top of page
  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

St. Elizabeth of Portugal, byname the Peacemaker or the Holy Queen, Portuguese Santa Isabel de Portugal, a Pacificadora or a Rainha Santa, was born c. 1271—died July 4, 1336, in Estremoz, Portugal. She was canonized in 1625 and her feast day is July 4. She was the daughter of Peter III of Aragon, wife of King Dinis (Denis) of Portugal.

She was named for her great-aunt St. Elizabeth of Hungary and received a strict and pious education. In 1282 she was married to Dinis, a good ruler but an unfaithful husband. Despite the corrupt court life, Elizabeth maintained her devout habits, helped the sick and the poor, and founded charitable establishments. When her son Afonso rebelled against his father, Elizabeth rode between the two armies and reconciled father and son. She also helped settle disputes among other royal relatives. After Dinis died in 1325, she lived at Coimbra, Portugal, near a Poor Clare convent that she had founded, and she devoted herself to people in need. She died on her way to the battlefield to make peace between her son, then King Afonso IV, and Alfonso XI of Castile.

Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality.

Elizabeth was a Spanish princess who was given in marriage to King Denis of Portugal at the age of twelve. She was very beautiful and very lovable. She was also very devout and went to Mass every day. Elizabeth was a holy wife, but although her husband was fond of her at first, he soon began to cause her great suffering. Though a good ruler, he did not imitate his wife's love of prayer and other virtues. In fact, his sins of impurity gave great scandal to the people.

Elizabeth was able to meet the challenge when at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time, she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom.

Denis, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. Elizabeth long sought peace for him with God and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally, from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, Elizabeth set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.

The work of promoting peace is anything but a calm and quiet endeavor. It takes a clear mind, a steady spirit, and a brave soul to intervene between people whose emotions are so aroused that they are ready to destroy one another. This is all the more true, of a woman in the early 14th century. But Elizabeth had a deep and sincere love and sympathy for humankind, an almost total lack of concern for herself, and an abiding confidence in God. These were the tools of her success.

She was born into royalty in Spain and, while she enjoyed a very privileged life, Elizabeth spent much of her youth in devotion to God. Her father pledged her at a very young age to the king of Portugal and became his wife at the tender age of 14. Her innate goodness and abiding faith was evident in all she did and eventually helped her husband to reform in his later years. One telling quote attributed to her is "God made me queen so that I may serve others." This quote exemplifies her life of service and peacemaker. She lived her faith even when not the popular thing to do and won many over to seeing the power of God in all things. Considering the role of women during her time, she was quite remarkable in supervising the building of chapels and her dedication to peace. Elizabeth’s ability to influence was at times subtle but always steadfast and unwavering. Her strength clearly came from her deep faith and devotion. A role model for men and women alike.

We all have various talents and gifts, and part of our duty is to discern how to best use them to serve God and others. It is through our lived faith that we truly serve God. Faith without action is not faith lived. Elizabeth provides a great example of how we should act, and guides us and gives us the direction of what we should do and be.


166 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page