Heilige Elisabeth von Thüringen
The lives of saints and religious figures are often compared to other stories which we call Myths. Sometimes this is because the method of telling the story uses a mythopoeic style, which tries to convey the morality, ethic, and values of a world view into a story which will be easily assimilated by the listener. In another respect the comparison is made because the story tells of supernatural events, which is simply taken to mean the story isn’t true. For those who reject the idea of religion and faith this becomes an easy out. Reject the story and classify it as another fairy tale and be done. But what if there is something to that modern proverb that states: truth is stranger than fiction? It was the feeling of a familiar fairy tale that struck me when reading about todays saint: Elizabeth of Hungary.
Elizabeth was born 7 July 1207, in the age when many fairy tales take place. She was born in Hungary the daughter of the King, Andrew II, and the child of royal lineage. And as was the custom, she prepared for marriage at a very young age. At 14 she was married to Louis von Wartburg (Ludwig) in Germany in what appears to have been a very good marriage. Like many a princess from a fairy tale, Elizabeth had a heart for the people. She cared for the poor and the sick, distributing food, alms and building a hospital during a time of famine and plague while her husband was at an imperial Diet. Not merely a philanthropist, she brought food to the poor and set at the bed and tended the sick and caring for the soul.
The magical part of this fairy tale known as the miracle of the roses. Elizabeth had a good marriage but it seems that she may been a sort of “stepchild” to the rest of the family. While bringing some food to the poor which was hidden under her cloak, an action that would make any wicked stepmother angry; her husband, who was with other family members asked her what she was hiding. When she pulled back her cloak there were only roses. This may not be too surprising except that this took place in the middle of winter.
The classic fairy tale isn’t always a story that ends “happily ever after” and life can often have strange twists of events. Ludwig was soon called to the crusades and was lost. The devastated Elizabeth found herself without her prince and soon after left out of the royal court in Marburg.
Elizabeth took this as a sign to pursue the contemplative life taking vows of celibacy under Konrad of Marburg who had been her confessor for several years. A fairy god “brother” of sorts. Elizabeth entered the Third Order of Franciscans. She continued in charity and used the dowry from her marriage to build a hospital where she tended the sick. At the very young age of 24, on the 17th day of November 1231, Elizabeth died.
Miracles of healing at her gravesite, located in the church of the hospital she built, soon brought attention to this young saint and at the urging of Konrad the process of canonization began.
The beauty of this historical fairy tale is not so much about the details. One doesn’t need to believe in miracles to find the moral of this story. Whether you believe in healing or miraculous roses really has nothing to do with the presentation of a princess who serves the poor. Another modern proverb states that “with great power comes great responsibility”, and in the life of Elizabeth, as short as it was, we see a lifetime of responsibility and service. It is such action, and not the miracles that, in the end, make the saint.