Today is the feast of St Elizabeth of Hungary, T.O.S.F., (German: Heilige Elisabeth von Thüringen, Hungarian: Árpád-házi Szent Erzsébet, 7 July 1207 – 17 November 1231). Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Gertrude of Merania. Her mother’s sister was St. Hedwig of Andechs, wife of Duke Heinrich I of Silesia. Her ancestry included many notable figures of European royalty, going back as far as Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus. According to tradition, she was born in the castle of Sárospatak, Kingdom of Hungary, on 7 July 1207. According to a different tradition she was born in Pozsony, Kingdom of Hungary (modern-day Bratislava, Slovakia), where she lived in the Castle of Posonium until the age of four.
Elizabeth was brought to the court of the rulers of Thuringia in central Germany, to become betrothed to Ludwig IV, Landgrave of Thuringia, a future bride who would reinforce political alliances between the families. She was raised by the Thuringian court, so she would be familiar with the local language and culture. In 1221, at the age of fourteen, Elizabeth married Ludwig; the same year he was enthroned as Landgrave Ludwig IV, and the marriage appears to have been happy. After her marriage, she continued her charitable practices, which included spinning wool for the clothing of the poor. In 1223, Franciscan friars arrived, and the teenage Elizabeth not only learned about the ideals of Francis of Assisi, but started to live them. Ludwig was not upset by his wife’s charitable efforts, believing that the distribution of his wealth to the poor would bring eternal reward; he is venerated in Thuringia as a saint, though he was never canonized by the Church.
It was also about this time that the priest and later inquisitor Konrad von Marburg gained considerable influence over Elizabeth when he was appointed as her confessor. In the spring of 1226, when floods, famine, and plague wrought havoc in Thuringia, Ludwig, a staunch supporter of the Hohenstaufen Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, represented Frederick II at the Imperial Diet held in Cremona. Elizabeth assumed control of affairs at home and distributed alms in all parts of their territory, even giving away state robes and ornaments to the poor. Below Wartburg Castle, she built a hospital with twenty-eight beds and visited the inmates daily to attend to them.
Elizabeth’s life changed irrevocably on 11 September 1227 when Ludwig, en route to join the Sixth Crusade, died of a fever in Otranto, Italy. On hearing the news of her husband’s death, Elizabeth is reported to have said, “He is dead. He is dead. It is to me as if the whole world died today.” His remains were returned to Elizabeth in 1228 and entombed at the Abbey of Reinhardsbrunn.
After Ludwig’s death, his brother, Henry Raspe, assumed the regency during the minority of Elizabeth’s eldest child, Hermann (1222–1241). After bitter arguments over the disposal of her dowry—a conflict in which Konrad was appointed as the official Defender of her case by Pope Gregory IX—Elizabeth left the court at Wartburg and moved to Marburg in Hesse.
Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth made solemn vows to Konrad similar to those of a nun. These vows included celibacy, as well as complete obedience to Konrad as her confessor and spiritual director. Konrad’s treatment of Elizabeth was extremely harsh, and he held her to standards of behavior which were almost impossible to meet. Among the punishments he is alleged to have ordered were physical beatings; he also ordered her to send away her three children. Her pledge to celibacy proved a hindrance to her family’s political ambitions. Elizabeth was more or less held hostage at Pottenstein, Bavaria, the castle of her uncle, Bishop Ekbert of Bamberg, in an effort to force her to remarry. Elizabeth, however, held fast to her vow, even threatening to cut off her own nose so that no man would find her attractive enough to marry.
Elizabeth’s second child Sophie of Thuringia (1224–1275) married Henry II, Duke of Brabant and was the ancestress of the Landgraves of Hesse, since in the War of the Thuringian Succession she won Hesse for her son Heinrich I, called the Child. Elizabeth’s third child, Gertrude of Altenberg (1227–1297), was born several weeks after the death of her father; she became abbess of the monastery of Altenberg Abbey, Hesse near Wetzlar.
Elizabeth then built a hospital at Marburg for the poor and the sick with the money from her dowry, where she and her companions cared for them. Her official biography written as part of the canonization process describes how she ministered to the sick and continued to give money to the poor. In 1231, she died in Marburg at the age of twenty-four.
Very soon after the death of Elizabeth, miracles were reported that happened at her grave in the church of the hospital, especially those of healing. On the suggestion of Konrad, and by papal command, examinations were held of those who had been healed between August, 1232, and January, 1235. The results of those examinations were supplemented by a brief vita of the saint-to-be, and together with the testimony of Elizabeth’s handmaidens and companions (bound in a booklet called the Libellus de dictis quatuor ancillarum s. Elizabeth confectus), proved sufficient reason for the quick canonization of Elizabeth on 27 May 1235 in Perugia—no doubt helped along by her family’s power and influence. Very soon after her death, hagiographical texts of her life appeared all over Germany, the most famous being Dietrich of Apolda’s Vita S. Elisabeth, which was written between 1289 and 1297.
She was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. The papal bull declaring her a saint is on display in the Schatzkammer of the Deutschordenskirche in Vienna, Austria. Her body was laid in a magnificent golden shrine—still to be seen today—in the Elisabeth Church (Marburg). Her remains were removed and scattered by her own descendant, the Landgrave Philip I “the Magnanimous” of Hesse, at the time of the Reformation. It is now a Protestant church, but has spaces set aside for Catholic worship. Marburg became a center of the Teutonic Order, which adopted St. Elizabeth as its secondary patroness. The Order remained in Marburg until its official dissolution by Napoleon I of France in 1803.
Elizabeth’s shrine became one of the main German centers of pilgrimage of the 14th century and early 15th century. During the course of the 15th century, the popularity of the cult of St. Elisabeth slowly faded, though to some extent this was mitigated by an aristocratic devotion to St. Elizabeth, since through her daughter Sophia she was an ancestor of many leading aristocratic German families. But three hundred years after her death, one of Elizabeth’s many descendants, the Landgrave Philip I “the Magnanimous” of Hesse, a leader of the Protestant Reformation and one of the most important supporters of Martin Luther, raided the church in Marburg and demanded that the Teutonic Order hand over Elizabeth’s bones, in order to disperse her relics and thus put an end to the already declining pilgrimages to Marburg. Philip also took away the crowned agate chalice in which St. Elizabeth’s head rested, but returned it after being imprisoned by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. The chalice was subsequently plundered by Swedish troops during the Thirty Years’ War and is now on display at The Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. St Elizabeth’s skull and some of her bones can be seen at the Convent of St Elisabeth in Vienna; some relics also survive at the shrine in Marburg.
Elizabeth is perhaps best known for her miracle of the roses which says that whilst she was taking bread to the poor in secret, she met her husband Ludwig on a hunting party, who, in order to quell suspicions of the gentry that she was stealing treasure from the castle, asked her to reveal what was hidden under her cloak. In that moment, her cloak fell open and a vision of white and red roses could be seen, which proved to Ludwig that God’s protecting hand was at work. Her husband, according to the vitae, was never troubled by her charity and always supported it. In some versions of this story, it is her brother in law, Heinrich Raspe, who questions her. Hers is the first of many miracles that associate Christian saints with roses, and is the most frequently depicted in the saint’s iconography.
Another popular story about St. Elizabeth, also found in Dietrich of Apolda’s Vita, relates how she laid the leper Helias of Eisenach in the bed she shared with her husband. Her mother-in-law, who was horrified, told this immediately to Ludwig on his return. When Ludwig removed the bedclothes in great indignation, at that instant “Almighty God opened the eyes of his soul, and instead of a leper he saw the figure of Christ crucified stretched upon the bed.” This story appears in Franz Liszt’s oratorio about Elizabeth
To honor Elizabeth I have chosen pogácsa, a Hungarian bun which figures in many folktales as the food packed by the hero for journeys. They seemed suitable in light of Elizabeth and the roses. Maybe she was carrying them. They are delightful and I have had them as a lunch snack in Budapest on a couple of occasions. I have never made them, however. So I will give you a recipe from this website (the comment at the end is her’s, not mine!):
Recipe by: Ilona Kollár
2 lb 3 oz flour
3/4 oz. sour cream
salt, pepper, sugar, caraway seeds
5 oz. lard
10 oz. farmer’s cheese
3/4 lb. ground pork cracklings
4 .25 oz packets of dry yeast
1 cup of milk
5-6 Tbsp dry white wine
Approximately 3/4 lb of ground pork cracklings*
2-3 Tbsp salt
1 heaping tbsp. ground black pepper
1 pinch of salt
1 pack of caraway seeds
*To make your own Tepert?/pork cracklings:
1 lb pork belly chunks (You can find this in most Asian food markets)
Cook pork chunks in a pan in the oven, or in a skillet on the stove, until all fat is rendered out and what is left are small crispy pieces.
To prepare the scones:
- Preheat the oven to 390?F.
- Dissolve the yeast and sugar in some warm milk, and allow it blooms (starts to bubble). If you’re short on time, you can skip this step and add dry active yeast to the dry ingredients instead.
- Sift the 2 lb. 3 oz. of flour into a bowl and mix in the salt.
- Form a dent in the mound of flour with your fist and add the yeast-sugar-milk mixture, sour cream, lard, and white wine, mixing everything carefully together within this dent (either by hand or with a wooden spoon).
- Gradually add the rest of the warm milk and work it into the flour.
- Knead the dough thoroughly, until it is smooth and sprinkle the surface with flour.
- Cover dough with a clean cloth and let it rest in a warm place for about 1 hour (until it expands to twice its original size).
- In the meantime, grind the pork cracklings and mix in the salt and black pepper.
- Lay the risen dough onto a board sprinkled with flour and, using your hands (also sprinkled with flour, knead it and stretch it to be about 1/4 in. thick.
- Spread the pork crackling evenly onto the surface and tightly roll up the dough from the bottom to the top. (Ideally, the dough should be left to rise for 10-20 minutes after it’s been rolled.)
- Starting from the left side and moving to the middle, flatten the dough a bit and then flip the right half over the left, like pages of a book.
- Cover it with a clean cloth and let it sit for 20 minutes.
- Stretch the dough to 3/4 in. thickness and score the surface about 1/2 in. apart and 1/4 in. deep.
- Dust a round cookie cutter with a diameter of 2-3 in. (or 1 in. for minis) and use it to cut out shapes from the dough.
- Arrange these on a baking tray, setting them at least 1 in. apart from each other. This is very important, because otherwise you will end up with one giant rectangular biscuit!
- Beat one egg, add a pinch of salt, and brush over top of raw dough.
- Sprinkle a small amount of caraway seeds on each.
- Let the dough rest in a warm place for 15-20 minutes before placing the pan into the oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes (check after 15 min.) until the tops turn reddish gold.
These are best served fresh, but you should wait to serve them until they cool down a bit, lest they give you a stomach ache!