Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was born in Pressburg on July 7, 1207. Her parents were King Andrew II of Hungary (c. 1177-1235) and Gertrude of Merania (1185-1213). Her maternal aunt was Saint Hedwig (1174-1243).
At the age of four, Elizabeth was taken to court where she was prepared to become the wife of the Hermann, heir to the throne of Thuringia in modern-day Germany. Her time at court was not happy. Even at this young age, Elizabeth was very pious and she did not abuse the advantages that had been given to her. Consequently, she was looked down upon by many of the more decadent members of the nobility.
When Hermann suddenly died, she became betrothed to, and subsequently married, his younger brother Ludwig IV (1200-1227) when she was just 13 years old. Their marriage was very happy and they had one son and two daughters.
Thuringia saw many natural disasters during the year 1226. The 19 year old Elizabeth quickly began collecting alms for the poor and even opened an infirmary within the castle. She often tended to the sick herself.
On September 11, 1227, Ludwig IV died of the plague while on his way to join the Sixth Crusade. When this news was brought to Elizabeth, she said: “The whole world is dead to me”. She was just 20 years old.
The last four years of Elizabeth’s life were extremely unhappy. After taking a vow of celibacy, she was imprisoned by her relatives in an attempt to force her into another politically convenient marriage. Her confessor and spiritual director was a rather psychotic man named Konrad von Marburg (unknown-1233). The things he forced Elizabeth to do as penance were too horrible to describe and, very likely, caused her early death. Eventually, Elizabeth’s relatives realized that she would never marry again and let her go. She used the remainder of her money to open hospitals and to buy food for the poor.
Elizabeth had been attracted to Franciscan spirituality ever since the Friars had come to Germany in 1221. Shortly before her death, she became a Franciscan tertiary.
During the last three years of her life, Elizabeth worked in a hospital she had opened, often doing jobs that no one else would. She died November 17, 1231 at the young age of 24.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was canonized on May 28, 1235 by Pope Gregory IX. She is considered the patron saint of homeless people and of widows. Her feast day is November 17.
Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints