St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Mother

July 2, 2019

The Pastor's Page

The memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal is celebrated by the Universal Church on July 4, but because of Independence Day, in the United States her memorial is celebrated on July 5.

St. Elizabeth was born in 1271 in Zaragoza, Spain, the daughter of King Peter III of Aragon. She was named after her great aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, but in Spain she is known as Isabella. She was devout and virtuous as a child and had a beautiful disposition.

St. Elizabeth of PortugalShe was married at the age of twelve to King Denis of Portugal and became queen. She divided her time between spiritual and temporal affairs. She rose every morning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass, and she spent a portion of most days in her outreach to the poor. But she also treated her husband with exceptional kindness and faithfully attended to her duties in the palace. She had a daughter when she was twenty, Constance, who would become the queen of Castile, and a year later she had a son, Alfonso, who would succeed his father as king.

Her marriage was filled with troubles. Her husband was unfaithful and fathered multiple illegitimate children, and she cared for them as if they were her own. The king falsely accused her of favoring her son Alfonso over him, and for inciting Alfonso to rebel against him. Consequently she was barred from the royal court and her possessions were confiscated. While in exile, she had many supporters, some who were soldiers, and they proposed a military response. She urged them to be patient, remain loyal to the king, and refrain from armed resistance. Later she was cleared of all wrongdoing. Amid these hardships she remained steadfast in prayer, received strength from God, and was able to persevere in marriage.

She never wavered from her charitable works. She cared for the poor, sick, travelers, orphans, and prostitutes; and she built a hospital, orphanages, a home for wayward girls in Torres Novas, and the Poor Clare convent at Coimbra.

Her husband became seriously ill in 1324, and she vigilantly cared for him, and after offering countless prayers for his conversion he demonstrated a repentant spirit. After 41 years of marriage, he died at Santarem on January 6, 1325. This gave her the freedom to pursue her desire to become a religious sister. She sought membership with the Poor Clares at Coimbra but was refused. As an alternative, she became a Third Order Franciscan and took the Franciscan habit. She lived in a home near the monastery, distributed her inheritance to the poor, lived a simple life, followed the monastic prayer schedule, and continued her charitable deeds.

St. Elizabeth was renowned as a peacemaker. In the early years she resolved a dispute between her grandfather James and her father Peter that was causing a rift in the kingdom. Later her son Alfonso, who was distraught over the way his father seemed to prefer his illegitimate sons over him, rebelled and twice took up arms against his father. In each case Elizabeth intervened and rode out between their rival forces, and in each instance was able to quell the conflict. Finally shortly before her death, she expended enormous energy to prevent a war between Portugal led by James II of Aragon and Castile led by Ferdinand IV. The war was averted; worn out by the struggle, she died of exhaustion on July 4, 1336, in Estremoz, Portugal. She was widely regarded as a woman of extraordinary holiness, many offered prayers through her intercession, and numerous miracles were attributed to her. She was canonized a saint in 1626.

St. Elizabeth’s symbol is an apron full of roses. She is the patroness of brides, victims of adultery, charity workers, the Third Order of St. Francis, Coimbra, and the country of Portugal.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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