Saintly queens and the poor

“We must give God what we have,
gladly and with joy.”
St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Many medieval women saints tend to be either mystics or royalty – or both. But the royal women saints almost always are known for their care for the poor. St. Elizabeth of Hungary is no exception.

She founded hospitals, cared for the poor with her own hands, sold her jewelry to feed the poor. All this scandalized her husband’s relatives, though he loved and protected her.

She enraged them even more when he refused to eat any food that was the product of injustice or oppression!

When her husband died, she was cast out of the palace and wandered. Later she was restored to a decent home. By that time she had embraced the example of St. Francis of Assisi and become a member of the Order of Penitents, the Third Order of the Franciscans established for lay people.

But she was not a sad saint, nor one separated from the small joys of life. Reading Daniel Ellsberg’s short biography of St. Elizabeth, in Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time, I was delighted to hear that she liked to go fishing – and then would sell the fish to feed the poor.

She died at the age of twenty four in 1231. Even though she was royalty, we have much to learn from her devotion to the poor.

As the prayer from today’s Mass reads (from Benedictine Daily Prayer):

 Kind and loving Father, you inspired St. Elizabeth of Hungary  to recognize Christ in the poor. In response to her prayer, enable us to serve the needy and distressed with unwearying love.


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