Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, whose feast day is July 4, is heralded as a model of kindness toward the poor and a successful peacemaker. Born in 1271 in Zaragoza, Spain, Elizabeth was the daughter of the king of Aragon. Her family included several saints, notable among them her great-aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, after whom she was named. Elizabeth was well educated and known for her piety.

Fabled for her beauty, she was contracted in marriage to King Denis of Portugal when she was 12 years old, and married in 1288, when she turned 17. King Denis was 26. Two years later, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, and a year thereafter, a son. Her marriage was marred by the king’s scandalous infidelities and numerous illegitimate children.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth continued her daily routine of prayer and worship while remaining faithful to her husband, devoted to the care of their children, and attentive to the poor and the sick.

Elizabeth was active in Portuguese court business and politics. She successfully negotiated treaties and arbitrated disputes between medieval kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. To secure peace in her own family, Elizabeth stopped a civil war brought on by her son against his father, even riding out between the opposing armies to secure a reconciliation.

When King Denis died in 1325, Elizabeth retired to a convent of Poor Clares and joined the Third Order of Saint Francis, wishing to devote the remainder of her life to the Eucharist, prayer, and her ministry to the poor and sick. She was a benefactor of various hospitals, convents and chapels.

However, when her son marched his armies against the King of Castile in 1336, Elizabeth hurried to Estremoz, Portugal, where the two kings’ armies faced each other. Again she stopped the fighting and arranged a peace settlement. The exertion brought on by her ordeal made her ill, however, and she died in the castle of Estremoz on July 4, 1336.

Elizabeth was canonized in 1625. She is one of the patron saints of Portugal.

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