Friday, July 22, 2011


Born 1271 Aljafería Palace, Zaragoza, Kingdom of Aragon
Died 4 July 1336 Estremoz Castle in Estremoz, Alentejo, Kingdom of Portugal
Canonized 25 May 1625, Rome by Pope Urban VIII
Feast 4 July

Elizabeth was a descendant of one of the most powerful families in Europe: daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and Queen Constance, and maternal granddaughter of Manfred of Hohenstauffen (son of German Emperor Frederick II), conqueror of Sicily.

She 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), King of Portugal, a poet, and known as Rei 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. She was devoted to the poor and sick, and gave every moment she could spare to helping them, even pressing her court ladies into their service. Naturally, such a life was a reproach to many around her, and caused ill will in some quarters. A popular story is told of how her husband's jealousy was roused by an evil-speaking page; of how he condemned the queen's supposed guilty accomplice to a cruel death; and was finally convinced of her innocence by the strange accidental substitution of her accuser for the intended victim.
Before Elizabeth entered her teen years, several European monarchs sought her hand. King Edward IV of England solicited her for his son, the crown prince, as did the king of Sicily, the king of France, and others. As was the custom, Elizabeth's parents weighed the political advantages of each proposed match. The greatest benefit, they concluded, would ensue from a matrimonial alliance with King Dinis of Portugal. Elizabeth became his wife, by proxy. She was around 12 years of age, while King Dinis was 20.
One cannot help but wonder how much the young princess understood of the document she signed, to be delivered to a man she had never met. It read, "I, Elizabeth, daughter of the Most Illustrious Don Pedro, by the grace of God king of Aragon, hereby bestow my body as the legitimate wife of Dom Dinis, king of Portugal and of the Algarve, in his absence as if he were present...."
A year and a half later, in June 1282, Elizabeth arrived in Portugal to start her new life as wife and queen
Elizabeth's Christian faith informed every aspect of her existence. She surrounded herself with a number of chaplains, and every day she recited, and sang, the Liturgy of the Hours with them. And if one of them ever misread the Latin in her presence, Elizabeth quickly corrected him, for she herself knew Latin as thoroughly as she knew the vernacular.
One can only speculate as to how much time a queen—this particular queen, at any rate—could devote to reading or studying. But it was Elizabeth who, in 1320, obtained of the bishop of Coimbra a formal proclamation establishing the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on Dec. 8th from Coimbra, the solemn observance was extended to the whole country. Considering the prolonged and bewildering medieval controversy on the subject of the Immaculate Conception, and keeping in mind that it was during Elizabeth's lifetime that the Franciscan "Subtle Doctor" Duns Scotus (1266-1308) answered the theological difficulties of this doctrine, we may conclude that Queen Elizabeth was well-informed as to major happenings in academic circles abroad. (Pope John Paul II beatified Duns Scotus on March 20th, 1993.)
While Elizabeth's mastery of languages, and singing, may be explained by the careful education she received as a young child, more difficult to explain is her remarkable understanding of engineering and architecture. A number of buildings were erected under her direct supervision—a convent to house the Poor Clare nuns, a house for herself next to the convent, a hospice for the aged poor, a hospital, an orphanage for foundlings and other needy newborns, and churches that, although dilapidated in some cases, are still standing. She drafted the sketches herself, and managed the day-to-day progress of the projects. Twentieth-century scholars have identified the buildings that date back to Elizabeth by their common architectural features, and have concluded that she developed her own style
Elizabeth paid regular visits to the construction sites, to clarify or correct the difficult points of her drawings. The men listened to her in rapt attention, amazed at the extent of her knowledge, that 14thcentury book says. From Elizabeth's particular involvement in the building trade, a charming legend was born.
The queen had a dream one night in which God asked her to build a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The next morning, she had one of her chaplains celebrate Mass, and while attending the Holy Sacrifice she received further clarification.
She ordered a construction crew to be assembled and brought to her.
She told them of the plan, and specified the site for the church. The workmen went to the location, and could not believe their eyes: The foundation was already poured, and the sketches for the church were waiting for them. The men went to work and, as usual, the queen paid regular visits.
One day, while Elizabeth was supervising the work, a girl walked up to her to offer an armful of flowers. The queen took them and distributed them, one by one, to each workman:
"Let us see if today you will work hard and well for this pay," she quipped.
Each worker graciously accepted his flower, and reverently put it in his satchel. When the day's work was done, each man found not a flower in his satchel, but a gold coin.
Elizabeth ran out of cash before the church was completed, and was troubled. Unexpectedly, she received a visit from her husband, who told her to proceed with all due speed because he would make available from his own resources whatever she might need.
Elizabeth's biographers cannot verify the story of the gold coins, nor any other mysterious detail of this legend. It seems certain, however, that a Church of the Holy Spirit was completed, and inaugurated with great solemnity, during the reign of Dinis and Elizabeth. The royal couple created a Confraternity of the Holy Spirit at the time.
Despite Dinis' infidelity, Elizabeth knew the inner, God-fearing man. Indeed, he was the first Portuguese king to introduce the custom of general prayer, at canonic hours, in his residence, and it was on his initiative that a permanent chapel was installed in the palace where Mass could be celebrated regularly.

Elizabeth remained Dinis' tender and loyal wife, and she obediently acceded to his will, even when he asked of her the utmost that any man could request of his wife: that she take into her care, and tutor, his illegitimate children. He admired her intellect, and rightly judged that no one better could be found to teach his children. He also judged rightly that Elizabeth's superior virtues would prevent her from turning her back on a call to do the heroic. Elizabeth saw God in the other, and the other encompassed her husband's illegitimate children.
But a far heavier cross awaited Elizabeth. As the children, legitimate and illegitimate, grew into adulthood, the peace of the realm disintegrated. The perpetrator was her own beloved son, Afonso, the heir. He was morbidly jealous of one of his half-brothers whom, he perceived, the father doted on, and chafed at having to wait for the throne. So Afonso led a revolt against his own father.
Civil war became imminent, several times, as Afonso allied himself with certain elements of the Spanish kingdom of Castile, who were only too willing to help him overthrow his father. The threat was real, and it fell to Elizabeth to mediate peace between the two men closest to her heart, husband and son, each of whom led an army.
Astoundingly, the first time that she intervened to help her son escape the consequences of his rebellion, Dinis exiled her to the fortified city' of Alenquer, forbidding her to leave the city walls. It must be said, in fairness to King Dinis, that he had been misinformed by evil tongues and had been led to believe that Elizabeth herself had counseled Afonso to rebel. Political intrigue has always been one of the hazards of court life.
Although innocent, Elizabeth obediently accepted the confinement. But upon receiving offers of assistance from a number of noblemen, who professed outrage at the injustice she had suffered and offered to rescue her, she answered them as their queen: "My primary obligation, and the obligation of all the vassals, is to obey the commands of the king, our lord."
Unjust sequestration is a well-known feature of the lives of most great saints, and Elizabeth was no exception. She stayed in exile until news came that the hostilities between her husband and son had heated anew. Afonso had secured additional military help from Castile, and his father had responded by greatly reinforcing his own army. The whole country—as well as her family—was in peril, so Elizabeth did abandon then her place of exile and rode for days, to mediate peace between the two men bent on destruction.
It was a scene that, with a number of variants, was repeated over and over: agreements made, agreements broken, armies on the move, and an exhausted, heartbroken Elizabeth riding out to valiantly face the warring parties, imploring, negotiating. Her biographers have dubbed her the "Angel of Peace." When he was on his deathbed, King Dinis called Afonso to his side, and entrusted Elizabeth to his care:
"Look after your mother and my lady, the queen, for she remains alone. Stand by her, as is your duty.... Think that having given you life, and for the many tears you have cost her, she is twice your mother."
In his peculiar way, Dinis held his queen in the highest esteem. He named her executor of his last will and testament, in which he made provision for the payment of all his debts, "having in mind God's Judgment," and for the disposition of castles, towns, and endowments to churches. But the king's highest praise of his wife is found, perhaps, in one of his poems:
Seeing as God made you without peer
In goodness of heart and goodness of speech,
Nor is your equal anywhere to be found,
My love, my lady, I hereby tell you:
Had God desired to ordain it so,
ou would have made a great king.
Dinis, one of Portugal's best-loved monarchs, died in February, 1325 at the age of 63, but not without taking leave also of his bastard children. The queen, who nursed him herself and stayed by his bedside day and night, led them to their dying father for his last blessing. Upon Dinis' death, Elizabeth removed her court dress and thereafter refused to wear anything but the habit of the Franciscan Tertiary order. She took up residence next to the convent of the Poor Clares, which she had founded and subsidized. It was then that the widowed queen founded a hospital near the convent, and named it after St. Elizabeth of Hungary. On a daily basis, Elizabeth worked in caring for the sick, often choosing for herself the most distasteful tasks.
Queen Elizabeth outlived her husband by 12 years. Mourning his death intensely, she said, "I have always beseeched our Lord to kindly spare me the bitterness of surviving the king, my lord. I have wished him a long life, for the good and well-being of the people."
Elizabeth always looked beyond herself, for she loved her subjects dearly. And she knew that they had also greatly loved her husband, who had taken radical measures to improve their lot. He had transformed agriculture, worked at increasing literacy, and, like Elizabeth, was moved by a deep need to see that justice prevailed in his kingdom. A striking feature of written accounts of Dinis' and Elizabeth's reign, which even the most casual reader of medieval histories cannot fail to notice, is the total absence of that "off with their heads" syndrome of medieval monarchic power, so prevalent elsewhere. When Dinis issued in 1309 a charter of privileges to the university he had founded, he began with a statement of intent: He officially established his university, he wrote, in order that his kingdom should be not only adorned with arms, but also armed with just and fair laws.
Elizabeth was of one mind with her husband, in matters of justice for her subjects. Recent researches have turned up five official documents issued by the Papal See at Avignon, attending to Elizabeth's written requests for the appointments of persons with law credentials to important posts. Scholars wonder how many other such documents lie still buried in archives.
Nor did she abide by the belief that rank has privileges and excuses injustices. Still preserved is an interesting letter that Elizabeth wrote to her brother, the king of Aragon, demanding in no uncertain terms that he pay a large debt in full. The amount was owed to a certain woman who, understandably, shrank at the prospect of seeking satisfaction from a king. "Know ye, my brother," starts Elizabeth, bypassing the niceties of usual greetings and proceeding directly to inform him, in harsh language, that the letter-bearer will not leave Aragon without the full amount in cash, and placing a time limit on her demand.
St. Elizabeth brooked no injustice, provided that reparation was within her means. "God made me queen so that I may serve others," was the way she used to cut short any attempts to laud her generosity.
Some of Elizabeth's acts of charity are so sublime that one almost shies away from mentioning them, for fear of trespassing on the sacred. The following case is related in the above-mentioned 14th-century book, where it is stated that it was attested to under oath, before the bishop of Lisbon.
It was Good Friday and Queen Elizabeth, as was her custom on that day, had a number of lepers brought to her in private, through a secluded door. She used to do this because the law forbade them to approach her residence, for fear of contagion. But Elizabeth saw God in the lepers, too.
After serving them a meal, the queen washed them with her own hands, bandaged their wounds, and replaced their rags with clean clothes. Then, having filled their purses, she dismissed them. But one of those unfortunates was in such a state of deterioration that, unable to keep pace with the group, he became disoriented and ended up at the main entrance. The doorkeeper, who knew nothing of his queen's secret works of mercy, yelled at the sick man and hit him on the head with a stick.
One of the queen's ladies-in-waiting was watching from a window and reported the incident to Elizabeth, informing her that the wounded man was bleeding profusely. Elizabeth immediately took measures to have the leper removed to a secluded room, where she managed to attend to him. She washed the gash on his skull, and applied egg-white before bandaging it. When, the next day, the leper announced that he had no more pain, that the wound was closed and healed, the rumor spread that the queen performed miracles.
Doctors have commented on this episode. If St. Elizabeth's touch was not miraculous, her knowledge of medicine certainly appears to have been. She lived in an age when healing practices consisted, essentially, in astrological prognostications. And yet, now that we know about the protein and fibrinogenic components in egg-white, it can be said that, in the absence of all other aids, it is the most effective remedy for a bleeding wound.
Queen Elizabeth died on July 4th, 1336. She was 65 years of age, perhaps somewhat older, and had incorporated into her passage through this earth prayers, sacrifices, interventions for peace among monarchs, acts of worship, and works of mercy too numerous to mention in this brief piece. Almost three centuries after her death, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII inexplicably broke his reported vow that there would be no canonizations during his Pontificate: He canonized St. Elizabeth of Portugal on Holy Trinity Sunday, May 25th, 1625.

 she died of a fever, full of heavenly joy, and exhorting her son to the love of holiness and peace. St. Elizabeth was buried at Coimbra, and miracles followed her death. She was canonized by Urban VIII in 1625.
We ought not to forget her, and God has ensured this in the land she blessed, where her body remains incorrupt. Reposing in the Church of St. Clare at Coimbra, her elaborate coffin has been opened several times through the centuries as recently as 1912. The teams of examiners, invariably composed of doctors and Church officials, consistently reported that St. Elizabeth remains intact, as beautiful and serene as if she merely slept.


No comments:

Post a Comment