Queen Elizabeth of Portugal

Church calendars are so selective, perhaps of necessity. Our current book of lesser feasts and fasts, “Holy Women, Holy Men” doesn’t even have an entry for today, July 8. If you have one of those Churchman’s Ordo Edition” calendars from Ashby Company, you will have seen that Aquila and his wife Prisca (or Priscilla) are an optional commemoration today. Aquila was a tent maker, and they were early supporters of St. Paul, and, according to tradition, martyred on July 4 in either Asia Minor or Rome. Further delving into calendars shows, however, other commemorations for today. In “The Anglican Breviary” today is dedicated to St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, (1271-1336). This is also the case in the “Maryknoll Missal,” but, strangely, not in either the one-volume or the four-volume contemporary Roman breviary, “The Liturgy of the Hours.” She is, however, in the three-volume pre-Vatican II breviary, “The Hours of the Divine Office.”

The commentary in The Anglican Breviary is quite long and detailed, so I will quote instead from the Maryknoll Missal.

“Daughter of King Peter III of Aragon, Elizabeth was married at twelve years of age to King Denys of Portugal. She made peace between the rulers of Portugal, Castile, and Aragon, and repeatedly reconciled quarreling members of her own royal family.”

“Reconciled quarreling members of her family” is quite the understatement, for, in the account of her life in The Anglican Breviary, she took the field of battle and stood between the armies of her husband and her son and successfully demanded a truce and arbitration.

The Anglican Breviary mentions that one of her chief works was to build an Abbey for the Poor Clares of Columbra, and that after her husband died she retired there. Because she had had a hand in so many great works, such as her foundations for orphans and foundlings, she was professed as a tertiary of the order. She died on July 4 in her sixty-fifth year from an illness made mortal by the hardships of her last mission of peacemaking between warring armies of Portugal and Castile

The collect from The Anglican Breviary reads “Most merciful God, who amongst many excellent gifts didst bestow on the blessed Queen Elizabeth grace to allay the violence of war: grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may both obtain in this life that peace for which we humbly pray, and hereafter attain to eternal felicity.”

The Office Hymn in The Anglican Breviary is:

To rule the motions of thy heart,
and serve thy God in poverty,
Seemed O good Queen, a better part
Than all thy royal dignity.

And now, Elizabeth, on high
with Saints thou reignest blissfully;
O shew the world both how and why
A land hath true prosperity!

Great God, on earth thy will be done,
That all may thy true blessings see;
And praise be thine, O Three in One,
From earth and heaven endlessly.

If you count the syllables, you will see that there are eight per line, meaning that the metre is 8888 (stanzas of four lines of eight syllables each) termed “Long Metre,” and that the hymn can thus be sung to any of the many familiar Long Metre hymn tunes, such as Conditor alme siderum, Bromley or Wareham.

The world could certainly use a goodly number of Elizabeths today.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 8-July-2014.

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