Saint Elizabeth of Hungary: The Iconography

In the town of Marburg, Germany, the burial of St. Elizabeth, Widow, daughter of King Andrew of Hungary and member of the Third Order of St. Francis. She went to the Lord earnest and assiduous in acts of piety and renowned for her miracles. – Roman Martyrology for November 19

St. Elizabeth was daughter of the King of Hungary and wife of the Landgrave of Thuringia. She was committed to serving the poor, and upon her husband's death she became a Franciscan tertiary and founded a hospital in which she herself labored. Narrative images often picture her serving the poor while dressed in a Franciscan habit, as in the first picture at right.

In portraits she often has a basket of bread or flowers, as in the second and third pictures. The flowers refer to a story that hagiographers of the later 13th century commandeered from the life of St. Casilda, whose Saracen father caught her taking a basket of food to Christian prisoners. When he looked into the basket, he found only roses.1

Being of royal birth, the saint is sometimes pictured with a crown, as in the second picture at right.

DATES

  • Feast day: November 19 traditional, November 17 since the reforms of 1969
  • Lived 1207-1231

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • Golden Legend #168: html or pdf
  • "St. Elizabeth's Life," Bokenham, 240-66
  • Butler, IV, 386-91
  • Wolf, The Life and Afterlife of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University, revised 2015-10-30, 2018-01-21.

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Putting the crossed halo on two recipients of Elizabeth's charity, this artist recalls Christ's words in Matthew 25:40, "as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." (See the description page)


St. Elizabeth with her bread and flowers (Flemish manuscript illustration – see the description page)


In Taddeo di Bartolo's painting (14th/15th century) the basket has flowers rather than bread. (See the description page)

NOTES

1 Wolf, 60.