Saint Elizabeth of Portugal
By Stacy Rodrigues-Botelho
Saint Elizabeth of Portugal was one of the most extraordinary women of her time and should be admired for her courage and strength, the unending compassion she had for others and her enduring confidence in God. She once said, “God made me queen so that I may serve others.”
She was born a princess of Aragon, a powerful kingdom in what we know as part of Spain today, in Zaragoza in the year 1271. She was the daughter of King Pedro III of Aragon and Queen Constanza. She was contracted for marriage to King Dinis of Portugal “Rei Lavrador” when she was only 12 and he was 20 (although not celebrated until 1288 when she was 17 and he was 26!). He was one of the most decorated monarchs in Portuguese history most notably for what he did for his country and not what he did in his domestic life.
Before her married life she was already very devoted and pious, and said the full Divine Office daily, fasted, did other penance, and attended twice-daily choral Masses. Then as she became Queen, she instantly was devoted to the poor and the sick, tirelessly giving to their needs. Her acts of charity were never ending, such as personally taking care of lepers in her private quarters, paying dowries of poor girls, educating the children of poor nobles, and acting as a benefactor to various hospitals and religious building projects.
Though there has been some evidence that she is said to have healed people by her touch, she is most known for mediating peace (the Peacemaker) between her husband and son, and for her incredible knowledge of engineering and architecture. She said God told her in a dream to build a church dedicated to the Holy Spirit.
Upon bringing the workers to the location they were stunned to see the foundation already poured. After the work was started Elizabeth was supervising their work when a girl offered her a handful of flowers that she later distributed to the workers one by one saying: “Let us see if today you will work hard and well for this pay”. Later when the day’s work was done the flower they had placed in their satchel became a gold coin, further insisting their best work for God. This event clarifies how she is depicted with roses cradled in the habit of the Franciscan Tertiary order that she committed herself to upon her husband’s death.
In her household, however, things were a bit more complicated for her. She remained a dedicated and loyal wife despite her husband having as many as nine illegitimate children with many different women. According to research, there is no record of jealousy or condemnation for her husband, and it was she who he asked, out of the utmost respect for her intelligence and piety, to take care of and tutor his illegitimate children. Elizabeth looked at them as God would. For her graces in such circumstances she is the patron saint for difficult marriages.
As has been noted her acts of worship and mercy evoke admiration and inspiration for us today. She gave herself fully to others and showed us how we can imitate her acts in our lives. She always prayed to God for her husband to be at peace and give up his life of sin. I too continue to pray for the same, having confidence in God to answer my prayer. Being a peacemaker between family members is a role I’ve grown into as an adult much like Elizabeth had done with her family members, making sure to diffuse war and conflict at all costs.
If she were here today I think she would definitely talk to us about the importance of being our brothers’ keeper. She would remind us of our obligation as children of God to take care of each other. I’m sure if she attended Daily Mass, as I have on a few occasions, she would be flabbergasted at the modest attendance. As a matter of fact, she would recommend two daily choral Masses in Latin. She would also reaffirm us to have peace and promote peace wherever we go and whomever we speak to. She probably would be disappointed with the way many Catholics go through the motions of the faith without deep emotion in the faith. She knew only what God asked of her and she knows we could do better.
On July 4, 1336, at the age of 65, Elizabeth died exhorting her son to the love of holiness and peace. God does not want us to forget her on our nations’ independence day, but to remember her feast day as well. Her body remains intact in the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova in Coimbra, Portugal as a testament to such greatness whose spiritual depths, intellectual stature, and charisma force us to look inward at ourselves and ask: God made me to serve others; am I?