St. Elizabeth of Aragon, more commonly known as St. Elizabeth of Portugal, T.O.S.F. (1271 – 4 July 1336; Elisabet in Catalan, Isabel in Aragonese, Portuguese and Spanish), was queen consort of Portugal, a tertiary of the Franciscan Order and is venerated as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal showed an early enthusiasm for her faith. She said the full Divine Office daily, fasted and did other penance, as well as attended twice-daily choral Masses. Religious fervor was common in her family, as she could count several members of her family who were already venerated as saints. The most notable example is her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, after whom she was named.
Her marriage to King Denis of Portugal was arranged in 1281 when she was 10 years old, receiving the towns of Óbidos, Abrantes and Porto de Mós as part of her dowry. It was only in 1288 that the wedding was celebrated, when Denis was 26 years old, while Elizabeth was 17. Denis, a poet and statesman, was known as the Rei Lavrador (English: Farmer King), because he planted a large pine forest near Leiria to prevent the soil degradation that threatened the region.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal quietly pursued the regular religious practices of her youth and was devoted to the poor and sick. Naturally, such a life was a reproach to many around her and caused ill will in some quarters. A popular story is told of how her husband’s jealousy was aroused by an evil-speaking page, of how he condemned the queen’s supposed guilty accomplice to a cruel death and was finally convinced of her innocence by the strange accidental substitution of her accuser for the intended victim.Eventually, her prayer and patience succeeded in converting her husband, who had been leading a sinful life.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal took an active interest in Portuguese politics and was a decisive conciliator during the negotiations concerning the Treaty of Alcañices, signed by Denis and Sancho IV of Castile in 1297 (which fixed the borders between the two countries). In 1304, the Queen and Denis returned to Spain to arbitrate between Fernando IV of Castile and James II of Aragon, brother of Elizabeth.
She had two children:
St. Elizabeth of Portugal would serve as intermediary between her husband and Afonso, during the Civil War between 1322 and 1324. The Infante greatly resented the king, whom he accused of favoring the king’s illegitimate son, Afonso Sanches. Repulsed to Alenquer, which supported the Infante, Denis was prevented from killing his son through the intervention of the Queen. As legend holds, in 1323, Elizabeth, mounted on a mule, positioned herself between both opposing armies on the field of Alvalade in order to prevent the combat. Peace returned in 1324, once the illegitimate son was sent into exile, and the Infante swore loyalty to the king.
After Denis’ death in 1325, Elizabeth retired to the monastery of the Poor Clare nuns, now known as the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha (which she had founded in 1314) in Coimbra. She joined the Third Order of St. Francis, devoting the rest of her life to the poor and sick in obscurity. During the great famine in 1293, she donated flour from her cellars to the starving in Coimbra, but was also known for modest in her dress, humble in conversation, habit to provide lodging for pilgrims, distributing small gifts, paying the dowries of poor girls, educating the children of poor nobles, and was a benefactor of various hospitals (Coimbra, Santarém and Leiria) and of religious projects (such as the Trinity Convent in Lisbon, chapels in Leiria and Óbidos, and the cloister in Alcobaça.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal was called to act once more as a peacemaker in 1336, when Afonso IV marched his troops against King Alfonso XI of Castile, to whom he had married his daughter Maria, and who had neglected and ill-treated her. In spite of age and weakness, the Queen-dowager insisted on hurrying to Estremoz, where the two kings’ armies were drawn up. She again stopped the fighting and caused terms of peace to be arranged. But the exertion brought on her final illness. As soon as her mission was completed, she took to her bed with a fever from which she died on 4 July, in the castle of Estremoz. She earned the title of Peacemaker on account of her efficacy in solving disputes.
Although Denis’ tomb was located in Odivelas, St. Elizabeth of Portugal was buried in the Convent of Santa Clara in Coimbra, in a magnificent Gothic sarcophagus. After frequent flooding by the Mondego River in the 17th century, the Poor Clares moved her mortal remains to the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova (also in Coimbra). St. Elizabeth of Portugal body was transferred to the main chapel, where it was buried in a sarcophagus of silver and crystal.