St. Elizabeth of Hungary and the Franciscan tradition

Lori J Pieper, Fordham University


This work examines the sources for the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231), including two lives edited here for the first time: the Valenciennes Life (ca.1250) and the Anonymous Franciscan (ca. 1272–1301), a compilation which contains lost testimonies from Elizabeth's canonization process. The methodology draws on that of Aviad Kleinberg, which looks at the eyewitness testimonies as evidence for the relationship of a living saint to her community and at the role of later hagiographic works in the formation of a saint's legend. It also uses the work of feminist scholars, including Catherine Mooney, looking for Elizabeth's voice as woman in a male-dominated society through the tensions between the testimonies of her closest women companions, the “Four Handmaids,” and the accounts of the male witnesses and hagiographers. Elizabeth's confessor, Conrad of Marburg, and later male writers saw her stereotypically as preferring virginity, reluctant to marry, and entering religious life after her husband's death in 1221 to seek ascetic perfection. The handmaids describe Elizabeth's positive view of marriage, and an attraction to evangelical poverty which included a desire to remedy the social inequalities of feudalism. Early accounts, including the recovered testimonies of Franciscan friars, show how in her religious life Elizabeth had to reconcile her love of poverty with the demands of service to the poor, which required a modification of the Franciscan ideal of poverty. Rather than being a Franciscan tertiary in the juridical sense, she followed many other women in choosing to live like a Beguine without a vow of poverty. In his later commentary, the Anonymous Franciscan, while preserving testimonies that showed Elizabeth's struggle with her vocation to the active life, also stressed her obedience to the friars and the resemblance of her habit to that of the enclosed St. Clare, thus attempting to fit her into the mold of cloistered religious life for women which was the norm at the end of the thirteenth century.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|Womens studies|Religious history|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Pieper, Lori J, "St. Elizabeth of Hungary and the Franciscan tradition" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3037226.