The Holy Countess from Hungary
St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207- 1231) was a wife, a mother, and a countess. She was born in the castle Saros Patak in northern Hungary. Her father would become King Andrew II of Hungary, and her mother, Gertrude, was a sister of St. Hedwig.
Betrothed at Four and Married at Fourteen
At the very young of four Elizabeth was betrothed to her future husband Louis, who was eleven at the time, and the heir of the duchy of Thuriniga. Elizabeth was brought to the Wartburg castle (in modern day Germany) where she was raised with Louis by his mother and her future mother-in-law, Countess Sophia. At the age of six, Elizabeth lost her own mother who was murdered as part of a plot of court intrigue.
The count, and father of Louis, was not a faithful man, and the Countess Sophia seemed determined that her son and Elizabeth would have a good marriage. The countess passed along her faith and her piety to both of them. (The countess would enter a Cistercian convent in Eisenach after the death of her husband.) Over their childhood years, Elizabeth and Louis became best friends which was an ideal preparation for their married life.
The couple was married in 1221 when Elizabeth was fourteen and Louis was twenty-one. Their honeymoon was spent in Elizabeth's native country of Hungary. It was also at that time, that the newly married Elizabeth learned the details of her mother's murder.
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The Young Married Couple
Louis and Elizabeth continued to grow in their love for one another which they demonstrated with physical gifts and how they treated one another. Louis would be sure to bring back a gift such as a brooch or a necklace for his bride after he had been away on business related to ruling his kingdom.
For her part, Elizabeth would run to meet her husband upon his return home and warmly embrace him before hearing all about his time away. And that is when she did not travel with him in order to remain by his side when he visited parts of his kingdom.
Elizabeth was also keen to encourage her husband's faith to grow, and she did so by living out her own faith. Elizabeth practiced her faith in ascetical ways as well as practical ones. She would wake up in the middle of the night, trying not to awaken Louis, in order to pray. She explained to her maid servants that although she was deeply in love with her husband, she wanted to be certain to put God first in all things and this time of prayer helped her do that.
Elizabeth also wore a hair shirt under her garments. When Louis would be away, she dressed more like a widow than a married countess. However, whenever they were together, she wore finer garments which reflected her happiness at their being together.
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Love of God and Neighbor
Louis, unlike his father, was completely faithful to Elizabeth. He thought that he had nothing more precious on earth than her. Louis also would not put any obstacles in the way of Elizabeth practicing her faith. If he happened to awaken when Elizabeth had gotten up to pray at night, he would not make any matter of it in order that she would not think she had inconvenienced him. With regard to her charitable work, when others complained about her care for the poor and the ill, he would reply by stating his full support for her doing good for others.
Elizabeth had early on developed a love for helping others, and she took advantage of her position as countess to do more to help the poor and those suffering from illnesses. She, herself, would personally care for those who were ill. And once, Elizabeth even had a leper put in the couple's bed in order for her to nurse him. Louis, although supportive of his wife, thought this had gone too far until, when he looked again at the leper, he did not see the ill man, but Christ crucified.
Another time, Louis found Elizabeth taking food to the poor wrapped up in her mantle. Lovingly, he asked to see what she was bringing. When Elizabeth opened her mantle, the food was no longer there, but instead, there was a bouquet of roses.
Children and Widowhood
Louis and Elizabeth were blessed with three children: Hermann who would succeed his father as count, Sophia, who would become a duchess, and Gertrude who became the abbess of Altenburg.
Then, in 1227, a crusade was preached. In his zeal to support the Church, Louis promised to take up arms against the enemies of the Church in the Holy Land. After discussions with the bishop, Louis agreed to be clothed with the sign of the cross which represented his pledge. However, in order to not cause immediate concern on the part of Elizabeth, he did not wear it on his garment, but kept the cross in his pocket.
Nonetheless, Elizabeth found the cross when she was looking for something in Louis' pockets. She was troubled at the thought of his going on the crusade. And certainly, the day that he left was a difficult one for both of them.
Soon her concerns would be realized as only months after his departure, her husband fell ill to the plague in southern Italy on route to the Holy Land. His death was utterly devastating for Elizabeth. Everything in the world was dead to her.
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Move to Marburg
In addition, life at the castle became difficult for her. Louis' brother took over control until Elizabeth's son Hermann would be old enough to assume the role of count. And, Elizabeth did not feel free to raise her children and serve the poor as she previously had.
On her own terms, Elizabeth left Wartburg Castle and she took up residence in Marburg in a property that had been left to her. Here she was able to dispose of her income as she saw fit. Consequently, Elizabeth built a hospital for the poor where she personally served the ill, and she also spent her income buying food to be given to those who where hungry.
However, the young mother of three was not long for the earth. At the age of twenty-four less than four years after the death of her beloved Louis, Elizabeth passed away.
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