Two Elizabeths

This Bavarian polychrome statue of Elizabeth of Hungary, c. 1520, is so lifelike that she could be the engineer in the next cubicle.
My friend K Dee recently put together a photostream of portraits of women to “help me remember, in case I ever start to forget, which sort of female image I find reflects a healthy civil society, and which I do not.” Today I focus on two Elizabeths.

In popular literature, Elizabeth of Hungary is most known for a miracle of the roses (which is a frequent image in Catholic iconography). She was, however, a real woman who lived a real life of good works.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, c. 1365, by Pietro Nelli, tempera and gold on panel, focuses on her miracle of the roses.
The daughter of King Andrew of Hungary, she was the niece, through her mother, of another saint of the church, Hedwig of Silesia. She was affianced to Louis IV, future Landgrave of Thuringia and taken to that court as a young girl so that she might grow up in the culture in which she would reign. At age 14, she and Louis were married.

She must have been a remarkable 14-year-old. As he traveled to meet his liege responsibilities, she ran his fiefdom. She built a hospital and distributed alms during a period when plague, floods and famine ravaged Thuringia. Rather than resenting his wife’s religiosity, Louis encouraged her distribution of his worldly goods.

In 1227, Louis died in Otranto while en route to join the Sixth Crusade. His brother was appointed regent for their young son, and Elizabeth’s power came to an end. That year she left the castle. Elizabeth lived in the strictest celibacy and self-denial for the remainder of her short life, resolutely resisting all machinations by her family to make her another politically-profitable marriage.

Mother Seton lived too recently to be the subject of great art. (In part, contemporary artists are hampered by having some idea of what she looked like.) Here, from a prayer card.
Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first US-born saint. Born in 1774, she was the child of affluent, educated, and well-connected New Yorkers. At age 19, she married a wealthy and prominent businessman. The couple belonged to fashionable Trinity Church, where Elizabeth helped found The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children.

In 1802, the family’s fortunes reversed: William Seton declared bankruptcy and sailed for Italy in an attempt to cure his tuberculosis. The trip killed him. It was there that Seton was introduced to Catholicism, to which she converted in 1805.

Impoverished and widowed, Seton tried to start a school for proper young ladies, but her conversion was anathema to the elite of New York. In 1809 Elizabeth took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and accepted the invitation of the Sulpician Fathers to move to Emmitsburg, Maryland. There she founded the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School for the education of Catholic girls and the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, dedicated to caring for the children of the poor. By 1818, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation. Mother Seton herself died of tuberculosis at the age of 46.

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