July 4: Saint Elizabeth of Portugal—Optional Memorial
(Celebrated July 5 in the USA)
Patron Saint of widows, brides, charity workers, those falsely accused, victims of adultery, and the Canary Islands, Spain
Invoked against jealousy, war, and difficult marriages
Canonized by Pope Urban VIII on June 24, 1625
Liturgical Color: White
I, Elizabeth, daughter of the Most Illustrious Don Pedro, by the grace of God king of Aragon, hereby bestow my body as the legitimate wife of Dom Dinis, king of Portugal and of the Algarve, in his absence as if he were present…. ~From the written consent to marriage of Saint Elizabeth at the age of twelve
Rainha Santa Isabel, or Saint Elizabeth, was born into the royal family of Aragon, Spain. She was one of three daughters of King Peter III of Aragon and Queen Constance of Sicily. Elizabeth’s older brothers would become successive kings of Aragon, Alfonso III and James II. Her namesake was her great-aunt, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
As a young princess, Elizabeth enjoyed all the privileges of a royal upbringing, yet her stature did not distract her from her faith. She was deeply devout from a young age, spending hours in the castle chapel engaged in prayer. By age eight, she regularly fasted, attended Mass, and prayed the entire Divine Office daily. Unlike other girls her age, she sought virtue and glory for God rather than indulging in frivolous activities. Her humility extended to her royal status, which she saw as a platform for service rather than privilege. She consistently demonstrated a loving concern for the poor, sick, and suffering.
In 1279, Elizabeth’s father arranged her marriage to the seventeen-year-old King Denis of Portugal, who was a notable poet. This strategic union was designed to strengthen the political alliance between Spain and Portugal. In 1282, twelve-year-old Elizabeth wedded King Denis, becoming Queen Elizabeth of Portugal. Despite her husband’s infidelity and immoral lifestyle, Elizabeth showed remarkable grace, treating her husband with love and fulfilling her duties as queen with humility. They had two children: their daughter, Constance, in 1290, and a year later, their son, Afonso, who would succeed his father as King of Portugal.
Queen Elizabeth stood out in the royal court, which was marred by the king’s immoral lifestyle. Her virtuous living served as a rebuke to others. She offered the resulting ridicule she suffered to God with humility and love. As queen, she sustained her prayerful life, attending daily Mass, engaging in penance, and continuing to pray the entire Divine Office. Her deep love for the poor and sick remained steadfast, and she sought daily opportunities to aid them. Elizabeth would personally distribute food and money to those in need at the palace door, and despite the king’s anger at her generosity, she found ways to continue her charitable work secretly. Using her royal position, she also improved others’ lives by constructing monasteries, churches, and hospitals.
The royal family also included the king’s other children, born to women other than the queen. Despite their complicated family dynamic, Elizabeth treated her stepchildren with love. Her son Afonso, however, was not as accepting. He was particularly resentful of the attention his father paid to the children born out of wedlock. Tensions escalated to the point of war, but before a battle could occur, Queen Elizabeth intervened. She rode out to the scene of the battle herself, kneeling between her husband and son, begging for peace. She successfully reconciled the two, earning the title of “Angel of Peace.”
In 1325, upon King Denis’s death, Queen Elizabeth, then fifty-four, retired to a house next to a Poor Clare monastery. She joined the Third Order Franciscans, a lay order begun by Saint Francis. For the next eleven years, she lived in simplicity and poverty, continuing her charitable work and welcoming all who sought her counsel. She once again played the role of peacemaker when her son, now King Afonso, initiated a war against his own son-in-law. Elizabeth fell ill and died on July 4, 1336, after returning from this intervention. She was not buried next to her husband but in a convent she founded in Coimbra, the Convent of Santa Clara. Years later, her body was found to be incorrupt, and as recently as 1912, medical examiners and Church officials declared that her body remained free of decay, looking as if she were only sleeping.
Though Saint Elizabeth of Portugal was born into royalty, she encountered many challenges. Her arranged marriage, her husband’s infidelity, family division, and an immoral royal court were burdens she bore with dignity, peace, and strength. Her faith and virtues, fueled by deep prayer and charitable acts, guided her through these difficulties.
In honoring this Queen of Portugal, consider the passing nature of earthly honors. Queens come and go, but saints live on forever. Saint Elizabeth willingly traded her earthly crown for a higher one in Heaven, where her saintly dignity eternally glorifies God. Follow in her humble footsteps, preferring sanctity over worldly honors and ambitions. Strive for the eternal over the temporal, and you too will give eternal glory to God and dwell in His royal court forever.
Saint Elizabeth, you were a queen in this world, but that royal dignity greatly paled in comparison to the saintly virtues you acquired. Please pray for me, that I will imitate your example and seek only those things that are eternal, rejecting the fleeting seductions of the world. May I learn from your life of prayer and charity, and discover the peace and joy that you did so that I will give eternal glory to God in Heaven. Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.