Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Godly Play: St. Elisabeth of Portugal

I must admit that I was not previously familiar with this fascinating woman's story. Living in Germany, I am much more familiar with her great-aunt, Elisabeth of Hungary (known as Elisabeth von Thuringen here in Germany), for who this Elisabeth was named. Elisabeth of Portugal was ahead of her time intellectually, politically and environmentally. 

This Godly Play story comes from The Complete Guide to Godly Play: Volume 7 by Jerome Berryman. Peter Privett pointed out to me that each of the saints in this volume have a difficult childhood experience in common. Elisabeth's was family intrigue and in-fighting. Through it all, she learned to be and remain a peacemaker. 

Each of the objects above represent something about Elisabeth's life:
1. map of Portugal -  Although Elisabeth was a princess of Aragon, she married Denis, king of Portugal at age 12 and became his queen
2. rose - Elisabeth consistenty refused riches and gifts throughout her life and gave everything to the poor. Legend has it that one day when Denis demanded to see the gold coins in her apron that she was planning to give away, they turned to roses. 
3. pine tree - Denis and Elisabeth planted pine trees along the coast to prevent further soil erosion.
4. donkey - Elisabeth bravely prevented her husband and oldest son from killing each other on the battlefield by riding a donkey in the middle of the two armies. 

In my own background research for the story, I found out some other interesting things about her. Elisabeth apparently received a great education as a child and was adept at languages and singing. In this article, I read about her engineering and architecture skills as well. Elisabeth not only funded hospitals and other institutions for social well-being, but designed and oversaw the actual building process as well. 

Her marriage was not an easy one. Denis was said to be a philanderer and the dispute mentioned in the story with his oldest son came about as a result of the father's favoritism shown to an illegitimate child.

During the Wondering time, my children were very verbal. This has not always been the case with the other saint stories. They were shocked that Elisabeth married so young. And both seemed impressed by her courage to come between two armies ready to tear each other apart. (Living in Europe, they have seen lots of medieval weapons in museums and can picture somewhat how terrifying it must have been!)

Above all, Elisabeth knew what it meant to love her neighbor, even if it cost her a great price. She knew how to make peace an active thing. And I pray that we will follow her example and continue to allow God to transform us into active peacemakers as well. 

Click here to read how I made the materials for this story.

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