November 17 is the commemoration of the death of St. Elisabeth of Hungary, a Hungarian noblewoman who was married at age 14 to the son of the Landgrave of Thuringia. After bearing her husband three children and learning that he had died on crusade with Emperor Frederick II, Elisabeth devoted herself to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. She eventually took the habit of a third-order Franciscan (Dante Alighieri was also reportedly a tertiary in the Franciscan order) and led a life of ascetic holiness for the rest of her days, dying at the age of 24. She corresponded with Pope Gregory IX (who would canonize her in 1235, only four years after her death) and took on the severe (some say even perversely sadistic) Master Konrad von Marburg as her spiritual adviser. She built a Franciscan hospital at Marburg and served the needs of the patients there, suffering with the most terrible diseases. Miracles were almost immediately reported at Elisabeth's grave in the Marburg hospital, and her body was soon transferred to a Gothic church built in her name.
Shrine of St. Elisabeth of Hungary, 1235-49, Elisabethkirche, Marburg
The Elisabethkirche (and its golden reliquary containing the saint's body) became one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the German-speaking lands, until her body was disturbed by the Protestants in the 16th century. Her relics are now found in locations far away from Marburg.
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Two Offices of St. Elisabeth of Hungary, Schola Hungarica
On this day, the perfect soundtrack is this recording of the two sets of office chants composed for St. Elisabeth of Hungary in the Middle Ages (Gaudeat Hungaria and Letare Germania), one from central Europe and the other created in the Cathedral of Cambrai. The performers are the incomparable Schola Hungarica, a choir of adults and children directed by musicologists Janka Szendrei and László Dobszay in Budapest. This beautiful disc, made in the Franciscan Church at Esztergom in 1995, is a fine example of Schola Hungarica's rhythmically vivid performance style.
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