July 4, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

July 5th

Elizabeth of Portugal was married young: she was only twelve years old when she became the wife of King Denis of Portugal. She was the daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and at her baptism in 1271 received the name of her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Even at that early age, she had a well-disciplined character and, like her namesake, looked after the poor and pilgrims, with the consent of her husband.

She inaugurated what today we would call social works in her kingdom, set up hostels for pilgrims and travelers, provided for the poor, established dowries for poor girls, founded a hospital and a house for penitent women at Torres Novas, and built an orphanage. Her husband was notoriously unfaithful to her, but she bore all this with patience and her sweetness of disposition was her greatest asset. She even looked after his illegitimate children as if they were her own and made provision for their proper education.

She had two children of her own, Alfonso and Constance, the son later rebelling against his father. St. Elizabeth of Portugal became the peacemaker and several times reconciled the son to the father. Through her efforts, war was averted between Castile and Aragon.

In 1324, her husband became ill and she devoted all of her attention to him, never leaving his room except to go to church. His illness was long and tedious, but he sincerely repented of his disordered life and died at Santarem in 1325. After his burial, she made a pilgrimage to Compostela and decided to enter the Poor Clare convent at Coimbra. Persuaded not to do this, she became a Franciscan tertiary and lived in a house close to the convent.

Elizabeth died at Estremoz at the age of sixty-six, en route there to bring about peace between her son and her nephew, Alfonso XI, of Castile. She was canonized by Urban VIII in 1625.

Excerpted from The One Year Book of Saints by Father. Clifford Stevens.

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