The story of our saint begins with King James I of Aragon, known as the Conqueror for his military glories and as the Saint for his admirable piety. He broke off relations with his son and heir Peter (called the Great) because his marriage to Princess Constance, daughter of the King of Sicily, was contracted without paternal consent.
This strange conflict ended unexpectedly. When Elizabeth, the first fruit of this union, was born in 1271, James I considered her birth a sign of predilection from his great-aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. The newborn infant so enchanted the great warrior that he forgave his son and wished to exercise guardianship over the girl in her early years. Thus, began the life of this future saint.
Holiness was born in her from the moment she awoke to life. When she cried like any other baby, it was enough to show her a crucifix or image of the Virgin to silence her. So much unction and sweetness emanated from that little being that the palace ladies considered it a grace to contemplate her.
Elizabeth lost her virtuous grandfather at age five and returned to her parent’s home, where she grew in grace and holiness. By the age of eight, she was reciting the Divine Office daily.
The Holy Queen Gives Portugal a Big Boost.
Elizabeth first thought of consecrating her virginity to God. However, through divine enlightenment and her confessor’s recommendation, she understood that her role as a princess required that she accept a husband and make the evangelical virtues shine on the throne. Therefore, she married Dennis, King of Portugal, at twelve years of age.
At the Portuguese court, she continued to be a model of virtue, as she had been in Aragon. Her excellent example led many noble ladies to live the Christian life. The fame of her excellent example quickly reached all corners of Portugal, arousing holy emulation everywhere.
Elizabeth arrived in Portugal at a time when the Muslim yoke no longer threatened the nation. Portugal extended its borders to their present limits, entering a new era of peace and prosperity. King Dennis rebuilt war-torn cities and founded hospitals and schools, including the famous University of Coimbra. He restored and built churches and orphanages for the children of those killed in the wars. He devoted himself to agriculture with such diligence that he received the titles of the Farmer King and Father of the Realm. Of course, Saint Elizabeth also played a crucial role in these tasks, which earned her the epithet Queen of Farmers.
Sorrow and Patience in Facing Marital Infidelity
Elizabeth was an example of respect, love, and obedience to her husband. Though endowed with many qualities that made him a friend of justice and truth, the latter was led astray in his youth. He maintained many illicit liaisons from which several bastard children were born.
Since the offense done to God was more severe than to her, and given his scandalous behavior, the queen suffered and practiced the virtue of patience with her husband’s moral miseries. She prayed and sacrificed for him, trying to attract him to a virtuous life. King Dennis understood his wife’s magnanimity and allowed her to practice her devotions and charities. Her patience finally led him to recognize his errors, make amends for his depravity, and do penance for his sins.
His son, Prince Afonso, did not show the same resignation regarding the king’s sins. He nobly wished to end the outrage done to his mother. One day he declared himself in open revolt against his father, who decided to surprise his son and lock him in a tower until the end of his days.
The queen discovered her husband’s plan and sent word to warn her son of the danger. Some ill-intentioned courtiers accused her before the king of supporting his rebellious son and even helping him secure weapons. The overly credulous king expelled Elizabeth from the palace, deprived her of all income and banished her to the city of Alenquer.
Afonso requested the help of Aragon and Castile against his father. A civil war was inevitable. Aware of this danger, Elizabeth left Alenquer against her husband’s orders and went to see him in Coimbra. She threw herself at his feet and begged him to forgive his son. King Dennis received her kindly and authorized her to make peace with the latter. The queen went to Pombal, where the prince was at the head of his troops, and restored peace by assuring him of the king’s pardon.
An Impressive Example of God’s Justice
The queen had a very virtuous, prudent, and trustworthy page. She entrusted him with giving alms to the poor. Another page, struck with envy, went to the king and told him that the queen’s confidence in the page came from a sinful inclination. The king, then indulging in an irregular life, believed the slanderer and secretly planned to kill the good page. One day, passing by a lime mill, he called the workers and ordered them that when a person came asking whether they had done what the king ordered, they should seize him and throw him into the great kiln to perish.
The next day, King Dennis sent the queen’s page to the mill to ask if the king’s orders had been done. However, Providence was watching over the virtuous young man. Passing by a church, the page stopped to pray. When he saw that Mass was beginning, he stayed. When the first Mass was over, a second began, then a third, and the pious page remained in the church praying.
Meanwhile, the king, overcome with impatience, summoned another servant—the slanderer—and sent him to the mill to determine if his order had been carried out. Immediately the workers seized the unfortunate man and threw him into the furnace.
Afterward, the first page arrived and asked about the king’s order. Returning to the palace, he reported to the sovereign on his mission. The king was surprised to see him alive and asked what had happened. The page told him that he had stopped by the church for a quick prayer on his way to the mill. His dying father had recommended that he attend all Masses he found in progress. Thus, he attended three successive Masses before fulfilling the king’s order.
The monarch recognized the episode as God’s judgment testifying to the queen’s innocence, that page’s uprightness and the slanderer’s malice.
A Miracle Worker During Her Lifetime
Queen Elizabeth worked several miracles during her lifetime. Once, when washing the feet of the poor out of devotion, she encountered a woman with an ulcer that exuded an unbearable stench. She washed and treated the wound and kissed it to overcome her aversion. On contact with the queen’s lips, the sore disappeared.
One night, in her sleep, Elizabeth had an inspiration from the Holy Spirit to build a church in His honor. She sent architects to the most adequate place to plan the building. They returned, saying its foundations had already been laid and construction could begin. Everyone was astonished at that surprising development, for there had been no trace of any foundation until the day before. To record this prodigy for posterity, the king ordered that a document be written. As the queen arrived at the place to see the miracle, she went into ecstasy in the sight of many witnesses.
One of her best-known miracles involved roses. When carrying money in her apron to help the poor, she met her husband, who asked what she kept there. Elizabeth replied there were roses. It was winter in Europe when all nature seemed dead, and no flowers grew. The king asked her to open the apron to see what she had. The queen opened it, and beautiful, fragrant roses came out.
Heroic Dedication on the King’s Death
The king was ill and decided to go from Lisbon to Santarém for a change of climate. His fever increased greatly on the journey, and Elizabeth hastened to send word to her son. When she arrived in Santarem with the king, she never left him day or night and cared for him with her own hands. She studied favorable moments to speak to him of God, the rigor of divine judgment, the horror of sin, the compunction with which one must detest sin and the purity of conscience required to present oneself before God. At the same time, she gave out many alms in the sovereign’s intention and ordered special prayers for him throughout the kingdom.
After the death of King Dennis on January 6, 1325, the queen took off her royal robes, cut her hair, and put on a simple habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis. After seeking to do everything possible for the deceased king’s soul, she gave herself entirely to care for the poor and sick in hospitals and other works of mercy. Being a queen, she did so with particular effectiveness and elevation of soul.
That same year, she made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for the eternal repose of her husband, and there she left her crown, jewels, royal robes, and many other gifts of great value.
The Holy Queen died on July 4, 1336, at age 65. At her tomb, miracles multiplied. However, Elizabeth was only beatified in 1516 and canonized in 1625. On that occasion, when they opened her grave, her body was incorrupt despite the almost three hundred years since her death.
* * *Works consulted:
Les Petits Bollandistes, Vies des Saints, Bloud et Barral, Paris, 1882, volume 8, pp. 33 ff.
Fr. Ribadaneira, “Flos Sanctorum,” in Dr. Eduardo Maria Villarasa, La Leyenda de Oro, L. González & Compañía, 1897, Barcelona, tome III, pp. 47 & ff..
Edelvives, El Santo de Cada Dia, Editorial Luis Vives, S. A., Zaragoza, 1948, tome IV, pp. 81 & ff.
Fr. Justo Perez de Urbel, O.S.B., Año Cristiano, Ediciones Fax, Madrid, 1945, tome III, pp. 66 & ff.
Fr. José Leite, S.J., Santos de Cada Dia, Editorial A.O., Braga, 1998, tome II, pp. 375 & ff.
Original link in Portugese: https://www.ipco.org.br/santa-isabel-de-portugal-modelo-de-rainha-esposa-e-mae