July saint: Elizabeth of Portugal
If the beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers” could be applied to anyone, it would be Elizabeth of Portugal. Not only did this queen make peace within her family but between warring kings as well.
Elizabeth, born in Spain in 1271, could be said to come from double royalty; her father was King Pedro III of Aragon, but she was named for her aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. An early life of piety — she not only attended daily Mass but regularly prayed the Liturgy of the Hours — would prepare her for the challenges she would eventually face.
As was the custom of the time, daughters from royal families were married off at a young age to other members of royalty, and that was no different for Elizabeth; at the age of 12 she became the wife of King Denis of Portugal. Although Denis was known both for his poetic nature and for his labors on behalf of his country, he was often called Rei Lavrador, or the working king. His other morals left much to be desired. Though at first attentive to his young bride, Denis soon veered off into a life of adultery which was not only a trial to Elizabeth, but a scandal to the country as well.
The queen, however, was her husband’s opposite. Continuing her habit of daily Mass and prayer, she was devoted to works of charity and the care of the poor. This endeared her to the people but not necessarily to other members of court, who regarded her with jealousy and ill will.
It was jealousy, in fact, that led to an interesting incident that opened the king’s eyes to his wife’s virtues. A royal page falsely accused another page and the queen of immoral behavior; the king was so angered by this that he ordered the offending page to suffer a cruel death. By a series of somewhat miraculous circumstances, however, the innocent page escaped punishment while the guilty one ended up suffering the first one’s intended fate instead. It is said that this led the king to see God’s hand at work, and he began to have a much greater respect for his wife.
By the end of his life, he would reform and die a holy death, with Elizabeth at his side.
Elizabeth’s influence also reached as far as preventing war, first between her son, Alfonso, and his father, and later between her son and the King of Castile. It was this latter effort that ultimately led to her death. Having taken the habit of a Franciscan tertiary after her husband died, Elizabeth had hoped to lead a quiet life of prayer and service. However, when she learned that her son was marching against Castile, she came out of her retirement and rode to the battlefield, where she brokered peace between the two.
The exertion, however, brought on her final illness; she died on July 4, 1336.
In the United States, her feast day is celebrated on July 5.
Sources for this article include:
Capes, Florence. “St. Elizabeth of Portugal.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.
“Saint Elizabeth of Portugal.” CatholicSaints.Info. Feb. 1, 2019.