A Woman of Peace: St. Elizabeth of Portugal

· Portuguese Saint,Married Saint
Saint Elizabeth of Portugal wearing a crown and holding flowers with heading A Woman of Peace: Saint Elizabeth of Portugal Letters from the Saints Blog

A Woman of Peace

If there is one virtue that marked the life of St. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 - 1336) it would be that she was a peacemaker. Throughout her life, she was able to bring warring parties together and help forge peace.

Apparently, this started at an early age. At her birth, there was such great joy that her father and her grandfather buried the hatchet and forgot the feud that they had been keeping.

Her Noble Background and Early Years of Marriage

Elizabeth was born to the noble family of Peter III of Aragon and Constance, daughter of the King of Sicily. Her noble lineage goes back even further as her grandfather was Emperor Frederick II. Her baptismal name is from St. Elizabeth of Hungary of whom she was the grand-niece.

As the daughter of a noble, Elizabeth was betrothed at the age of twelve to Denis, the King of Portugal. And, thus, when she was married at the age of seventeen, Elizabeth became Queen of Portugal.

Denis and Elizabeth had two children. Constance who grow up to marry Ferdinand IV, the king of Castile. And their son, Alfonso, would succeed his father and become Alfonso IV, King of Portugal. 

Initially, the marriage was not a happy one because Denis was unfaithful and kept several mistresses. As can be imagined, this was quite a cross for Elizabeth to bear. Added to the pain of her husband's infidelity, were the insults and gossip that surrounded the mistresses.

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Responding to Injustices Against Her

Elizabeth's response to this injustice was to take on additional penances and to live a more austere life. Along with her fervent prayer, she almost lived the life of a religious. And she did this for reparation for her husband's sins and for his conversion. Even more so, she took in the children of these mistresses and raised them as her own and gave them a good Christian upbringing.

Through her prayers and reparation to God for the offenses of her husband, Elizabeth did see him make a genuine conversion. And Denis would take up the spiritual life in earnest and become a model husband and father.

What did Elizabeth receive for her patient fortitude? Another cross to bear when a jealous page accused the queen of having an affair with another page. Again through prayer, Elizabeth achieved a victory when the false accuser fell into a fiery limekiln, an act which everyone interpreted as showing that his charge was false as indeed it was.

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The Peacemaker

Elizabeth's role as a peacemaker was displayed throughout her adult life. Numerous times, parties in her family were ready to begin wars, and Elizabeth was able to intervene in order to prevent the bloodshed. In 1299, she was able to bring peace between her husband and his brother Alfonso. In 1321 and in 1323, Elizabeth brokered a peace agreement between her husband and their son Alfonso. After the death of husband, Elizabeth settled the quarrel between her son Alfonso and his half-brother Sanchez.

In some of these cases, Elizabeth literally placed herself between the feuding parties and was able to get them to agree to lay down their arms and deal with the issues without having to resort to the use of force. God had given her a gift of being able to negotiate, and she made full use of it to keep her family from killing one another.

When Denis was ill with the illness that would take his life, Elizabeth was as compassionate as ever to him. She cared for his body and his soul. Through her, Denis was prepared for death and died a man reconciled to God after his true conversion.

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As a Widow

As a widow, Elizabeth quickly shed the trappings of her royal life. She sold her jewels and gave the money to the poor. She put off her royal finery and put on the habit of a third-order Franciscan. Then Elizabeth made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. On her return, she retired to the convent of the Poor Clares which she had founded.

Elizabeth stayed with the nuns but did not take the vows herself because she wanted to remain free to continue her works of charity outside the convent.

As might be expected, Elizabeth was called upon one more time to bring peace to her family. At the age of sixty-five, Elizabeth hurried to stop the fighting between her son Alfonso and her son-in-law Ferdinand IV of Castile. Rushing to the battlefield in the dangerous heat of the middle of the summer, Elizabeth was able to get the armies to put down their weapons. However, it would be her last peacekeeping mission. She became very ill, developed a high fever, and died being held by her son and her daughter-in-law. She was buried in the convent of the Poor Clares that she had founded.

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Feast Day (Memorial): July 4th

Patron saint of peace
Patron saint of brides
Patron saint of queens
Patron saint of widows
Patron saint of difficult marriages
Patron saint of charities

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