Friday, 02 March 2018 00:00

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

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Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter III of Aragon and Constance of Sicily, was born around the year 1270, in Zaragoza, Spain. She was a very special girl whose pious character was already known during her childhood years, and which was further reinforced with an advanced education.

Elizabeth liked to read about the lives of the saints, and from them and from the good examples she saw around her, she took good notes. Her teachers worked very hard to strengthen her kind spirit with lessons such as how to be a woman of prayer, mortify her likes and whims, as well as flee from all occasions of sin. One should also fight against one’s own inclinations and weaknesses.

At that time, royalty had to be related to royalty, so her parents sought a husband for her according to his royal lineage. Among the possible candidates was King Dionysius of Portugal, 9 years older than her, who was chosen as her spouse. At her tender age of 12 years old, they were married in Spain, first by proxy; later the official ceremony took place in Portugal in the month of June.

The person of St. Elizabeth at that age certainly surprises me. If I think about today’s young people at the age of 12, I don’t understand how a girl could be so mature to live the really hard life that she lived.  When I was 12 years old, I thought little more than playing with dolls, and I would not have even thought of marriage. It's true that I was not born into a royal family, and that I did not live in the Middle Ages when marriages were celebrated at a much earlier age than they are celebrated now. They were certainly different times, but what about the formation in the Faith ? I wonder how a girl of that age could have been taken out of her safe environment and moved to another place. In what way would she have to be trained so that she would always remain faithful and cling to the education received? I do not know;it's something that has given me a lot to think about.

We already have Elizabeth in the court of Portugal with all that this entailed; superficiality, ostentation, political conflicts, etc., in addition to a husband who, although he greatly valued the virtues of his wife, he did not accompany her at all.  He was a man of violent character and he was unfaithful, leading quite a scandalous life, which made his virtuous spouse suffer. She never stopped praying for him and gave him good advice, to the extent possible that she could.

Even though Dionysus had such a bad character and lived such a licentious life, he allowed Elizabeth to carry out all the good deeds that she could without any obstacles; she had full freedom to carry out her small works of piety, such as visiting the sick and assisting in other small necessities, and also in executing ambitious projects such as the construction of hospitals, shelters for pilgrims and indigents, convents for nuns, houses for repentant women, and orphanages for children - all of which made the common people love her tenderly.

All this activity did not prevent Elizabeth in being able to comply with her obligations, both in the organization of the things of the palace and the court, as well as in the participation in the big palatial events. In the same way, all these mundane activities did not affect her interior life and faith in the least; she knew how to keep a perfect balance with both facets of her life.
It took Dionysus and Elizabeth several years to have an offspring, but finally Constance and Alfonso were born.  Elizabeth was so generous that she also welcomed to the court the illegitimate offspring of her husband. This was not without a few problems, especially with their son Alfonso, because Dionysus had a special affection for some of his other children, so Alfonso grew up with feelings of rejection that led him to a warlike confrontation against his own father. I suppose that, amid the inner workings of the court, there might have been those who had a special interest in fueling this confrontation for political reasons.

Elizabeth was not left out of these clashes that brought upon her great suffering. What mother wouldn't do the impossible so that there would be peace in her family, especially when things went to the extreme where the confrontation between father and son could mean the death of one at the hand of the other! She went so far as to place herself in the middle of the two sides on the battlefield, until she got from one or other a promise to leave the contest.

But she not only acted as a peacemaker in this matter. Her intercession was of vital importance to soften the rough edges between Portugal and the papacy. She did not hesitate to lose part of her rights to resolve the conflict generated by the interests of her brother-in-law Alfonso, brother of her husband, who could have brought Portugal to a civil war. Thus,we have one issue after another in which the intervention of Isabel was crucial for maintaining the peace not only in Portugal, but also with Castile.

On January 7, 1325, Dionysus died, and at his death, Isabel was released from all the obligations in the court and was able to dedicate herself completely to her charitable works. She never made vows or wanted to renounce her family patrimony because she understood that with it she could continue to carry out all the great projects that she had been carrying out throughout her life.

The last time she had to intervene in a crucial issue to maintain peace was in the conflict that arose between her son Alfonso and her grandson Alfonso XI of Castile. She made a long and hard journey to dissuade her son. The roughness of the trip and the advanced age of Elizabeth took a serious toll on her health. Exhausted and in pain, she fell severely ill. Feeling that her time had come, she asked for confession and heard Mass, not ceasing to pray from that time until the moment of her death.

She died on July 4, 1336, having succeeded in getting her son to promise that he and his nephew, King of Castile, would not fight again. She worked for peace until her last breath. Her body was buried in the convent of Saint Clare of Coimbra, and numerous miracles happened there.

It was in the reign of the King of Portugal, Manuel the Fortunate, when the proceedings for her canonization began. She was beatified on April 15, 1516, by the papal decree of Pope Leo X. Her definitive canonization took place on May 25, 1625, by Pope Urban VIII.

How much we are now in need of rulers of her stature! Let’s raise fervent prayers to the Lord who can do everything, so that, in these times of deep confusion, rulers of great human stature and spirituality are raised to lead people to seek the common good .

Wife and mother.
I try to combine my true vocation as best as I can with a part-time job during the morning which allows me to look after my family in the evening. 

I am a lay member of the Home of the Mother.