Elizabeth, or Erzsebet, has long been a popular name in Hungary. This was a name held in high esteem, the name of a much loved and revered Hungarian Queen who lived and reigned for a short time in the thirteenth century,and is also known as Saint Elizabeth. As a Saint she is protector of the poor and sick.
Why talk of this beloved figure? Perhaps it seems a deviation from travel, or maybe an obvious link to an interest in history, or perhaps because it made me aware of a lack of knowledge considering my ethnic roots. .
However, one thing that is a definite was the desire to go and see Bratislava, also called Pressburg or Pozsony, the former German and Hungarian names. Bratislava was the capital of Hungary till the 1860’s, before Budapest replaced it, as well as being the place where the Hungarian rulers were crowned. The ancient coronation church,ST.Martins, is still there. Although it seems a fairly small and humble the church has a lovely spire with crown atop to indicate its former status and function.
To reach Bratisalava you can take the hydrofoil along the Danube, or travel by car or coach. We chose to go by boat from Vienna to experience the legendary Danube and returned to Vienna by bus. Both routes were scenic and interesting, taking a little over an hour.
Bratislava was well worth the visit. We chugged through the town on a red little road “train”, and up the hill to the castle to take in the view. Beneath the castle walls is a park and there she stood, the Queen of Roses.
Legend of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
Our guide pointed us to the statue telling us it was a former queen who helped the poor. One night as she was sneaking out of the castle to distibute food was challenged and asked what she was carrying. Her repsonse was that she only had some roses. On being asked to show what was under her cloak miracuously when she revealed what was in her bundle the food, bread, had turned into roses.
Cuirous to discover more and thinking this was maybe purely a folk tale to instill moral values and encourage charitable actions. I have since learnt that she was a living historic figure, well loved and admired and became a revered saint. Saint Elizabeth is still recognised and held in deep affection in modern times not only by the Catholic church but also the Anglican and Lutheran faiths.
According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia and Wikipedia Elizabeth was born in 1207 in Hungary. As a young child Elizabeth was betrothed to Louis,of Thuringia ,as a politically expedient union. At the age of five she was sent to live with her in-laws to be trained for her future role. When she was fouteen the young couple were married and had three children.
However, Elizabeth was deeply spiritual and became influenced by Franciscan teachings. It is said it was with her husband’s approval that she tried to assist the poor. Elziabeth is said to have spun wool to provide clothing , distributed food and built a hospital for the poor ,as well as personally tending to the poor and ill.
On one of her trips out of the castle to share food she was met by a group from the castle, or bailed up by a guard, and asked to show what she was carrying under her cloak. She answered ” just some roses”. When she pulled back her cloak the bread the basket was indeed filled with roses. This was said to be her first miracle. other miracles of healing were attributed to her after her death.
Thinking about the miracle of the roses, it would seem possible that in actuality expecting that she would someday be confronted she laid roses over the bread knowing that her actions had aroused disapproval in the court. Even so, the story reveals her to have been a brave and compassionate woman. She devoted the rest ofher life to caring for the needy after being widowed at the age of twenty. In 1231 she died when only aged twenty four.
Devotion to her continues to this day. She was cannonized in 1235 and a shrine built in Marburg. In 2007 her life and works were commemorated in events that lasted over the year . Pilgrims came from all over the world.
Should Elizabeth visit Bratislava today she would notice some changes, but underlying there is still poverty and many who would benefit from her aid.