Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen, Widow

July 8

Today is the feast day of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Elizabeth (Isabel) was named after her great-aunt, the great Elizabeth of Hungary, but is known in Portuguese history by the Spanish form of that name, Isabel. The daughter of Pedro III, King of Aragon, and Constantia, grandchild of Emperor Frederick II, she was educated very piously, and led a life of strict regularity and self-denial from her childhood: she said the full Divine Office daily, fasted and did other penances, and gave up amusement. Elizabeth was married very early to Diniz (Denis,Dionysius), King of Portugal, a poet, and known as Ré Lavrador, or the working king , from his hard work in is country’s service. His morals, however, were extremely bad, and the court to which his young wife was brought consequently most corrupt. Nevertheless, Elizabeth quietly pursued the regular religious practices of her maidenhood, whilst doing her best to win her husband’s affections by gentleness and extraordinary forbearance. (5)

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

By Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

St. Elizabeth, who according to the testimony of the Roman Breviary, may serve as a most perfect model of all Christian virtues to all persons, whether in a single, married, or widowed state, was the daughter of Peter III, King of Aragon, and of Constantia, daughter of Manfred, King of Sicily. From her earliest childhood she was extremely kind to the poor, and evinced the greatest inclination to piety. She was never seen at church except upon bended knees, in deep devotion. When she was eight years old she began to say daily the whole office of the Breviary, and this practice she continued during her life. At this time she began to fast, especially on Saturdays and vigils. Her disposition was truly angelical, and her whole being, all her words and actions, an index to her pure and innocent soul. The powers of her mind were far above her years, and her virtues made her honored and esteemed by all. In one word, her life was not only good but also holy.

She was married early in life to Dionysius, King of Portugal, but changed not her pious exercises; she rather made use of her altered circumstances to increase them. Three times during the year she fasted forty days on water and bread. She had certain hours appointed for devout exercises and for work. She was never seen idle, always occupied either in praying, pious reading or work. All her work was for the adornment of the churches or the comfort of the poor. The holy Sacraments she received much more frequently than is generally done by persons of such exalted station, and always with great devotion and preparation. When they made her high station the pretext for preventing her from her long prayers, continued work and extreme bodily austerity, she said: “Where are prayer and self-abnegation more necessary and useful than where evil inclinations are most violent and dangers greatest?”

Charity to the poor and to the sick filled her heart, and she was wont to say: “The only reason, why God raised me to the throne was that I should have means to assist the needy.” To some of the poor she gave corn, to others clothing, and again for others she had houses built: none were sent away without alms in money. No day passed on which she did not herself visit some sick person, and God rewarded her great love towards the poor and sick by more than one miracle. One day, as she tenderly embraced a poor woman who was covered with ulcers, the woman immediately recovered. Every Friday during her forty days’ fasts, and also on Maundy Thursday, she washed the feet of thirteen poor women. Among these, one day, was a woman who had an ulcer on her right foot. The holy queen not only washed the foot, but, in her zeal to mortify her senses, she even kissed it, and the ulcer disappeared suddenly. At another time she restored the sight of a person who was blind from her birth, and also healed several sick by only making the sign of the holy cross over them. Once she was carrying in her apron a considerable sum of money to be divided among the poor. The king, who met her, asked her what she had? “Roses,” answered she; but, as it was not the season for flowers, the king was curious to see them. On opening her apron, the queen beheld, in reality, a quantity of roses; upon which the king, filled with astonishment, went away, while the queen gave humble thanks to God who had so graciously assisted her.

The king led a very licentious life, and although Elizabeth was deeply grieved at the offence he gave to God and the wrong he did to her, she never displayed the slightest impatience at his vices. Treating him with unvarying kindness, she obeyed him “in all that was lawful, and never complained, but increased her prayers that God might touch his heart with the grace of repentance. For this end she also performed many penances, and offered them to God for the salvation of her spouse. At last she obtained what she had so ceaselessly prayed for; the king reformed and began to lead a Christian life. Still God permitted that a page should accuse the pious and chaste queen to her husband as unduly favoring a noble youth whom she employed as almoner. The credulous king, inflamed with wrath, gave orders to a lime-burner to seize and cast into the lime-kiln a young man, who would call on him on the next day and ask whether he had executed the royal command. The following morning, the king sent the queen’s almoner to the lime-pit with the message. Not knowing its import and passing by a church when the bell gave the signal for Mass, he entered, as he was accustomed to assist daily at the holy sacrifice, and not supposing that a delay in his errand would be of any consequence.

Meanwhile the king was impatient to ascertain if his orders had been obeyed, and sent the accuser to the lime-pit to ask whether the royal command had been executed. The unhappy page obeyed, but hardly had the words passed his lips, when he was siezed and cast into the burning lime. Somewhat later, the other arrived with the same question, and, receiving the answer that the command had been duly fulfilled, he returned with it to his royal master. Greatly amazed at the sight of him, the king desired to know all that had happened, and, being informed of it, recognized the hand of Providence, and esteemed more highly than ever the innocence of the youth and the virtue of the queen. Some time later, Prince Alphonso headed a rebellion against his father, and although Elizabeth used every means in her power to prevent it, some wicked people persuaded the king that she was in favor of her son. Without investigating whether the accusation was true or false, the king deprived her of all her revenues, and banished her from the palace. But she bore this cross with humble submission to the decrees of Providence, and, not complaining against the king’s injustice, placed as usual her trust in the Lord, who forsook her not in this great trial.

Soon after, the king became convinced of her innocence, called her back to Court and most humbly begged her pardon. At her solicitation and out of love to her, he also received again into favor his rebellious son, and ever after lived in perfect unity with his pious consort. When, before his end, he was visited with a most painful disease, the holy queen waited on him with the most admirable love and solicitude, and left him neither day nor night until he died, strengthened by the holy sacraments. No sooner had the king closed his eyes, than the holy queen went into an adjoining room, and, throwing herself down before the crucifix, she consecrated herself anew to the service of the Almighty. She then divested herself of all royal apparel, cut off her hair, and, clad in the habit of St. Clare, entered the hall where the nobility of the realm had assembled. Announcing to them that she had laid aside her royal dignity, she left the Court, and went into the convent of St. Clare, which she had founded and richly endowed, with the intention of joining the sisterhood.

As it was, however, represented to her that she could do more in the world for the honor of God and the welfare of the needy, she had a dwelling erected for herself near the convent, where she passed the rest of her life in pious exercises and works of charity. Forgetting herself, all her thoughts were given to assist widows and orphans, and to comfort the sick and the prisoners. Twice she made a pilgrimage to Compostella, to the tomb of the holy apostle St. James: the first, immediately after the death of the king; the second, at the time of the Jubilee. The latter, during which she begged alms for her sustenance, she performed unknown and on foot, accompanied by two other ladies. On returning from this last pilgrimage, she was informed that her son Alphonsus, now reigning king, was determined to make war upon a king nearly related to him. The holy widow, who had received from God the remarkable gift of bringing peace wherever she went, at once set out to reconcile the embittered hearts. When she arrived in Estremadura, she became dangerously ill, in consequence of the inconveniences she had suffered during the journey, and prepared herself carefully for her last hour. She received the holy Viaticum, in the habit of the sisters of St. Clare, and on her knees, at the foot of the Altar. (2)

She was canonized by Urban VIII in 1625. (1)

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