Saturday, November 14, 2009

St. Elizabeth of Hungary: November 17th

November 17th is a special day in our household. It is the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, my patron saint. Well, sort of my patron saint. I chose her myself when I was five years old.

While my name is biblical, referring to the ancient city outside of Jerusalem where the famed Lazarus was raised from the dead, there isn't any saint by that name. When I was in kindergarten, my class at St. Villa Maria was performing a pageant for All Saint's Day and we were each supposed to come dressed as our patron saint. I went home troubled that night to ask my Protestant mother who my saint was because I hadn't known in class. Bewildered, she called up one of the nuns at my school and asked her the same thing.

"Well, there isn't a St. Bethany," Sr. replied. "But, there are several St. Elizabeths, and there's St. Ann. She could choose one of them." And, she told me briefly about each of these wonderful women, and I chose St. Elizabeth of Hungary, sometimes called Elizabeth of Thuringia.

Elizabeth was the princess of Hungary, but she was sent to Germany at the age of four to be raised by the family of her betrothed, Louis of Thuringia, heir to a powerful dukedom. At fourteen, she and the then-seventeen-year-old Louis were married.

Elizabeth had been deeply pious from childhood, and she was particularly passionate about helping the needy and downtrodden. She opened a hospital for the poor in one of her castles and ran a soup kitchen. As Duchess, Elizabeth established the Franciscan order in Thuringia and became herself a tertiary, of whom she is co-patron, along with St. Louis of France.

One of my other favorite things about St. Elizabeth was that she was passionately in love with her husband. She was a saint, but she was also very much a woman. And, Louis truly loved his wife in return. Who doesn't love a fairy tale romance? Louis and Elizabeth had three children, but unfortunately, the fairytale ended tragically.When Elizabeth was twenty, her husband died while on crusade. When Elizabeth heard the news, she ran shrieking through the castle, mad with grief.

Louis' greedy brother coveted his inheritance. He evicted Elizabeth and her three small children from their home, and forbade anyone in Thuringia granting them shelter or asylum. Elizabeth and her children were forced to hide in a pig pen from the rain, but poverty, loss and persecution did not embitter Elizabeth. She held firm to her faith and trusted in God's Providence.

After some time, word of Elizabeth's mistreatment reached her father, the King of Hungary, and he prevailed upon the Holy Roman Emperor to intervene. Elizabeth's lands were restored to her, but she voluntarily relinquished them and chose a life of holy poverty. After securing her children's welfare, she lived in a small room in the hospital she had founded and cared for the sick and the lepers.

Emperor Frederick begged for Elizabeth's hand in marriage but she refused. She died at the age of twenty-four. It is said that, at the moment of her death, the room in which she lay was suffused with a great light. Many miraculous cures were reported at her grave site, and she was buried wearing the imperial crown which she had refused in life.

In addition to the tertiaries as mentioned above, Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers, countesses, death of children, the falsely accused, the homeless, nursing services, widows, and young brides. She is often depicted with alms, flowers, bread, a pitcher, or surrounded by the poor.

As a young child, I confess, I was drawn to St. Elizabeth because she was a princess, but throughout my life, I have been convicted and challenged by her example of generosity, her heart for the poor, her willingness to serve, and her strength in the face of adversity. Now, as a wife and mother, I am even more grateful to have her as my patron saint. I think that she understands so much of what I experience in these roles, and I know that she is encouraging me to a life of holiness with her prayers.

This is the first year that I will have out-aged my patron saint. She died at twenty-four, and I am twenty-five. This seemed significant to me for some reason, so I wanted to do something special. My husband and I have donated our charity tithe (as opposed to our parish tithe) to Heifer International this month, in her honor. It was kind of exciting, because his company is doing a drive right now, and they were able to match our donation! I will also be making a Hungarian coffee bread (St. Elizabeth's Crown) for breakfast on my nameday, and serving a Hungarian mushroom soup, a simple salad, and of course, traditional Hungarian braided egg bread--St. Elizabeth's symbol--for dinner. I would love to do more--perhaps volunteer in a soup kitchen--but it will probably have to wait until another year, when my kids are older.

The third week of November will always be a busy one for us--my husband's birthday is the following day, and it's right before Thanksgiving! Of course, I have always thought that celebrating St. Elizabeth's feast shortly before Thanksgiving Day was very fitting. Few other women have exemplified so well the virtue of generously giving back in charity the bounty that God has granted to them. Celebrating her life is a wonderful way to prepare our hearts for the feast of plenty to come.


  1. Such a lovely post! Congratulations on your name day.

  2. I have always loved St. Elizabeth of Hungary as well. Her story is so inspiring-choosing to live in poverty instead of becoming an Empress.

    On a side note, I've been considering giving to Heifer International for some time. We usually give to Catholic Charities of Baltimore and the IVPF (International Vasa Previa Foundation), but I like the work Heifer does.

  3. Wow this is beautiful thanks for sharing , i am learning so much

  4. Cait- Yes, we like to give to Christian/Catholic charities, but Heifer has been a big part of our giving for the past few years, and it is one of the non-prof/non-religious-affiliated orgs that match campaigns are permitted to subsidize, and that is really great. We're blessed that my husband works for such a wonderful philanthropic company!

  5. Bethany -

    Can I ask what a charity tithe is? I'm Protestant, and am well versed in the idea of tithing - giving 10% to the church. I assume that this falls under the heading of the parish tithe. Is a charity tithe a certain amount, as well?


  6. Elizabeth of Hungary is my patron too! Happy feast day tomorrow!


  7. Val- The American bishops recommend that Catholics tithe 5% to the parish and 5% to diocesean and other charities. We are required, in the Catechism to give tithes and alms for the building up of the Church, but this refers to the Church at large and not just our own parish. This is why the bishops wanted to encourage a portion of the tithe to be directed outside the parish.

    Alms would be charitable giving above and beyond this combined 10% tithe.


Hello! I'm so glad that you have come here to share your heart and thoughts. One quick word from me before you comment:

I ask all visitors to respect this as a place of peace. Disagreements are welcome, but please refrain from posting any ungracious comments. Thank you, and God bless.