Two years ago I visited the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach in the Thuringian region of Germany. I took this photo of the Wartburg on a very cold and blustery November day in 2006. While visiting the castle, I learned about the history of the castle and how, by Luther's day, it had become quite run down, not considered too highly, largely forgotten and nearly abandoned (a perfect place to hide the Reformer!). Above the foundational parts of the castle is a large room that has been, in recent years, lavishly decorated with mosaics on all its walls and pillars to tell the story of the castle and the role that Elizabeth of Hungary played in its history.
Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew the II of Hungary. In 1211, an embassy was sent by Landgrave Hermann I of Thuringia to Hungary to arrange, as was customary in that age, a marriage between his eldest son, Hermann and Elizabeth, who was then only four years old! Not long afterward, Elizabeth was taken to the Thuringian court to be brought up with her future husband and, in the course of time, to be married to him.
The Thuringian court was famous for its magnificence at this time and the Wartburg Castle was the centerpiece of Thuringia, splendidly placed on a hill near Eisenach, where Landgrave Hermann lived, surrounded by poets and minnesingers, of whom he was a generous patron. In spite of the pomp of her surroundings, Elizabeth grew up as a very religious girl.
When Elizabeth was fourteen, she was wed to Ludwig, Hermann's son. The marriage was happy and exemplary and each spouse was devoted to the other. They had three children. Ludwig led a busy life and was often away from the Wartburg. While Ludwig was away, Elizabeth took charge of the affairs of the castle and she was renowned for her charitable endeavors. For example, in order to personally care for the unfortunate, she built a 28-bed hospital below the Wartburg to tend to the sick and the poor. She gave away much of her stately clothing and ornaments to the poor. Ludwig died in 1227 on a crusade to Palestine (Elizabeth had just given birth to their third child when she received the news.)
After Ludwig's death, his brother assumed the regency during the minority of Elizabeth's oldest child. It was he, according to tradition, that cast Elizabeth and the children out of the Wartburg Castle, depicted by the mosaic. She went to Marburg in Hesse. She died at the age of twenty-four years old. She is remembered for her charitable works and the starting of the hospital below the Wartburg and the hospital she built in Marburg with the money from her dowry.
Fred Pratt Green's hymn gives a commentary on the joyful virtues of one like Elizabeth, commemorated today on the Church Year calendar, "joyful virtues that put to shame the casual way we wear" God's name.
1. How clear is our vocation, Lord,
When first we heed Your call:
To live according to Your Word
And daily learn, refreshed, restored,
That You are Lord of all
And will not let us fall.
2. But if, forgetful, we should find
Your yoke is hard to bear;
If worldly pressures fray the mind,
And love itself cannot unwind
Its tangled skein of care:
Our inward life repair.
3. We marvel how Your saints become
In hindrances more sure;
Whose joyful virtues put to shame
The casual way we wear You name
And by our faults obscure
Your pow'r to cleanse and cure.
4. In what You give us, Lord, to do,
Together or alone,
In old routines or ventures new,
May we not cease to look to You,
The cross You hung upon--
All You endeavored done.