St Elizabeth of Hungary (17th November)
St Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. She was born in 1207 and married the Landgrave Louis of Thuringia, a second cousin of the Emperor Frederick II, when she was only 14 years old.
Louis joined the Emperor when he sailed from Otranto in 1227, finally honouring an undertaking that he had given Pope Honorius III to join the crusade to liberate Jerusalem. The fleet soon returned to port when an epidemic broke out, provoking Pope Gregory IX to excommunicate the Emperor. Sadly, Louis was among the dead.
When she heard the news, St Elizabeth became distraught almost to the point of insanity. Driven from court, she engaged in almost boundless charity with the poor among whom she lived. The (probably) Praemonstratensian, Conrad of Marburg became her confessor, and she practiced harsh self-discipline under his spiritual direction. She died in 1228 when only 21, at least in part as a consequence of her chosen way of life. (Allies of Henry, the rebellious son of the Emperor, murdered Conrad of Marburg in 1233, thereby reinforcing a temporary alliance between the Emperor and the Pope.)
Pope Gregory IX canonised St Elizabeth at San Domenico, Perugia in 1235 on the basis of the account of the miracles attributed to her relics that Conrad of Marburg had compiled. Teutonic knights built a shrine for her relics in Marburg and the Emperor presided over their translation to the new church in 1236. He wrote to Brother Elias at Assisi about the ceremony, stressing his kinship (through marriage) with St Elizabeth but tactfully refraining from reporting the riot that had broken out as the crowd fought over the cadaver.
Despite claims to the contrary, St Elizabeth does not seem to have been a Franciscan tertiary, although she did wear the habit of a penitent after her husband's death and her pursuit of poverty was worthy of St Francis. The Franciscans' association with her was reinforced when her great niece Mary married the Angevin Charles of Salerno (later King Charles II of Naples) in 1270. Their son Louis became a Franciscan and was canonised as St Louis of Toulouse in 1317.
The shrine at Marburg was among the most important in Christendom until 1539, when militant Protestants destroyed the relics of St Elizabeth and stole and the precious gifts that the Emperor had given to the church.
A. Vauchez, "Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages", Cambridge (1997), pp 374-9
A. Rufus, Magnificent Corpses, New York (1999), Chapter 2
D. Abulafia, Frederick II: a Medieval Emperor, Oxford (1988). Abulafia describes the historical context of the murder Conrad of Marburg (whom he considerd to be "one of the more revolting figures of the 13th century") on p 238 and the attitude of the Emperor to the cult of St Elizabeth on pp 247-8.