Science & Culture

Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth of Hungary (July 7, 1207–November 17, 1231) was born to Hungary’s King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania on July 7, 1207. She married Ludwig IV, landgrave (the equivalent title to count) of Thuringia, at the age of 14. Although the marriage had been arranged for political purposes, the two were devoted to one another and had three children (Herman II, Sophia, and Gertrude). Elizabeth was noted for her generous spirit and, concerned for the relief of the poor and the sick, she used her sizable dowry to help them. Her husband, who was also generous, supported her giving nature. Despite being widowed at 20, she continued her commitment to the less fortunate, giving up her wealth and personally caring for the sick and poor. After her death at only 24, she became a symbol of Christian charity.

In 1221 the followers of Francis of Assisi established their first permanent settlement in Germany. Brother Rodeger, one of the first Germans received into the Order, was Elizabeth’s spiritual instructor at Wartburg. His teachings appealed to her giving nature. In 1225 Elizabeth helped the Franciscans start a monastery at Eisenach.

Germany’s Emperor Frederick II often sent Ludwig to deal with affairs of the emperor and the empire. While Ludwig was away from Thuringia, Elizabeth was in charge. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, she sold her jewels, opened the royal granaries to feed the hungry, built a 28-bed hospital near Wartburg, and personally tended to the daily needs of the sick. At the same time, she helped 900 poor people daily. Ludwig returned later that year to confirm everything Elizabeth had done. The following year he was sent on a crusade and died of an illness while away from Thuringia. When Elizabeth learned the news, weeks after Gertrude's birth, she said, “The world with all its joys is now dead to me.”

Elizabeth’s in-laws, who opposed her "extravagances," expelled her from Wartburg after Ludwig's death. Finally an arrangement was negotiated with them that gave her a stipend. On Good Friday 1228 Elizabeth and her maids received the dress of the Third Order of St Francis in the monastery she’d helped establish, and they became the first tertiaries (lay associates) in Germany. That summer she built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and spent the rest of her life caring for the sick and the poor. She sewed garments to clothe the needy and went fishing to feed them.

She died November 17, 1231, and shortly thereafter miracles began to take place at her shrine. She was canonized at Pentecost (28 May) in 1235.

In Germany, Elizabeth's husband is often referred to as "Saint Ludwig" in recognition of his pious life and the support he showed for his wife's charity and devotion. (Ludwig is translated to Louis in French and English.)

Elizabeth of Hungary and Louis IX, King of France, are the patron saints of the Secular Franciscan Order (SF0).