Saint of the Day – 4 July – St Elizabeth of Portugal T.O.S.F. (1271-1336) Queen Consort, Franciscan Tertiary, Apostle of Charity and Peace, political negotiator and mediator – also known as Elizabeth of Aragon, Elisabet in Catalan, Isabel in Aragonese, Portuguese and Spanish and The Peacemaker, born in 1271 at Aragon, Spain and died on 4 July 1336 at Estremoz, Portugal of a fever. Patronages – Coimbra, Diocese of San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Cathedral of La Laguna.
Elizabeth means “Promise of God”
Saint Elizabeth was the daughter of King Peter III of this kingdom and niece of King James the Conqueror, great-niece of Emperor Frederick II of Germany. They gave her the name Elizabeth after her aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
Her formation was formidable and from the time she was very young she had a notable piety. She was taught that, in order to be truly good, she ought to include mortification of her likes and whims along with her prayer. She was careful to order her life toward the love of God and neighbour, disciplining her habits of life. She did not eat between meals.
She was married at the age of 12 to King Dionysius of Portugal. This was a great cross for Elizabeth because he was a man of little morals, being violent an unfaithful. But she endured heroically this trial. She prayed and offered many sacrifices for him. She always treated him with goodness. They had two sons: Alfonso, the future king of Portugal and Constance, future king of Castille. Saint Elizabeth even educated the natural sons of her husband with other women. The king, for his part, admired her and permitted her to live an authentic Christian life, to a certain degree. She would rise very early in the morning and read six psalms, attend Holy Mass and dedicated herself to manage the duties of the palace. In her free time she met with other women to make clothing for the poor. She dedicated the afternoons to visiting the elderly and ill.
She made possible the construction of hostels, a hospital for the poor, a free school, a home for women repenting from a sinful life and a hospice for abandoned children. She also constructed convents and did other good works for the people. She would lend her beautiful dresses and even one of her crowns for the weddings of poor young women.
Saint Elizabeth would frequently distribute coins from the Royal Treasury to the poor so that they could buy their daily bread. On one occasion, King Dionysius, suspicious of her actions, began to spy on her. When the queen began to distribute money among the poor, the king saw and, infuriated, went to reclaim it. But the Lord intervened, in such a way that, when the king ordered that she showed him what she was giving to the poor, the coins turned to roses.
The son of Elizabeth, Alfonso, had a violent character like his father. He was filled with anger at the preference his father showed to his natural children. On two occasions he promoted a civil war against his father. Elizabeth strived for reconciliation between father and son. On one occasion she went on pilgrimage to Santarem, a Eucharistic miracle and, dressed as a penitent, implored the Lord for peace.
Then she went to present herself on the field of battle and, when the armies of her spouse and son were about to engage in battle, the queen kneeled between them and, on her knees, asked her husband and son to be reconciled.
Some of her letters have been preserved, which reflect gospel values and audacity of our Saint.
To her husband: “Like an infuriated wolf that is going to kill your Little son, I will fight so that the arms to the King are not unleashed against our own son. But at the same time, I will first make sure that the arms of the army of my son are destroyed, before they are fired against the followers of his father.”
To her son: “By the Blessed Virgin Mary, I ask that you make peace with your father. See, the soldiers are burning houses, destroying crops and breaking everything in pieces. Not with weapons, my son, we cannot fix the problem with weapons, but rather with dialogue, continuing negotiations to fix these conflicts. I will make the troops of the king go away and that the demands of the son be attended to but please remember, that you have a most serious duty to your father as his son and as a subject to his king.”
She obtained peace on more than one occasion, and her husband died repentant, without a doubt due to prayers of his wife.
Because Saint Elizabeth had such a great love for the Eucharist, she dedicated herself to study the lives of the Saints who were most notable in their love for the Eucharist and especially Saint Clare. After becoming a widow, Saint Elizabeth divested herself of all her riches. She went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where she surrendered her crown to the Archbishop in order to receive the habit as a Claretian tertiary. The Archbishop was so moved by this act of the Saint that he gave her his pastoral cross to help her on her return to Portugal. She lived her last years in the convent, dedicated to Eucharistic adoration.
When a war broke out between her son and her son-in-law, the King of Castille, Saint Elizabeth, despite her old age, undertook a long journey by dangerous roads and obtained peace. Nevertheless, the trip cost her life. Feeling herself close to death, she asked to be taken to a Claretian convent that she herself had founded. There she died invoking Our Lady on 4 July 1336.
God blessed her tomb with miracles. Her body can be venerated in the Claretian convent in Coimbra. She was Canonised on 25 May 1625 by Pope Urban VIII.
Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for peace in our world!