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The Catholic Defender: Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Pope Urban VIII canonized her in 1625 and choose the date of her death, July 4, as her feast day.

She was known for taking food and clothing to the poor, carrying the sick on her back, and selling her grand royal gowns to further assist the poor of her husband's kingdom.

Elizabeth had been unjustly accused of siding with her son against her own crown, she rode onto the battlefield between them, and was able to reconcile Father and Son, and prevent bloodshed. This led to her patronage as a peacemaker, and as one to invoke in time of war and conflict.

Isabella of Portugal has a feast day of July 4th. She is the patron saint of brides, peace, queens, falsely accused people and victims of adultery.

But Saint Elizabeth (Isabel) of Portugal, a Queen, devoted herself to peace at every turn, and between members of her own royal family, who did indeed fit the medieval stereotype we imagine. As such she became the patron saint of family rifts. In her case, 'rifts' meant kingdoms at war.

She established orphanages and provided shelter for the homeless. She also founded a convent in Coimbra. There are many versions of the story of Queen Isabel's miracle of turning bread into roses, but they are all fundamentally the same. She is said to have been forbidden by her unfaithful husband to give to the poor.

Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality.

Thus fortunately prepared, Elizabeth was able to meet the challenge when at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom.

Denis, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. Elizabeth long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children.

She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally, from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clare's after the death of her husband, Elizabeth set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.

The work of promoting peace is anything but a calm and quiet endeavor. It takes a clear mind, a steady spirit and a brave soul to intervene between people whose emotions are so aroused that they are ready to destroy one another. This is all the truer of a woman in the early 14th century. But Elizabeth had a deep and sincere love and sympathy for humankind, an almost total lack of concern for herself, and an abiding confidence in God. These were the tools of her success.

She left the convent one time in the summer of 1336 to try to stop a war between her son, Alphonse IV of Portugal, and her grandson, Alphonse XI of Spain. In spite of being sick she walked to the middle of the battle field and did not leave until the two men came to a resolution peacefully. The battle was averted, but Elizabeth died shortly after.

Pope Urban VIII canonized her in 1625 and choose the date of her death, July 4, as her feast day.


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