Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles Elizabeth of Hungary and Louis of Thuringia, two married saints.
Elizabeth and Louis were friends, lovers, a married couple with children—and saints. For today’s married Christians, who may feel that sanctity is reserved for celibates, they are a refreshing sign of hope.
Louis was the heir to the duchy of Thuringia and Elizabeth was the daughter of the King of Hungary. Their royalty distances them from us, but their mutual tenderness makes them accessible. In 1211, when Louis was 11 and Elizabeth was 4, they were betrothed. Elizabeth was brought to the Wartburg, the Thuringian castle, to be raised with her future husband. Louis seems always to have cherished his bride-to-be, and Elizabeth doted on him. As they grew up, they became the best of friends. Biographers report little signs of their affection: When the young man was away on the hunt or on business, Elizabeth pined for him. And on his return, Louis always brought his beloved gifts—a brooch, a necklace, a coral rosary. They were married in 1221, and in the next six years they had a son and two daughters.
Louis may be a saint because of the gracious way he cared for his wife. A lesser man may not have tolerated Elizabeth’s ascetical practices. Once, however, he almost exploded when she put a leper in their bed. But he calmed down when he saw in his mind’s eye not the sick man, but an image of Christ crucified. Incidents like this persuaded Louis to let Elizabeth build a hospital for the poor at the Wartburg.
Louis was also patient with his wife’s habit of waking at night to pray. Montalembert, a nineteenth-century biographer, described how he indulged her:
“The Duchess, so as not to oversleep nor to disturb her husband, ordered Ysentrude, her most trusted maid, to awaken her by grabbing her foot. Once, however, Ysentrude accidentally shook the Duke’s foot. Louis awoke suddenly, but guessing Ysentrude’s mistake, he lay down again without showing the least sign of impatience. ‘He saw,’ said Theodoric, Elizabeth’s first biographer, ‘that she loved God with her whole heart, and that thought comforted him. And because Elizabeth trusted her husband’s wisdom, she did not conceal from him any of her penitential exercises. She knew well that he would never interfere between her and her Savior.’
“To their frequent expressions of their mutual tenderness both added gentle exhortations to advance together in the way of perfection. This mutual desire for holiness strengthened them and preserved them in the service of God. It taught the couple to draw even from the ardent affection which united them, the charm and feeling of the Supreme Love.”
In 1227, Louis died of the plague en route to a crusade. Elizabeth had recently delivered her third child when she heard the tragic news. Nearly mad with her loss, she was beyond comfort. “O God,” she cried, “now the world is dead to me and all it contained of happiness.”
Elizabeth’s grief, however, did not untrack her. Under difficult circumstances, she continued her growth in prayer and her uninhibited service to the poor. But she survived her beloved Louis only by four years. She died of a serious illness in 1231 at the age of 24.
Neither my wife, nor I for sure, rise in the middle of the night to pray, and that’s not because we have no maid to rouse us. And our generosity to the poor could use some loosening up. But maybe our affection and desire to please God will help us imitate the kindness of Elizabeth and Louis toward each other, which may have been their greatest strength.
(Image Credit: Wikimedia)
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.