Monday, 17 November 2008

Brief thoughts about Elizabeth of Hungary

The link which I provided in the title is to - one of many sites with references to Elizabeth which one would find in a Google search. It is not the most detailed, or the most pious, but it contains facts which hagiography would exclude. As Dermot Quinn once aptly noted, "Histories of revelation are seldom very revealing, and histories of holiness are full of holes." I believe that many sincere attempts to honour the saints by sterilising their biographies reduce them to plaster statues. Reading this honest account can inspire another, I believe, because we need reminders that the saints were distinguished by their response, in love - not by having storybook (or horror story!) lives.

Elizabeth of Hungary is my patron - calendars vary on whether her feast day is the 17th or 19th of November, so I wanted to give her a bit of space today. I always loved her for her single minded dedication and her love for the poor - even if ( myself... though she never lived to be even half my age...) her zeal exceeded her prudence. Wryness tag on: Were my mother alive to read of Elizabeth, her first question would be 'what happened to her children?!' As for me... well, I think it's lucky for Elizabeth that she died at age 24, because I can picture a widowed queen, totally broke, despised and rejected by family... all alone in later years, realising that, for everyone she helped with the riches she dispensed, there were five who'd swindled her....

I remember, as a child, when I first was deeply impressed by one of the most popular stories about Elizabeth. (Incidentally, Elizabeth is my legal name - the name I chose in religion and at Confirmation - but it is my own choice, not my birth name, which you'll never learn here. Elizabeth is a special patron for me - though, in part, because the name means "consecrated to God.") Apparently Elizabeth was a bit secretive about some of her acts of charity, since her husband was loving but inclined to think her excessive (as indeed he might.) In this legend, Elizabeth placed a beggar (in some versions, also a leper) into the royal couple's bed. (As a child, I doubt I fully realised the reasons that the prince would have found that less than appealing. I loved and cared for the homeless for years, and still do, and have done their laundry, and suffice it to say that even I would not care to have one of them have a nap in my bed.) When Ludwig returned, and saw the beggar, in some versions he saw a crucifix, in others the image of Christ Himself between the sheets.

I think God indeed may have been more of a showman during the Middle Ages, when people were more open to the miraculous. Yet I must leave my readers with a pious thought. Perhaps Ludwig did see a crucifix or vision - but there is a more important matter here. If Ludwig indeed saw the beggar himself, but saw that this man, like himself and all of us, was created in God's image, or if he saw Christ in this man's poverty and suffering, that is the greater miracle.

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