St. Elizabeth of Portugal was born in 1271, the daughter of Pedro III who would become king of Aragon. Isabel, the Spanish version of her name by which she is known in Portuguese history, was named for her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary, she followed the rule of life as a Third Order Franciscan after the death of her husband, living near a convent of Poor Clares she had founded at Coimbra.
From her youth, Elizabeth was a devout child who attended daily mass, prayed regularly, and fasted. These practices of piety and devotion equipped her with the strength and fortitude she would need when she was married at age 12 to Denis, King of Portugal. Though Denis was fond of his young wife, he did not share her piety and often strayed into sin, resulting in several illegitimate children. These children were lovingly cared for by Elizabeth along with her own two children, her daughter Constantia and son Affonso. This fact caused strife when Affonso felt slighted for the illegitimate children. Elizabeth served as peacemaker between her son and husband, resulting in their ultimate reconciliation.
This mediation was just one of many times Elizabeth was called upon for her ability to help feuding parties come to peace and resolution. The final time would be when her son, now king, headed for a battle he should not wage. The target of Affonso’s wrath this time was his own son-in-law. Elizabeth successfully reconciled the two parties, but as she was aged and suffering illness, the exertion took its toll on her physically. She died peacefully in 1336, urging her son to love holiness and peace.
One miraculous event in St. Elizabeth’s life involved gossip and two pages. The first page was jealous of the second, so he lied to the king and accused the latter of having a relationship with the queen. King Denis was infuriated, and ordered the death of the innocent page. The king instructed the lime-burner to throw into his furnace the first page that came to him. The innocent page was sent to the lime-burner, but he regularly attended daily mass and stopped for mass along the way. However, he arrived late, so stayed on for the next mass. When the king sent the dishonest page to confirm the death of the innocent page, he was instead the first to arrive, and was thrown into the furnace. Denis realized the err in his judgment, sought his wife’s forgiveness, and began a new life of holiness before his death.
Both the page and St. Elizabeth attended daily mass, and their constant devotion to Our Lord protected and sustained them in their respective stations in life. We, too, should try to attend mass as frequently as possible, since closeness to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will give us the strength we need in our stations in life.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Commemoration of All Holy Popes
Our Lady of Refuge
St. Theodore (310), Bishop, Martyr