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Meet a Medieval Pro-life Saint: Elizabeth of Hungary

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November 17, 2014 - 9:14 PST


New York, NY (November 17, 2014). Most people don't realize that abortion, abandonment of newborns and infanticide are not just modern problems. They were also common in the Middle Ages. Lack of care for the poor and the elderly was also common back then.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary was a medieval saint who cared for poor pregnant women and their babies. The daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, and wife of a German prince, Ludwig, Landgraf of Thuringia,built a hospital for the poor near Wartburg castle in her husband's domains. She was a true "mother" to sick children, and devoted to the physical and spiritual care of pregnant mothers. After her husband's death on crusade in 1227, she built a similar hospital in Marburg in Hesse, where she worked after taking the Franciscan habit and serving the poorest of the poor with several other women, who were perhaps the first Third Order Sisters in the world, until her death.

Dr. Lori Pieper, OFS, a medieval historian and a secular Franciscan, has detailed Elizabeth's work for the poor and its significance in her biography of the saint, "The Greatest of These is Love: The Life of St Elizabeth of Hungary." The new revised edition is now available from Tau Cross Books and Media, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other outlets.

Dr. Pieper says: "Elizabeth was very sensitive to poor women and the circumstances that might pressure them to abort or abandon their children. Once in Hesse, she cared for a poor pregnant woman who was alone, and continued to care for her after her child was born. As the woman got ready to leave Elizabeth gave her some food and clothing for herself and the child. The woman's husband, who may have originally abandoned her while pregnant, now returned -- and the two ran off, leaving the child behind. They eventually returned for the baby and asked forgiveness. The people who witnessed this tended to condemn this woman and told Elizabeth she should not receive any further aid, and should even have what was given to her taken away. But Elizabeth continued to have compassion on her and her child. We see this so often today. People often condemn women in difficulty, but compassion is still the true pro-life attitude."

The book tells the whole story of Elizabeth's life from her birth in 1207 until her death. It is based on the truth that love or charity is the greatest of the virtues. Elizabeth practiced this virtue as a vocation in her love for her husband and children. She was a young wife and mother of barely 18 when she met the first Franciscans who came to Germany and through them discovered her second vocation to the poor. She died beloved throughout Europe, and already considered a saint, on November 17, 1231 -- still only 24 years old -- and was canonized in 1235.

Since then she has inspired a multitude of men and women who have imitated her life of service in religious orders and other communities and charities named for her. One of them was Fr. Ludovico da Casoria, a 19th-century Franciscan friar who founded the Suore Elisabettine in Italy, and who will be canonized on November 23, 2014.

Also inspired by St. Elizabeth was a courageous Jesuit priest, Fr. Alfred Delp, who in a sermon in 1941 in Sankt Georg church in Bavaria, denounced, though in veiled terms, the Nazi regime's program of euthanasia for the mentally and physically handicapped and other seemed "unfit to live." But St. Elizabeth, he said, teaches us "the true meaning of human life . . . This quiet woman bears a grave and urgent message for our land, for our people, for each of us: everywhere, wherever we find ourselves, wherever we may be called upon to bear witness, we must protect life, we must guard human beings from everything that can crush them underfoot. Woe to those who inflict suffering! And woe to those who have destroyed a human life, who have desecrated an image of God, even when it was already breathing its last, even when it seemed to represent only a vestige of humanity."

There is more of Fr. Delp's sermon, and other reflections on St. Elizabeth and the "culture of death" in this inspiring book. They make it clear that she is not just a distant medieval figure but a woman for today.

About the Author

Lori Pieper received her BA in the Humanities and MA in History from the University of Northern Iowa and her PhD in Medieval History from Fordham University, where she specialized in hagiography, Italian medieval history and women's religious history. Her other historical books include "St. Elizabeth of Hungary: The Voice of a Medieval Woman and Franciscan Penitent in the Sources for her Life" (2007). She has had articles published in many periodicals, including Our Sunday Visitor, The Catholic Digest and L'Osservatore Romano. She has also worked for some years as a professional translator. Since 1990, she has contributed translations of Pope John Paul I's writings to the journal Humilitas; some of these have appeared in "The Smiling Pope: The Life and Teaching of Pope John Paul I" (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004) and "A Passionate Adventure: Living the Catholic Faith Today" (Tau Cross Books and Media 2014). A member of the Secular Franciscan Order, she lives and works in the Bronx, New York.

What others have said about "The Greatest of these is Love":

"It's been many years since a scholarly work on St. Elizabeth has been published. The book is easy-to-read and presents this 800 year old saint as a dynamic woman who is an example to wives, mothers, teens and all people of prayer and service to the poor. Dr. Pieper combines cutting-edge research, new material never before released with a styel of writing that anyone can understand and absorb. I can't recommend the book highly enough." Fr. Frank Schneider, St. Elizabeth's Church, Melville, NY.

Find out more at


Tau Cross Books and Media
NY, 10468 US
Lori Pieper - Editor and Publisher, 646-938-0432


saints, medieval, abortion, infanticide, child abandonment, pro-life, Germany, Nazis


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