St. Elizabeth, the daughter of Hungarian royalty, was betrothed as a child of four to Ludwig, the nine-year-old prince of Thuringia in central Germany. Despite this arrangement, the two children established a close friendship that eventually blossomed into a loving marriage. Elizabeth bore three children. But Ludwig’s family disapproved of her piety (she had become a Franciscan tertiary) and especially her “excessive” charity toward the poor and sick. Ignoring their wishes, she opened the royal granaries during a time of famine. This won her the people’s devotion, though such generosity made her an object of scorn among the elite members of the court.
In 1227 Ludwig embarked on a Crusade and died on his journey. In a paroxysm of grief, Elizabeth cried, “The world is dead to me, and all that was joyous in the world.” Without her husband’s protection, she was at the mercy of her in-laws. They banished her from the court, forcing her to leave the palace on a winter night, carrying nothing but her newborn child. She accepted shelter in a pig shed.
Eventually, to avoid scandal, she was provided with a simple cottage, where she supported herself by spinning and fishing. Otherwise, she visited the sick in their homes or in the hospices she had endowed. Over time, her reputation for holiness spread, and she earned the grudging respect of those who had persecuted her. She died on November 17, 1231, at the age of twenty-four. She was canonized less than four years later.
“As in heaven Your will is punctually performed, so may it be done on earth by all creatures, particularly in me and by me.” —St. Elizabeth of Hungary