veneration in Germany and Austria by the celebration of the seven hundredth anniversary of her birth. St. Elizabeth is generally represented as a princess graciously giving alms to the wretched poor or as holding roses in her lap; in the latter case she is portrayed either alone or as surprised by her husband, who, according to a legend, which is, however, related of other saints as well, met her unexpectedly as she went secretly on an errand of mercy, and, so the story runs, the bread she was trying to conceal was suddenly turned into roses.

The original materials for the life of St. Elizabeth are to be found in the letters sent by CONRAD OF MARBURG to Pope Gregory IX (1232) and in the testimony of her four female attendants (Libellus de dictis quatuor ancillarum) taken by the third papal commission (January, 1235). The best edition of the testimony is to be found in HUYSKENS, Quellenstudien zur Geschichte der hl. Elisabeth, Landgr?fin von Th?ringen (Marburg, 1908),110-40. For the Acts of the process of canonization see HUYSKENS, Quellenstudien, 110-268; Vita S. Elisabethae des Caesarius von Heisterbach O. Cist. (1236), ed. HUYSKENS, in Annalen des historischen Vereins f?r den Niederrhein (Cologne, 1908), Pt. LXXXV; the hagiography of St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by DIETRICH OF APOLDA, Vita S. Elisabeth (written 1289-97), published in CANISIUS, Antiquae lectionis (Ingolstadt, 1605), V, Pt. II, 147-217, and in BASNAGE, Thesaurus Monumentorum Ecclesiasticorum (Amsterdam, 1723). IV. 115-152.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V
Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909, Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Text Courtesy of

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Landgravine of Hesse and Thuringia
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

St. Elizabeth, a model of devotion and purity to those who live singly, a mirror of love and retirement for married people, a most perfect example of patience for widows, and whose virtues deserve to be followed by all, high and low, was born in Hungary. She was a daughter of Andrew II., King of Hungary, and of Gertrude, daughter of the Duke of Carinthia. According to the Roman Breviary, Elizabeth began in early childhood to fear God, and increased in piety with age. The walk she loved best of all was going to church, where she prayed with angelic devotion, and whence it was a difficult task to bring her home, as her greatest delight consisted in praying. At the door of the church, she always took off the jewelled coronet which she wore, and when asked why she did this, she replied: "God forbid that I should ever appear with such a crown before the face of Him who was crowned with thorns, and who, out of love for me, was nailed to the cross." She called Mary, the divine Mother, her mother, and entertained great devotion towards St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, whom she chose as the special protector of her chastity. She never refused what was asked of her in the name of the Blessed Virgin or in that of St. John. The money allotted to her for her recreation, she gave to the poor, requesting them to say the Ave Maria. She was an enemy to luxury, vain adornments and idleness. Nature had not only bestowed upon her unusual personal beauty, but had also endowed her with great qualities of mind.

In obedience to her parents, she gave her hand to Louis, Landgrave of Hesse and Thuringia, and lived with him in continual harmony, her conduct being as blameless in the married state as it had been during her maidenhood. She gave one hour every night to prayer, and spent the day in attendance at the divine service in the church, in devout reading and in working for the poor. She always treated her husband with love and respect, and was a model of all virtues to her subjects. She watched over her domestics with a most careful eye, in order that they might lead a Christian life ; but took always a mother's interest in seeing that their wages were punctually paid. She herself carried to the church the princes and princesses to whom she gave birth; and it was her custom, on these occasions to lay a rich offering on the Altar, and to give abundant alms to the poor. Under her royal robes, she continually wore a garment of hair-cloth.

For the sick and the forsaken she had more than a mother's care and solicitude. She erected a hospital in which she nursed the sick and sheltered orphans; besides feeding nine hundred poor people, every day, at the palace, and sending alms to the dwellings of those who were ashamed to beg. She also visited the sick in their houses, and served them most tenderly even when they were leprous. She kissed their hands and feet, and encouraged them to patience. Never did a poor person leave her without receiving alms, and more than once, when she had no money with her, she gave away the veil from her head. She did not hesitate even to mend the clothes of the needy, and during a severe famine, gave all her corn to the sufferers. In one word, she did not neglect anything that Christian charity could do; so that she was universally called the mother of the poor.

There were at court many who, on account of her great charity, laughed at and derided her; some even accused her of extravagance. Elizabeth, however, did not allow herself to be diverted from her deeds of kindness, and the Landgrave dismissed her accusers with indignation, probably because he perceived that the more charitable his spouse was, the more he was blessed with temporal goods. Hence he not only abstained from disturbing her in her kind deeds, but assisted her in them as long as he lived. He ended his life in a crusade, in which he joined with several other Christian princes in order to conquer the Holy Land from the infidels. Elizabeth grieved deeply when the news of his death reached her, but submitted to the will of the Almighty, saying: "It is known to Thee, O my God, that I loved no one on this earth more than my husband; not only because he was my husband, but also because he loved Thee with his whole heart. But as it has pleased Thee to call him, I am well contented with Thy holy will; and if I could, against Thy decree, raise him from the dead by reciting one Pater Noster, I would not do it. I only beg of Thee to give him eternal peace, and bestow upon me the grace to serve Thee faithfully until the end of my days." After this heroic submission to the will of God, she caused many masses and prayers to be said for the deceased, gave large alms to the poor, divested herself of her royal robes, and, though but twenty years old, she vowed to live in chaste widowhood for the rest of her days.

It pleased the Almighty to try His zealous handmaid most painfully. The nobility made the brother of the deceased Landgrave regent, and accused the holy princess of having impoverished the state by her charity to the poor. Under this pretext, they deprived her of all her possessions, and banished her from the Court, with three children, a son and two daughters. Her former vassals, fearing to draw upon themselves the disfavor of the new government, durst not give her lodgings. Even the hospitals, which she herself had founded, were closed against her. Hence she had to lodge mostly in a stable and to live on the bread she begged. In such unexpected and more than painful circumstances, St. Elizabeth showed a truly heroic, and, to the children of the world, incomprehensible strength and patience. She complained to no one of the injustice of the nobility, not even to her royal father, who was still living; but rejoiced that she could suffer for the love of God. After the first night of her banishment, she went to the Church of the Franciscans and requested them to sing the "Te Deum," or "Great God! we praise thee," to give thanks to God for the sorrows with which He had visited her.

The wrongs and outrages which the holy princess suffered, besides her banishment, can hardly be described. An old woman, who had formerly received clothing and nourishment from St. Elizabeth, dared to push her into a pool of stagnant water, in the street, abusing her at the same time most shamefully, for not having immediately made way for her. This outrage aroused not in the least the wrath of the holy princess; she quietly raised herself out of the pool, cleansed her garments, and offered herself to the Almighty for more suffering. God did not fail to comfort His handmaid in her adversity. Christ appeared to her, during her prayers, encouraged her, and promised never to abandon her. After some time, through her father's influence, a dwelling, suitable to her rank, was conceded to her, and her dowry was refunded. The Saint immediately used one part of the building for a hospital, made her home in the same, and nursed the sick, as if she had been a servant, hired to wait upon them. All her spare time was employed in prayer and other devout exercises. She also chastised her body by fasting and other penances.

At the age of twenty-four years, she learned by revelation, that her end was approaching, for which she prepared herself by most devoutly receiving the holy sacraments. She exhorted all those who were around her death-bed, to love God with their whole heart and to assist the poor to the best of their ability. After this, she continued in prayer, until her soul, richly adorned with virtues and merits, went to her Creator, in the year of Our Lord 1231.


I. The life of St. Elizabeth may serve as a model to persons of every age and station. Children may learn to fear God from their earliest years, and to increase their devotion with their age; single persons, how to live chastely in their state; married people, how husband and wife ought to live together; and the widowed how to sanctify their solitude. Masters and mistresses may learn how to take care of their domestics, and pay their wages regularly. Those of a higher station may learn to set a good example to others, and not to be ashamed to appear at public worship. All Christians can find instruction in it, for employing their time well, helping the needy, and bearing crosses and trials sent by heaven. God permitted a Landgravine, a royal princess, to be banished unjustly from court, to beg her bread, and, besides other ignominies, to be refused a shelter among her own subjects. Still she complained not; but, submissive to the decrees of Providence, gave humble thanks for the Almighty for all that He, in His wisdom, had sent her. Even at the death of her husband, what fortitude, what submission to the divine will she manifested! Oh! that all would endeavor, in trials of much less severity, to unite their will with that of God, and patiently bear the cross that He has laid upon them.

II. The favorite walk of St. Elizabeth, when she was still a child, was to go to church, where she manifested most angelic devotion, and was so happy, that she could hardly be persuaded to leave. What is your favorite walk? Where do you like to remain? And when you do go to church why are you in such haste to leave it again? Why do you much oftener go to theatres, frivolous societies, vain amusements, bar-rooms and ball-rooms, than to Church, to prayers, to sermons, or to public worship? Why does the sermon, the mass, or conversation with God in prayer so soon become wearisome to you, when many hours, nay, even half the day or night seem not long, when you occupy them in gaming, dancing, or silly conversation? Answer these questions if you can; and then tell me, do you expect to justify yourself before God, and to enter the same heaven into which St. Elizabeth entered? "Ah! truly, heaven becomes not the dwelling of those who sleep and are idle, but of those who earnestly endeavor to gain it." Thus speaks the holy pope, St. Leo.

[Saint Elizabeth holy card]

Prayers to Saint Elizabeth

The Litany of St. Elizabeth of Hungary,
Protector, Third Order Franciscan

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, graciously hear us.

O God the Father, of heaven:
have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world:
O God, the Holy Ghost:
O Holy Trinity, one God:
have mercy upon us.

Holy Mary:
Pray for us.
Immaculate Virgin:
Mother and Mistress of our Order:
Pray for us.

St. Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary:
Pray for us.
St. Elizabeth, Duchess of Thuringia:
St. Elizabeth, mother in Israel:
St. Elizabeth, queen in the Kingdom of God:
St. Elizabeth, consoler of sinners:
St. Elizabeth, nurse of lepers:
St. Elizabeth, devoted wife of Louis the Good:
St. Elizabeth, famous exemplar of Christian widowhood:
St. Elizabeth, fervent spouse of the Son of God:
St. Elizabeth, humble in prosperity:
St. Elizabeth, patient in adversity:
St. Elizabeth, mighty in penance:
St. Elizabeth, wondrous in prayer:
St. Elizabeth, first-born of the tertiaries regular:
St. Elizabeth, protectress of our Order:
St. Elizabeth, the "dear saint" of Holy Church:
Pray for us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
spare us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
graciously hear us, O Lord.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world:
have mercy on us.

V. Pray for us, O blessed Elizabeth. Alleluia.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ. Alleluia.

Let us pray.

Merciful Lord, we pray Thee to pour the bright beams of Thy grace into our hearts: that, by the glorious prayers of Thy Saint Elizabeth, we may learn to despise all worldly prosperity, and ever to rejoice in all Heavenly consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.