I won’t meet most of my heroes.
The women who encouraged me to dream big. The women that invited me to love my family more deeply. Women who overcame prejudice and opposition in the arena in which they were called. Even though I will never meet these women, I can know them through their story.
Let me introduce you to one of my heroes:
Elizabeth of Hungary – (1207-1231)
Elizabeth was the daughter of a king and the wife of a prince, but she wore her regal honors with humility. At fourteen, she was married to her lifelong friend, Louis IV, Prince of Thuringia. She went to live in her husband’s castle which stood on a plateau 270 feet above the Danube River. For six years, they lived an idyllic life and daily they rode together and journeyed through their territories. They had four other homes. They were deeply in love with each other, and both committed to ruling their kingdom with justice and compassion.
During this age in history, one of the human miseries was leprosy. Lepers wore coarse, gray gowns and were loathed and avoided by all who saw them. Many were forced to wander till they died. Elizabeth, remembering how Jesus Christ in the Bible told his disciples to heal the sick and cleanse the lepers, devoted herself to caring for these unfortunates.
One day she brought a weakened leper home to the palace and laid him on her husband’s couch. When the Queen mother heard about it she complained to her son about Elizabeth and her charity work. The Prince went to question his wife about the leper and when he pulled back the coverlet from the couch, he saw the form of Jesus of Nazareth lying there – not the leper! He was so moved he granted his wife’s request to build a home for lepers, halfway up the steep slope toward their Wartburg Castle. There she was able to give relief to those who were too weak to walk up to the castle.
When severe famine brought disease and crime to Thuringia in the summer of 1226, her husband was off working with Emperor Frederick II in Italy, along with most of their soldiers. Elizabeth saw that the people were so hungry they were gathering moss and herbs, grubbing roots and stripping bark from dead pine trees to grind into meal. So she ordered all the bakers to work night and day baking bread and she gave them flour from their own reserves. She had great kettles of soup prepared and she worked alongside the monks and nuns distributing food to the hungry. She opened soup kitchens throughout the land and granaries were emptied. Wood was cut and given out. Chapels and churches were opened for the homeless. Elizabeth took care of hundreds who would have died in the famine.
She said she no longer felt herself a princess, but a humble servant. She sold her most precious jewels and massive silver cradle which had been hers as a baby. Her husband’s agents accused her of squandering money, but she didn’t care. She believed it was the first duty of a prince to be the preservation of his people. Her husband left Italy to return home after hearing of the burden that had fallen on his young wife. Long before he reached the palace, his stewards went to meet him to tell him about his wife distributing money and food to the needy. His reply was “alms will never ruin us.”
His reunion with Elizabeth was a happy one. When he gently asked her what became of their people during the winter, she answered “I gave God what was His and God has kept for us what was yours and mine.” He left again in the autumn of 1227 to serve in the crusades.
Pregnant with their fourth child, she had a premonition that she would never see her husband again and started wearing black mourning robes. His ship put into Otranto, Italy, because of bad weather, and there he contracted a fever and died, about the time of the birth of his daughter, Gertrude.
Shortly after, Elizabeth was asked to leave the palace and went to live in a cottage. From there she entered a convent to do what she loved, serving the lepers, the aged and the poor. Twice a day she visited the hospital, attending to those suffering from the worst diseases. Elizabeth died in 1231 as winter was beginning. She was declared a saint four years later. Around the chapel where she served was built a memorial Church of St. Elizabeth, which has been called the greatest monument to a woman in the world.
Reading biographies of great people keeps things in perspective for me. It causes me to yearn for great things and to make sure I do what I am supposed to do in my lifetime.
Here’s to reaching up!