Early Life and Marriage (§ 1). 

Subjection to Franciscan Influence (§ 2).

Life of Charity at Marburg (§ 3).

Estimate of Her Character (§ 4).


1. Early Life and Marriage. Saint Elizabeth, landgravine of Thuringia, was born at Pressburg, Hungary, 1207; d. at Marburg Nov. 19, 1231. The leading facts of her brief life are historically established, though a halo of legend early surrounded her. She was the daughter of King Andrew II. of Hungary (1205-35) and his queen, Gertrude, of the house of Meran-Andechs. When not yet four years of age, she was betrothed to Louis, son of Hermann, landgrave of Thuringia (so the common tradition, but cf. Wenck, 221 sqq.), to whom she was married in 1221, certainly not "against her heart's desire," for she devoted herself to her husband with all the love of which a young woman is capable and Louis was a lovable husband. He did not oppose her in her devotional exercises, and even provided for her benevolence which sometimes was very lavish. She became the mother of four children, her youngest daughter being born after the father's death.

2. Subjection to Franciscan Influence. About this time the Franciscans came to Germany, and Jordan of Giano asserts that Rodeger, for a long time Elizabeth's confessor, was a Franciscan; the influence of the Franciscans upon Elizabeth can be clearly perceived. Her later life was dominated by Conrad of Marburg (q.v.), who was admitted to the Wartburg two years before the death of the landgrave, about 1225. He obtained the confidence of the landgrave to a high degree, and Elizabeth came into complete spiritual dependence on him. In 1227, following his religious sentiment as well as the summons of the emperor, the landgrave took the cross. She accompanied him on the way two days beyond the frontier of his territory, although his mother turned back there, and could hardly be persuaded to return. When she learned of her husband's death (of fever at Otranto, Sept. 11, 1227), her first exclamation was: "now the world is dead to me with all its joys." Her life at this point is obscure. Some claim, following the older notices, that her brother-in-law, Heinrich Raspe, drove her from the Wartburg; others that she voluntarily left the castle. At any rate she spent some time at the castle Pottenstein in Franconia, which belonged to her uncle, the bishop of Bamberg. Afterward she returned to Thuringia with the remains of her husband and was present at their solemn burial in the monastery of Reinhartsbrunn. She wished to enter a monastery or to beg for bread from door to door. But as Conrad rudely refused to sanction this, she vowed to renounce all glory of this world, parents and children, and her own will.


3. Life of Charity at Marburg. Some time afterward she went to Marburg, which had been conceded to her for life with all its privileges and revenues, in order to live there under Conrad's immediate guidance. She joined the Tertiaries of the Franciscans, wore the poorest dress and lived on the scantiest food, spending all her income in works of charity; with great delight she took care of the sick, especially those afflicted with the worst diseases. At Conrad's behest she gave up her children, one after the other, dismissed two of her friends dear to her from early childhood, and took in their place two unlovable servants selected by Conrad, while she so far submitted to him as to receive physical chastisement at his hands. While she was lying in state after her death the people crowded in large numbers about her bier and in the mania for relics, which no feeling of piety could restrain, mutilated the corpse. The news soon spread that miracles took place at her grave and witnesses were examined for the purpose of her canonization, which was accomplished Perugia, May 27, 1235, by Gregory IX. The Teutonic knights, to whom her brother-in-law Conrad had belonged since 1234, promoted her veneration. In 1235 they laid the foundation of the beautiful Elizabeth-church at Marburg which was finished in 1284, where a sumptuous monument became the receptacle of her bones.


4. Estimate of Her Character. Elizabeth belongs to the sweetest female characters of the Middle Ages. With a loving heart, capable as well as desirous of absolute devotion, she early felt the drawing from on high and followed it. Deep and sincere piety filled her life and she is not to be blamed because its manifestation was determined by the tendency of her time. Some extravagance and want of true understanding in the exercise of her benevolence can not be denied, but these defects are intimately connected with her excellencies. That in later years she forgot her duty to be a mother to her children, was indeed an aberration, but she acted in obedience to her spiritual adviser and believed that she was fulfilling her highest duty toward God.



Bibliography: The literature is voluminous; for a long list of sources and treatises cf. Potthast, Wegweiser, pp. 1284-87. The chief sources are: Libellus de dictis quattuor ancillarum sanctæ Elizabethæ, in J. B. Mencken, Script. rer. Germ., ii. 2007-34, Leipsic, 1729; Conrad of Marburg's Epistola (ad Gregorium IX.), in A. Wyss, Hessisches Urkundenbuch. pp. 31-35. Leipsic, 1879, the bull of canonization of Gregory IX., in Wyss, ut sup., pp. 35-53; the Vita by Conrad is in Mencken, ut sup., p. 2012; that by Theodore of Apolda is in H. Canisius, Lectiones antiques, v. 2, 143-227, Ingolstadt, 1694; Chronica Reinhartsbrunnensis, in MGH, Script., xxx (1896), 515-658. Out of the modern literature, for the most part uncritical, may be mentioned: K. W. Justi, Elisabeth die Heilige, Marburg, 1835; C. F. Montalembert, Histoire de Ste. Elisabeth de Hongrie, Paris, 1835, Eng. transl., London, 1839 (a picture of a saint, but uncritical); F. X. Wegele, in Sybels Historische Zeitachrift, v (1861), 375 sqq.; G. Boerner, in NA, xiii (1888), 433-515; C. Wenck, in Historische Zeitschrift, lxix (1892), 209-244; idem, Die Entstehung der Reinhartsbrunner Geschichtsbücher, Halle, 1878.