*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 17th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You know the Cinderella legend- that is, someone who at first is unrecognized and underappreciated who then quickly rises to fame/power/wealth, etc… My version of Cinderella has chubby little mice the sing and help make a gown, maybe your version is the more gruesome Grimm version or one of the hundred modern remakes. The variations aren’t what matters, but rather the story structure of going from nothing to something, fast.
Today’s story is of reverse or upside-down Cinderella story- the story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary who died on this, the 17th of November in 1231. She died at only 24 but there was a rush to canonize her immediately and she is still referred to as “die Liebe Heilige Elizabeth” in Germany.
Elizabeth was the daughter of the king of Hungary- thus, she would be betrothed to European royalty to strengthen dynastic claims. Elizabeth was sent at the age of 4 from Hungary to Thuringia (in modern Germany) where she would live at the court of the Ludovingians at the Wartburg castle until her betrothed, Louis IV was of age. Louis became Landgrave at 20 and married the 14-year-old Elizabeth. The stories surrounding their marriage became the stuff of minstrel singers and legends- their love for each other and his yielding to her pious desires.
With Louis serving as an ambassador for Emperor Frederick II, Elizabeth is said to have taken everything she could from the palace to distribute amongst the poor. She would regularly have her handmaidens distribute food from the royal kitchen, she is said to have clothed lepers with royal robes and many other such remarkable acts of charity. There is a legend that upon taking bread under her cloak to give to the poor she was stopped by a man (often in the stories it’s her husband- but I’ll follow the latest scholarship that suggests that to be unlikely- as the man was upset with her for taking bread to the poor and that doesn’t fit with what we know of Louis). The man asks to see what she has under her cloak and when she reveals it to him, the loaves became roses. The story of the roses is always told with regards to Elizabeth, but it’s like the 7th most interesting thing about her story.
Louis and Elizabeth would welcome the newly formed Franciscans into their lands, Elizabeth would build a hospital at the Wartburg and they built a monastery in Eisenach. In 1227 Louis went off on Crusade and died on the way of a fever. The 20-year-old Elizabeth, who had just given birth to their third child was devastated. The story is often told that she was booted from the castle by an angry brother of Louis’- and while her extreme charity wasn’t loved by the rest of the family it seems that Elizabeth voluntarily left. She is the backward Cinderella, a princess who divests herself of the honor and status of royalty to instead serve the poor. She moved to the monastery set up for the Franciscans in Eisenach and took her vows to enter the Third Order of St. Francis. This “third order” would be secular- those who took the vow did not to necessarily live in the cloister and they might have other jobs and associations.
She would be known as the “Sister in the World”, she imitated Francis in a life of poverty and also chose close contact with those suffering from the virulent disease. Perhaps this is why she was convinced that she would die young, and perhaps the reason she died on this, the 17th of November in 1231. Her case for canonization was rushed to the Pope- hundreds of stories of miracles were told and she was sainted within 4 years (it is common to wait 5 years before even beginning the process). In 2007 the city of Marburg announced that year as the “Elizabeth Year” to commemorate the 800th birthdate of the woman they call “die Liebe Heilige Elizabeth” who died on this day in 1231
The last word for today comes from Ephesians 5- a short reading that seemed appropriate given the story:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite adaptation of the aforementioned fairytale is the 2004 Cinderella movie with Hillary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. He can’t get enough of the mid-aughts teen romcoms. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite adaptation of the story is Cinderfella with Jerry Lewis, Sam Pepke knows what I’m talking about, Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.