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.