This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4 -- Feast of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Diniz and his goodwife, Saint Elizabeth
Born in 1271 to the royal house of Aragon, Princess Elizabeth was engaged to the King of Portugal at age twelve and married by age seventeen.  To be fair, King Diniz (also spelled Dinis or Denis) was only twenty-six, so it wasn't a gross mismatch in that sense.  But their interests didn't overlap very much.  Diniz gets discredit for the distance between them, and I guess the seven children he fathered outside his marriage weigh pretty heavily against him.  So too does the fact that the royal couple lived in separate houses; surely he as king could have compelled her to live with him if he had wanted.  The fact that they only had two children together -- Princess Constanza was born after eight years of marriage and Crown Prince Alfonso was born a year later -- doesn't suggest a whole lot of connubial bliss. 

Without trying to detract from the saint on her feast day, I'd like to make a case that Diniz had it tough.  To begin with, his young wife had shown up with more than a little religious zeal.  Several of her antecedents had already been canonized, and she had the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours as well as attending two choral Masses each day.  One chaplain was not enough -- she kept several busy with the praying and the blessing and the fasting.  No king wants to wind up married to Lucretia Borgia, but Diniz was an adventurous king with varied interests.  He wasn't looking to be pent up in the chapel, chanting his life away.  He founded the Portuguese navy, developed mining operations, and expanded foreign trade, especially with England.  He was known as the Troubadour King because of all the poetry he wrote.  He was also Rei Lavrador -- the Farmer King -- because of his aggressive and innovative forestry projects to prevent soil erosion.  And nobody made up a nickname to describe his habit of fathering children throughout the kingdom. 
Charitable Queen, Grateful Subjects

Of course, there are worse marriages than theirs.  One a scale of one to Henry VIII, he probably comes in at about a three.  Elizabeth is praised in his poetry.  When one of her church-building projects ran out of money, he funded the completion without question.  Their mutual interest in aiding the poor (progressive reform and social justice circa 1300) helped to keep them united.  And he was no less attentive to her and their two children than he was to his girlfriends and their children.  Of course, Elizabeth was no less attentive to his bastards, either, since he asked her to take them into the royal household and tutor them. [That's why she's a saint and he's not.] 

This equal attention had the Crown Prince distressed when he was grown.  He feared that Diniz would give away too much of Portugal -- his future kingdom -- to the bastards like Alfonso Sanches.  Like any manly Crown Prince, he raised a rebellion against his dad.  In attempting to mediate a peace deal, Elizabeth helped Alfonso escape, which led to her own imprisonment.  (Think Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lion-hearted.)   Alfonso regrouped with his Castillian allies and was about to engage his old man's army on the battlefield when Elizabeth mounted a mule and rode between the opposing armies.  She drew both parties to a table of truce and forced a settlement. 

Matthew 5:9
Two years later, King Diniz died and Alfonso acceded to the throne.  Elizabeth distributed her property to the poor and retired to a convent, living as a Franciscan tertiary.  She stayed there until Alfonso led an army against his son-in-law, the King of Castile, for being an abusive husband.  Once more, Elizabeth the Peacemaker rode onto the battlefield, negotiated a settlement, and returned to her convent. 

It is in our nature to imagine opposites.  Since Elizabeth was a saint, Diniz must have been a wretched sinner.  And plainly, from the Church's perspective, there are at least seven exhibits to enter as evidence against him.  And yet, Diniz seems like a pretty good king overall, and if he was neglectful as a husband, he probably felt it was tough to schedule an amorous moment amidst all the prayers.  Marriage to each other was not a choice for either of them, and while they adhered to it through their lives (more or less), they followed their own paths.  If they made it work, who are we to criticize him. 

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