Mrs. (Anna) Jameson.

Legends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art online

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Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 29 of 41)
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knew perfectly the difference between his relationship
with Elizabeth and with his own sister Agnes, and he
very soon perceived that his Elizabeth was quite unlike
all the other children in the court, and exercised over
them some extraordinary ascendency : all her infant
thoughts seemed centred in heavenly things ; her very
sports were heavenly, as though the angels were her
playmates ; but charity, and compassion for the suffering
poor, formed, so to speak, the staple of her life. Every-
thing that was given to her she gave away ; and she
collected what remained from the table, and saved from
her own repasts every scrap of food, which she carried
in a basket to the poor of Eisenach, the children of the
poor being more especially her care.

As long as her noble father-in-law the Landgrave
Herman was alive, no one dared to oppose the young
Elizabeth in her exercises either of devotion or charity,
though both had excited some feelings of disapprobation
and jealousy in the court ; even her betrothed husband
Louis, influenced by those around him, began to regard
her as one destined to be the bride of Heaven rather
than his own. When she was about nine years old,
and Louis about sixteen, the landgrave died ; and Eliza-
beth, having lost in him her father and protector, be-
came, with all her saintly gifts and graces, a forlorn
stranger in her adopted home. Louis had succeeded
bis father, but remained under the tutelage of his mother.
The landgravine, Sophia, disliked the retiring character
of her daughter-in-law ; the princess Agnes openly de-


rided her ; and the other ladies of the court treated her
with neglect.

On the occasion of some great religious festival, the
landgravine carried the two young princesses to the
Church of St. Catherine at Eisenach. They were at-
tired, according to the custom of the time, in their
habits of ceremony, wearing long embroidered mantles,
their hair cast loose over their shoulders ; golden coro-
nets on their heads, and bracelets on their arms. On
entering the church they knelt down before the crucifix ;
Elizabeth, on raising her eyes to the image of the dying
Saviour, was struck with an irresistible reverence, and
instinctively took off her golden crown, placing it at
the foot of the cross. She then meekly continued her
prayer. The landgravine whispered bitter reproaches,
and ordered her to replace her crown. Elizabeth, weep-
ing, replied : " Dear lady mother, reproach me not !
Here I behold the merciful Jesus, who died for me,
wearing his crown of thorns ; how can I wear in His
presence this crown of gold and gems ? my crown is a
mockery of His ! " Then, covering her face with her
long mantle, she held her peace, and continued to pray
fervently. Her mother and sister, seeing the eyes of
the people fixed on them, were obliged also to take off
their crowns and cover their faces ; " which they mis-
liked greatly," adds the chronicle. They were more
angry than ever with Elizabeth ; and the "whole court,
perceiving her disgrace, failed not to treat her with
contumely, and to jeer at what they called her pretended
piety ; so that her life was made bitter to her even in
her young days. She endured all with unvarying
gentleness. The hardest trial of her patience was when
the princess Agnes was wont to tell her, in a mocking
tone, that "her brother Louis would never marry such
a Beguine, but would send her back to Hungary to her
father." This also Elizabeth bore in silence : she would
go to her chamber and weep awhile ; then, drying her
tears, she would take up her alms-basket and go to visit
the poor children of whom she had made friends aud


companions, and in teaching them and caressing them
she found comfort.

All this time, Louis was observing her and watching
her deportment under the contemptuous treatment of
his mother and sister, and of those who thought to do
them a pleasure by studiously neglecting or publicly
insulting the object of their scorn. He did not openly
show her any attention ; he had some doubts whether
she was not too far above him in her austere yet gentle
piety. But often when she suffered from the contumely
of others he would secretly comfort her with kindest
words, and dry up her tears. And when he returned
home after an absence, he was accustomed to bring her
some little gift which he had purchased for her, either a
rosary of coral, or a little silver crucifix, or a chain, or
a golden pin, or a purse, or a knife. And when she
ran out to meet him joyfully, he would take her in his
arms and kiss her right heartily. And thus she grew
up to maidenhood, looking to him, and only to him, for
all her earthly comfort ; trusting and loving him next
to her Heavenly Father, to whom she prayed hourly for
his well-being, and that his heart might not be turned
away from her, for she knew that every earthly influence
was employed to make him false to her and to his early

It happened, on one occasion, that Louis went on a
long hunting excursion with some neighboring princes,
and was so much occupied by his guests, that, when he
returned, he brought not his accustomed gift, nor did he
salute her as usual. The courtiers, and those who were
the enemies of Elizabeth, marked this well ; she saw
their cruel joy, and her heart sank with apprehension.
She had hitherto kept silence, but now, in the bitterness
of her grief, she threw herself on her old friend, Walther
de Varila, who had brought her an infant from Hun-
gary, who had often nursed her in his arms, and who
loved her as his own child. A few days afterwards, aa
he attended the landgrave to the chase, he took the
opportunity to ask him what were his intentions with



regard to the Lady Elizabeth ; " For," said he, " it is
thought by many that you love her not, and that you
will send her back to her father." On hearing these
words, Louis, who had been lying on the ground to
rest, started to his feet, and, throwing his hand towards
the lofty Inselberg which rose before them, " Seest
thou/' he said, " yon high mountain ? If it were all
of pure gold from the base to the summit, and if it were
offered to me in exchange for mv Elizabeth, I would
not give her for it ! — no — I love her better than all
the world ! I love onlv her ! and I will have my Eliza-
beth!" (" Ich will mein Elsbeth haben ! ") Then
Walther, right joyful, said, " My sovereign lord, may I
tell her this ? " and Louis answered, " Yea, tell her
this, that I love only her in the world ! " Then from
the purse which hung at his belt he drew forth a little
silver mirror, curiously wrought, surmounted with an
image of our Saviour. " Give her this," he added,
n as a pledge of my truth."

When they returned, Walther hastened to seek Eliza-
beth, and gave her the loving message and the gift.
And she smiled an angel smile, and kissed the mirror
reverently, and saluted the image of Christ, and thanked
Him for all His mercies, but most of all for that He
had kept true and tender towards her the heart of her
betrothed husband ; and, having done this, she put the
mirror in her bosom, next to her heart.

About a year afterwards, their marriage was formally
solemnized with great feasts and rejoicings which lasted
three days.

Louis was at this time in his twentieth year. He
was tall and well made, w-ith a ruddy complexion, fair
hair, which he wore long, in the German fashion, blue
eyes, remarkable for their serene and mild expression,
and a noble ample brow. He was of a princely temper,
resolute, yet somewhat bashful, " and in his words was
modest as a maid." He was never known to be un-
faithful to his Elizabeth, from the hour in which they


had been laid together in her cradle to the hour of his

Elizabeth was not quite fifteen. Her beauty was
still immature ; but, from its peculiar character, she
appeared older than she really was. She had the
beauty of her race and country, a tall slender figure, a
clear brown complexion, large dark eyes, and hair as
black as night ; her eyes, above all, were celebrated by
her contemporaries, — " they were eyes which glowed
with an inward light of love and charity, and were often
moistened with tears."

She lived with her husband in the tenderest union,
but carried into her married life the austere piety which
had distinguished her from infancy ; and the more she
loved her husband, the more she feared herself. By
the side of her innocent happiness " a gulf still threat-
ening to devour her opened wide," — a gulf of sin —
misery — death ; death to both, if they stood in the
way of each other's salvation.

She therefore redoubled her secret penances ; rose in
the night, and left her couch to pray, kneeling on the
bare cold earth. She wore hair-cloth next her tender
skin, and would sometimes scourge herself, and cause
her ladies to scourge her.

Louis sometimes remonstrated, but in general he
submitted, from some secret persuasion that himself and
his people were to benefit by the prayers and the sanctity
of his wife. Meantime she was cheerful and loving
towards him, dressed to please him, and would often
ride to the chase with him. "When he was absent she
put on the dress of a widow and wore it till his return,
when she would again array herself in her royal mantle
and meet him with a joyful smile, taking him in her
arms as he dismounted from his horse, and greeting
him with a wifely tenderness.

She had for her spiritual director a certain priest
named Conrad of Marbourg, a man of a stern character,
who, after a time, through her excitable mind and



sensitive conscience and gentle womanly affections,
ruled her, not merely with a rod of iron, but a scourge
of fire.

Conrad had denounced as unpleasing to God certain
imposts which were laid on the people for the express
purpose of furnishing the royal table. And he com-
manded Elizabeth not to eat of any food served up at
table, except of such as had been justly paid for, or
produced from the private and hereditary estates of her
husband. Not alwavs able to distinguish between the
permitted meats and drinks and those interdicted by her
confessor, Elizabeth would sit at her own royal ban-
quets abstinent while others feasted, and content herself
with a crust of bread and a cup of water. On one
occasion Louis took the cup out of her hand, and, put-
ting it to his lips, it appeared to him that he tasted
wine of such a divine flavor that he had never tasted
any like it. He called to the cup-bearer, and asked
him of what vintage was this extraordinary wine ? The
cup-bearer, astonished, replied, that he had poured water
into the cup of the landgravine. Louis held his peace,
for he had long believed that his wife was served by
the angels ; and some other circumstances which oc-
curred during their married life convinced him that
she was under the especial favor and protection of

One day that he entertained several of the neighbor-
ing princes, he desired of Elizabeth that she would ap-
pear in the presence of his guests as became his wife
and the lady of his love. She, always obedient, called
her maids around her, and arrayed herself in her royal
robes, her tunic of green and golden tissue, her tiara
of jewels confining her long dark tresses, and over her
shoulders her embroidered mantle lined with ermine.
Thus sumptuously attired, she was about to cross one
of the courts of the castle which led to the apartment of
her husband, perhaps with some secret thought that he
would approve of the charms she had adorned for his
sake, when she beheld prostrate on the pavement a



wretched beggar, almost naked, and shivering with cold,
hunger, and disease. He implored her charity; she
told him she could not then minister to him, and was
about to pass on, but he, sustaining his trembling
limbs on his staff, dragged himself after her, and im-
plored her that she would not leave him to die, hut
that for the sake of Christ our Redeemer and the holy
John the Baptist she would have pity upon him. Now
Elizabeth had never in her life refused what was asked
from her in the name either of the Saviour or of St.
John the Baptist, who was her patron saint and pro-
tector. She paused ; and, from a divine impulse of
mingled piety and charity, she took off her royal mantle
and threw it over his shoulders. Then she retreated
to her chamber, not knowing how she should excuse
herself to her husband. At that moment the landgrave
came to seek her ; and she, throwing herself into his
arms, confessed what she had done. "While he stood
irresolute whether to admire or upbraid her, her maiden
Guta entered the chamber, having the mantle on her
arm. "Madam/' said she, "in passing through the
wardrobe I saw the mantle hanging in its place : why
has your Highness disarrayed yourself? " And she
hastened to clasp it again on her shoulders.

Then her husband led her forth, both their hearts
filled with unspeakable gratitude and wonder. And
when Elizabeth appeared before the guests, they arose,
and stood amazed at her beauty, which had never ap-
peared so dazzling ; for a glory more than human
seemed to play round her form, and the jewels on her
mantle sparkled with a celestial light. " And who,"
says the legend, " can doubt that the beggar was our
Lord himself, who had desired to prove the virtue of
his servant, and who had replaced the mantle by the
hand of one of his blessed angels 2 "

On another occasion, when Elizabeth was ministering
to her poor at Eisenach, she found a sick child cast out
from among the others, because he was a leper, and so
loathsome in his misery that none would touch him or


even go nigh to him ; but Elizabeth, moved with com-
passion, took him in her arms, carried him up the
steep ascent to the castle, and while her attendants fled
at the spectacle, and her mother-in-law Sophia loaded
her with reproaches, she laid the sufferer in her own
bed. Her husband was then absent, but shortly after-
wards his horn was heard to sound at the gate. Then
his mother Sophia ran out to meet him, saying, " My
son, come hither ! see with whom thy wife shares her
bed ! " — and she led him up to the chamber, telling
him what had happened. This time, Louis was filled
with impatience and disgust ; he rushed to the bed and
snatched away the coverlid ; " but behold, instead of
the leper, there lay a radiant infant with the features
of the new-born in Bethlehem : and while they stood
amazed, the vision smiled, and vanished from their

(We have here the beautiful legendary parable, so
often repeated in the lives of the saints ; for example,
in those of St. Gregory, St. Martin, St. Julian, and
others ; and which doubtless originated either in the
words of our Saviour, — " Inasmuch as ye have done
it to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it
unto me " ; or in the text of St. Paul, — " Be not for-
getful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have
entertained angels unawares.")

Elizabeth, in the absence of her husband, daily visited
the poor who dwelt in the suburbs of Eisenach, and in
the huts of the neighboring valleys. One day, during
a severe winter, she left her castle with a single attend-
ant, carrying in the skirts of her robe a supply of bread,
meat, and eggs for a certain poor family ; and, as she
was descending the frozen and slippery path, her hus-
band, returning from the chase, met her bending under
the weight of her charitable burden. " What dost
thou here, my Elizabeth 1 " he said, " let us see what
thou art carrying away ! " and she, confused and
blushing to be so discovered, pressed her mantle to her


bosom ; but he insisted, and, opening her robe, be
beheld only red and white roses, more beautiful and
fragrant than any that grow on tins earth, even at sum-
mer-tide, and it was now tbe depth of winter ! Then
he was about to embrace his wife, but, looking in her
face, he was overawed by a supernatural glory which
seemed to emanate from every feature, and he dared
not touch her ; he bade her go on her way, and fulfil
her mission ; but taking from her lap one of the roses
of Paradise, he put it in his bosom, and continued to
ascend the mountain slowlv, with his head declined,
and pondering these things in his heart.*

In the year 1226, the Landgrave Louis accompanied
his liege lord, the Emperor Frederick II., into Italy.

In the same year, a terrible famine afflicted all Ger-
many ; but the country of Thuringia suffered more
than any other. Elizabeth distributed to the poor all
the corn in the royal granaries. Every day a certain
quantity of bread was baked, and she herself served it
out to the people, who thronged around the gates of the
castle, sometimes to the number of nine hundred : unit-
ing prudence with charity, she so arranged that each
person had his just share, and so husbanded her re-
sources that they lasted through the summer ; and when
harvest-time came round again, she sent them into the
fields provided with scythes and sickles, and to every
man she gave a shirt and a pair of new shoes. But,
as was usual, the famine had been succeeded by a great
plague and mortality, and the indefatigable and inex-
haustible charity of Elizabeth was again at hand. In

* There are several different versions of this beautiful and cele-
brated legend. Sometimes the incident occurs before her mar-
riage, and then it is her father-in-law, Herman, who discovers the
roses : sometimes it is placed in the period of her widowhood, and
then it is her cruel brother-in-law, Henry. I have given the most
accredited version, that which is adopted by Count Montalembert,
who must henceforth be considered as the first authority in all
that concerns the legend of Elizabeth. See, in his Life of her, the
chapter " De lagrande charite de la chere Sainte Elisabeth, et
de son amour pour la pauvrete." Third edition, p. 50.


the city of Eisenach, at the foot of the "Wartburg, she
founded an hospital of twenty beds for poor women
only ; and another, called the Hospital of St. Anne, in
which all the sick and poor who presented themselves
were received : and Elizabeth herself went from one to
the other, ministering to the wretched inmates with a
cheerful countenance, although the sights of misery and
disease were often so painful and so disgusting, that the
ladies who attended upon her turned away their heads,
and murmured and complained of the task assigned to

She also founded an hospital especially for poor chil-
dren. As I have already said, children were at all times
the objects of her maternal benevolence. It is related
by an eyewitness, that " whenever she appeared among
them, they gathered round her, crying ' Mutter ! Mut-
ter ! ' clinging to her robe and kissing her hands. She,
mother-like, spoke to them tenderly, washed and dressed
their ulcerated limbs, and even brought them little toys
and gifcs to amuse them." In these charities she not
only exhausted the treasury, but she sold her own robes
and jewels, and pledged the jewels of the state. When
the landgrave returned, the officers and councillors went
out to meet him, and, fearing his displeasure, they be-
gan to complain of the manner in which Elizabeth, in
their despite, had lavished the public treasures. But
Louis would not listen to them ; he cut them short, re-
peating " How is my dear wife ? how are my children 1
are they well ? Let her give what she will, so long as
she leaves me my castles of Eisenach, Wartburg, and
Naumburg ! " Then he hurried to the gates, and Eliza-
beth met him with her children, and threw herself into
his arms and kissed him a thousand times, and said to
him tenderly, " See ! I have given to the Lord what is
His, and He has preserved to us what is thine and
mine ! "

In the following year, all Europe was arming for the
third Crusade ; and his liege lord Frederick II., having
assumed the cross, summoned Louis to join his banner.


No help ! Louis must go where duty called him ; and
he took the cross, with many other princes and nobles,
from the hands of Conrad, bishop of Hildesheim. Re-
turning thence to his castle of Wartburg, and thinking
on all the sorrow it would cause his Elizabeth, he took
off his cross and put it into his purse to hide it until he
should have prepared her for their parting : but many-
da}^ passed away, and he had not courage to tell her
what was at his heart.

One evening, while they sat together in her bower,
she asked him for alms for her poor ; and, as he resisted,
she playfully unbuckled his purse and put her hand
into it, and drew forth the cross. Too well she knew
that sign ! The truth burst upon her at once, and she
swooned at his feet. On recovering her senses she
wept much, and said, " O my brother ! if it be not
against God's will, stay with me ! " And he answered
with tears, •' Dear sister ! I have made a vow to God ;
I must go ! " Then she said, " Let it be as God will-
eth ! I will stay behind and pray for thee." So Louis
departed in the summer of that year ; and Elizabeth
went Avith him two days' journey before she had the
strength to say farewell. Then they parted with tears
and many embracings ; and her ladies and her knights
brought her back half dead to the Wartburg; while
Louis with his knights pursued their journey. Among
these was Count Louis of Gleichen, whose monument
may still be seen in the Cathedral of Erfurt, lying be-
tween his two wives. The landgrave pursued his
journey happily towards Palestine, until he came to
Otranto in Calabria ; there he was seized with a fever,
and died in the arms of the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
He commanded his knights and counts who stood
round his bed that they should carry his body to his
native country ; and defend his Elizabeth and his chil-
dren — with their life-blood, if need were — from all
wrong and oppression.

Now, after the departure of her husband, Elizabeth
had brought forth her youngest daughter, and, occupied


with the care of her children and the care of her poor,
had resolved to wait in patience the return of him who
was never more to return. When the evil tidings
arrived, she swooned away with grief; and if God, the
Father of the widow and the orphan, had not sustained
her, she had surely died.

Louis had two brothers, Henry and Conrad. The
eldest of these, Henry, listened to wicked counsellors,
who advised him to take possession of his nephew's
heritage, and banish the widow and her children from
the Wartburg. It was winter time, and the snow lay
upon the ground, when the daughter of kings was seen
slowly descending the rocky path which she had so
often traversed in her missions of charity. She carried
her newly born baby in her arms ; her women followed
with the three eldest. Henry had forbidden any of the
people to harbor her, being resolved to drive her beyond
the confines of his territory. So she wandered about
with her chilch*en till she found refuge in a poor inn.
It is related that in passing along the snowy, slippery
way she fell ; that a woman — one of the women whom
she had tended in her hospital — mocked at her as she
lay on the earth, — and that even this did not disturb
her meek serenity. She afterwards placed her children
in the care of some faithful servants, and for several
weeks supported herself by spinning wool, in which she

In the mean time the knights returned to Thuringia,
bearing with them the remains of Louis ; and having
heard by the way of the cruelty and injustice with which
the widow of their lord and master had been treated,
they were filled with indignation. They obliged Henry
to be contented with the title of Regent ; they placed
the young Herman on the throne ; and Elizabeth re-
ceived, as her dower, the city of Marbourg, whither she
retired with her daughters.

She was accompanied by the priest Conrad, her con-
fessor, whose power, no longer divided with that of a
beloved husband, became more and more absolute.


Under his direction her life became one continued pen-
ance. One by one she parted with her children, lest
she should love them too well : he restricted her chari-
ties, which were her only consolation, because they icere
a consolation. She already wore the cord as a member

Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 29 of 41)