Here’s a saint study about St. Elizabeth of Hungary, complete with lesson ideas and activities.
By Kate Daneluk
A saint who was a princess? What made Elizabeth of Hungary a saint made for a very different life than what most of our students imagine a royal life to be.
About St. Elizabeth of Hungary
St. Elizabeth of Hungary is a favorite for Saints Day dress-up parties. Many girls enjoy dressing as a princess, and this is a costume that is easy to make or purchase. What made Elizabeth a saint, however, made for a very different life than what most of our students imagine a royal life to be.
Born in 1207 to King Andrew II and Queen Gertrude of Hungary, Elizabeth was sent away to Germany at the age of four to be educated in Thuringia, a region in central Germany, the home of her betrothed, Ludwig IV. At the young age of six, her mother was murdered in a political incident. This was a turning point for the young girl who turned to her faith in her grief and began to focus on the eternal, over earthly concerns.
By fourteen, Elizabeth was of age to marry. She truly loved Ludwig who supported her in her religious pursuits. They had three children. Ludwig rose in power, becoming Langrave (the German equivalent to Count) of Thuringia, which thrust Elizabeth into the royal court. She spent more of her time serving the poor and attending to her prayer life than her courtly duties, but Ludwig continued to support her. Elizabeth rejected the finery and trappings of her position in exchange for simplicity and penance.
When she was 16, Franciscan Friars moved to Thuringia and Elizabeth learned about Franciscan spirituality and ideals. Naturally, she was deeply drawn to the story of Francis and committed to spending the rest of her life imitating him. Princess of Hungary and noblewoman and Lady of the Court in Germany, Elizabeth wore simple clothing, ate simple food, and gave away most of her possessions.
Elizabeth and Ludwig were wildly generous with the poor. They personally gave so much bread and essentials away each day, Elizabeth was sometimes falsely accused of stealing from the royal storehouses to support her work. She would take the sick into her own home and give the family clothing away. When Ludwig would question her in this, under pressure from his family, God would assure him that Elizabeth was doing His work.
Because of the suspicions of her stealing from the royal stores and to avoid personal glory, she would deliver bread and goods in secret. When she was challenged and commanded to reveal the bread under her cloak, she lifted the cloak and only roses appeared. Elizabeth, overrun with sick patients, once brought a leper into her own bedroom. Ludwig angrily went to have a leper removed from their bed, and upon lifting the bedclothes, saw a vision of a crucified Christ in their bed.
Flood and disease visited their kingdom when Elizabeth was 19 and she rose to the occasion. In order to expand her care of the growing number of the sick, she established a hospital. The next year, Ludwig died of fever as he traveled to the Crusades. Elizabeth was heartbroken. She vowed never to remarry and lived the rest of her life as if she were a nun. She joined the Secular Franciscan Order and built a new hospital at Marburg in honor of St. Francis with the dowry that was offered for her remarriage. She continued with her charitable works and devotions despite the objection of her in-laws, and remained celibate despite the pressure from her own family. She lived in a small hut near her new hospital where she served daily.
There was much criticism then and now over some of the extreme ascetic practices dictated by Elizabeth’s confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Konrad vonMalburg. This included many customary practices of the time, but also physical beatings and sending away her young children, who remained with their father’s family. Elizabeth remained obedient to Konrad as she had vowed.
She died at age 24 on November 17, 1231. Soon after, many miracles were reported near her gravesite, leading to her quick canonization in 1235 by Pope Gregory IX. Her eldest child succeeded his father in ruling Thuringia with his uncle as his regent. Her second child married and remained a noblewoman. Her youngest joined the religious life and became abbess of a German convent.
Fun facts about St. Elizabeth of Hungary:
Feast Day: November 17
St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the patron saint of:
- death of children
- falsely accused
- the homeless
- nursing services
- young brides
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Catholic Charities
- The Third Order Franciscans (Secular Franciscans)
St. Elizabeth of Hungary in your classroom:
There are various subjects and topics that give an opportunity to learn a bit about and pray to St. Elizabeth:
- History/Social Studies – Middle Ages, Holy Empire, Medieval social-political systems
- Geography – Hungary, Germany, Europe
- Literature – royalty, romance, Medieval marriage, arranged marriage, social justice in history, charity, widows
- Religion – Franciscan spirituality, charity, works of mercy, Sacrament of Marriage
Here are some activities you can use in your classroom relating to St. Elizabeth of Hungary:
- Queen/King for a day – (grades 2-12): Elizabeth put her faith before the expectations of the world and redefined what her position could be. This could be assigned as a paper or done as a group discussion/brainstorming session. Discuss with students what it would be like to be royal and have money and power. Contrast the typical view of what it means to be royal with how to lead as a Christian.
- Faith First – (grades 1-12): Since the age of six, Elizabeth’s faith became the first focus of her life. This resulted in a vastly different life than other noblewomen of her day. Have students examine a scenario from their own lives and rewrite the story of how they would have acted if they worked from a faith-first mindset.
- The Miracle of the Roses – (grades 5-12): St. Elizabeth’s Miracle of the Roses is only one of many instances in which roses represent Heavenly influence in a miraculous way. Have students find other examples of roses in our Catholic tradition. This could be done as a paper, oral presentation or a group project.
- All Saints Day – (all grade levels): With her November Feast Day and royal pedigree, Elizabeth is a very popular choice for an All Saints Day dress-up day. Some schools offer this as an alternative to Halloween activities; some offer both. There are various activities for a fun All Saints Day party, but be sure to include each student presenting information about his or her saint. It is wise to assign options to the students which ensure fun and easy costumes, variety of saints with intact history, and to eliminate overlap.
- Bread – (grades 4 to 12): St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers. She and Ludwig fed hundreds of people each day. Have students research bread from different parts of the world and create a paper or presentation combining a recipe or tasting of bread from the region along with a description of hunger issues and efforts being made to address it. Most of our students don’t understand true hunger or how fortunate they are to eat a variety of foods daily.
- Penance – (grades 2-12): Elizabeth’s asceticism under Konrad’s direction was criticized for its extremism even in the thirteenth century. Today, many Catholics reject acts of penance and fasting, perhaps as a reaction to some of the extremes of the past or possibly as a result of the hedonistic tendencies of our time. Talk to your students about fasting and penance. Make sure they understand how we offer proper penance and why it matters. Discuss different kinds of reasonable penance that can be practiced and stretch beyond the idea of simple fasting. If done with the right spirit, sleeping without your pillow or on the floor, giving up butter or jelly on your toast, choosing the stairs over the elevator, or choosing to spend less time and money on our appearance can produce true spiritual fruit.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.