A Model Queen

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Feast Day: 5th July

In the Middle Ages, little princesses had to grow up very quickly. Princess Elizabeth knew how to behave because she had the excellent example of her family, who brought her up with a love for the Catholic faith and a sense of duty.

Born in 1271 and married to King Denis of Portugal when only 12 years old, her daily life was well organised. After saying Matins, Lauds and Prime before Mass, she would give her attention especially the most needy people, giving marriage dowries for girls whose parents were too poor to provide them. She founded at Coimbra both an orphanage and a hospital.

In spite of her busy life Elizabeth never neglected her own family. She was devoted to her husband and their two children, but he began to be unfaithful. She never complained but patiently prayed that he would change his ways.

She became known as a peacemaker, reconciling enemies and averting wars. Even within her family there was strife. One son grew up to be rebellious and resentful, several times taking up arms against his father, but on each occasion Elizabeth succeeded in restoring peace between them.

In 1324 the king became very ill. Elizabeth gave all her time to nursing him, never leaving his room except to go to church. During his long illness Denis had time to look back over his life. Realising at last how selfish and callous he had been. He sincerely repented.

After he died Elizabeth, now aged 54, had to decide what to do with the rest of her life. She made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and thought about entering the Poor Clares convent in Coimbra which she herself had founded. Eventually she decided to join the Third Order of St. Francis, building a small house close to the convent and living there quietly and simply. She died in 1336 at the age of 65 and was buried in the convent church.

Elizabeth had a clear idea of what it meant to be a queen and to be a wife. She saw her privileged position as an opportunity to serve her people and to be a support to her husband. There must be many marriages like hers which begin well but start to collapse under the strain of one partner's infidelity. But Elizabeth never gave up hope, nor ever considered ending her marriage. Her prayers, loyalty and perseverance triumphed in the end. We can ask Elizabeth to help married couples who are experiencing trials and difficulties, and are perhaps contemplating divorce. With her patience and prayers they can overcome their problems and grow close to each other again.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for married couples who are having problems and pray for us.