Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Saint Elisabeth, a saintly nurse

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary bringing food for the inmates of a hospital. Wellcome Collection. CC BY-NC 4.0.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. Colored engraving by W. Langhammer. Wellcome Collection. Public domain.


Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207–1231) is one of the most loved saints of the Middle Ages. Also called St. Elisabeth of Thuringia, she is the patron of bakers, beggars, brides, and of charities. Daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary, she was probably born in Pressburg, now called Bratislava, but then part of the Hungarian kingdom. Her mother, Gertrude of Merania, was often regent of the realm while her husband was away, and became so unpopular that in 1211 she was killed during a hunt by a group of Hungarian nobles. Her body is said to have been torn to pieces.

At the age of fourteen, Elizabeth was married to the son of the landgrave of Thuringia, Louis IV. She loved him dearly and they had three children. But in 1227, Louis died of the plague in Italy on the way to the Sixth Crusade. No longer caring for her position or wealth, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay Franciscan group. At Marburg, she built a hospice for the poor and sick, to whose service she devoted the rest of her life. She gave away her worldly possessions and carried out all the menial duties of a nurse. When told it was below her dignity to do such work, she replied that she was preparing herself for giving an account on the Day of Judgment of the good works she has done.


The artist of the left image: Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610) was a German artist working in Rome who died at the age of only thirty-two, but was very influential in the early seventeenth century. He painted subjects from the New and Old Testament as well as from antiquity, and is known above all for night landscapes, a difficult subject to paint.



GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief


Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 1 – Winter 2021

Summer 2018  |  Sections  |  Nursing

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