Monday, November 23, 2009

Elizabeth of Hungary, belatedly

Long time no write. I've been busy, I guess, or didn't have anything to say, or a combination of things. But I've been thinking...

First of all, let's talk about Elizabeth of Hungary. Her feast day was last week, but she's been preying upon me. She got a lot done in a very short time, what with dying at 24. The write-up James Kiefer did is very beautiful:
The numerous "St. Elizabeth's Hospitals" throughout the world are for the most part named, not for the Biblical Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, but for this princess of Hungary. She was concerned for the relief of the poor and the sick, and with her husband's consent she used her dowry money for their relief. During a famine and epidemic in 1226, while her husband was away in Italy, she sold her jewels and established a hospital where she nursed the sick, and opened the royal granaries to feed the hungry. After her husband's death in 1227, her inlaws, who opposed her "extravagances," expelled her from Wartburg. Finally an arrangement was negotiated with them that gave her a stipend. She became a Franciscan tertiary (lay associate) and devoted the remainder of her life to nursing and charity. She sewed garments to clothe the poor, and went fishing to feed them.

Sounds great.

Then I read further. First of all, she got married at 14. I suppose 13 in the 1220's is older than 13 today and marriage at that age was pretty common (Francis died in 1226, just to place you in the period), but still. I mean, the marriage was a political one, planned since she was four years old. Her mother was murdered when she was 6; the first prince she was supposed to marry died so she got handed down to the younger one, Ludwig, who was 21 when they married, and sounds like a very decent man.

After his death, though, when Elizabeth was 20, things seemed to go downhill. Just in terms of her not having any defenses. As you saw in the blurb above, her in-laws kicked her out. Perhaps worse, as far as I'm concerned, was her "spiritual instructor," Master Conrad of Marburg. Here's the relevant passage from the fairly affirmative Catholic Encyclopedia entry:
[Conrad] was a very ascetic and, it must be acknowledged, a somewhat rough and very severe man. He was well known as a preacher of the crusade and also as an inquisitor or judge in cases of heresy...Conrad treated Elizabeth with inexorable severity, even using corporal means of correction; nevertheless, he brought her with a firm hand by the road of self-mortification to sanctity.


There is also conjecture that Elizabeth was not kicked out by the in-laws, but "left the Wartburg voluntarily, the only compulsion being a moral one. She was not able at the castle to follow Conrad's command to eat only food obtained in a way that was certainly right and proper."

Ew again.

And then,
Elizabeth's aunt, Matilda, Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery of Kitzingen near W├╝rzburg,...sent her to her uncle Eckbert, Bishop of Bamberg. The bishop, however, was intent on arranging another marriage for her, although during the lifetime of her husband Elizabeth had made a vow of continence in case of his death


And to top it all off, after Elizabeth had become a third order Franciscan,
Conrad of Marburg still imposed many self-mortifications and spiritual renunciations, while at the same time he even took from Elizabeth her devoted domestics. Constant in her devotion to God, Elizabeth's strength was consumed by her charitable labours, and she passed away at the age of twenty-four, a time when life to most human beings is just opening.

After reading all of this, it left me furious. This woman was abused by so many people, and especially in the church, I find myself livid. Thank God for Ludwig, but how sad, how shameful that the Church would kill a young woman and then be pleased to call her a saint. I continue to find this disturbing.


Anonymous said...

So sad, but very interesting. So many of the saints have such awful stories, and the way the church uses sainthood to do whatever it has done with the topic of abuse is so compelling and upsetting to me. I appreciate what you do on your blog.

Leonard said...

Me too...furious. Probably worse is the fact that we know the type of sickos that would do these vile punishment activities...they get recycled it seems.

Anonymous said...

St. Elisabeth of Hungary has always been the central character in one of my favorite saints' stories. Forbidden to deliver bread to the poor, she sets out anyway. Intercepted by her husband, who asks her what she is carrying in her apron, she tells him she has nothing but roses. He, of course, asks her to open the apron to prove it. She, full of trepidation, opens the apron full of bread expecting a scolding - to her surprise and relief and ours, now there is nothing in her apron except roses!

Don't ask me why I love this story, as I don't know myself - but I do love it. (Also the recapitulation in one of the Hornblower novels, which is where I first read it, but that's another story altogether, and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you...).

I hope that the part of the church that sainted her was a very different part from the one that hurt her.

LKT said...

Yeah, me too. She's certainly worthy of sainthood; I just wish the church was better at acknowledging its own failings on her behalf. Anyway...