Elizabeth of Hungary vs. Herman of Alaska

A Tuesday during Lent, can mean only one thing: time to cast a vote in Lent Madness! But first, some results. Yesterday, Eva Lee Matthews soundly defeated Hervé (and his little dog too!) 61% to 39%.

Today, the second of the four Elizabeths in the 2020 bracket makes an appearance, as Elizabeth of Hungary takes on Herman of Alaska. Will this 13th century Hungarian royal with the generous heart prevail? Or will it be the Russian-born 18th century missionary monk? Two compelling saints but, alas, only one will move on to the Saintly Sixteen.

In case you missed yesterday globe-trotting edition of Monday Madness (and if you did...for shame!), you can watch it here. In it, we gave a shout out to the good people of St. Stephen's in Terra Haute, IN, who have embraced Lent Madness with reckless abandon. Read an article in the local paper about their foray into the Saintly Smackdown, led by their pastor, the Rev. Drew Downs.

And if you have compelling stories or photos to share from your own context, please do send them our way. Now go vote!

Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth of Hungary did not live long—she died at the age of 24 in 1231—but she left a powerful and lasting impression during her short life.

Elizabeth was born into the royal family of Hungary and promised in marriage to Ludwig IV, Landgrave of Thuringia, to cement a political alliance between the two noble families. Once she reached the age of fourteen, the two were married.

Two years later, Elizabeth heard the teachings of the Franciscan community. She was deeply moved by the Franciscan ideals and almost immediately began to put them into practice in her own life. She became known for dressing simply despite her royal station and for regularly baking bread in her estate and then distributing it to the local community.

Some in the royal entourage became suspicious of Elizabeth’s activities and accused her of stealing goods from the royal household. Legend says that on one day, Ludwig and his hunting party encountered Elizabeth. She had hidden bread in the folds of her dress to be handed out to those in need; Ludwig saw an opportunity to clear her name so he asked her to show what she was carrying. When she opened her arms, the bread was gone and instead her cloak was full of white and red roses—proof to Ludwig that she was doing God’s work.

When Elizabeth was twenty years old, tragedy struck when her husband died en route to the crusades. Given her relative youth, Elizabeth’s family was ready to match her in another marriage for political gain. Instead of the welltrod path of being used as a political pawn, Elizabeth took vows of celibacy and obedience to her confessor. She joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and used the funds intended for her dowry to build a hospital dedicated to Francis.

When Elizabeth died at the age of twenty-four, miracles were almost immediately attributed to her at her grave.

Elizabeth was so highly revered that she was officially declared to be a saint just four short years after her death, an acknowledgement of her tireless generosity toward the poor and ill. She is considered a patron to the Third Order of Franciscans, widows, exiles, and people experiencing homelessness.

Collect for Elizabeth of Hungary
Almighty God, by your grace your servant Elizabeth of Hungary recognized and honored Jesus in the poor of this world: Grant that we, following her example, may with love and gladness serve those in any need or trouble, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

—David Hansen

Herman of Alaska

Herman of Alaska was known for his Christian compassion, leadership, humility, personal warmth, and deep kindness. Although his birth name and details of his childhood are lost to history, Herman was born in the 1750s near Moscow.

Never ordained, Herman—his monastic name—joined a hermitage near St. Petersburg at sixteen years old and then transferred to Valaam Monastery to study with Abbot Nasarios. After taking vows, he happily lived the life of a hermit until he was called to join others for missionary work in Alaska, at that time owned by Russia. The area was a thriving trading post for sea life, animal pelts, and crops. In 1794, the missionaries established their base on Spruce Island, near the village of Kodiak. Herman chose to live a spartan life, sleeping on hardwood boards and eating little.

Herman was good to the native people, something his fellow Russians were not. He was shocked and saddened to witness the abuse of the Aleuts, the Native Americans living in the area, by the Russians and Europeans. Herman defended the rights of the Aleuts against many, including his own government.

Despite the hardships of low supplies and harsh weather, Herman and his monastic group preached the gospel throughout the Kodiak area, baptizing a reported 7,000. He was named head of the mission in 1807. Herman was well-known and well-loved, living among the Aleuts and being a participant in their everyday lives as a teacher of reading, writing, music, and catechism, and as a medic. During an 1819 epidemic, he nursed the people of the village—both Aleuts and Europeans—without thought about his own well-being.

In time, yearning for his solitude, he returned to the life of a hermit, but he never considered himself alone. “God is here, as God is everywhere,” he maintained.

Herman never left Alaska and died on Spruce Island in 1837. St. Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak is named in his honor. Herman, called the “Wonderworker of All America,” is remembered on November 15.

Collect for Herman of Alaska
Almighty God, who raised up your servant Herman to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Alaska: Illuminate our hearts, that we also in our own generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness and into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—Neva Rae Fox


Elizabeth of Hungary vs. Herman of Alaska

  • Herman of Alaska (58%, 5,243 Votes)
  • Elizabeth of Hungary (42%, 3,787 Votes)

Total Voters: 9,030

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Elizabeth of Hungary: Francisco de Zurbarán [Public domain]
Herman of Alaska: AlexEleon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/bysa/3.0)]


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117 comments on “Elizabeth of Hungary vs. Herman of Alaska”

      1. Nooooo! I'm Hungarian! I need Elizabeth of Hungary to win! She'll be my first loss this Lent! Please vote for Elizabeth!

        1. Not such a difficult choice for me today - voted for Herman because of loving care for the indigenous people - still a concern and a need 200 or so years later and not only in the U.S.


          1. Yes. And a big issue for our neighbor to the north even today. I prayed Elizabeth's collect but voted for Herman.

          2. I am an Alaskan. My grandaughter is part Aleut. Her grandmother and her family suffered much during the war. Herman showed love and concern for the indigenous people. Of course I voted for him.

          3. Yes from me also, one of your "neighbours to the north" here in B.C. Herman's love and care for the indigenous people and his courage to speak out and defend their rights made this an easier choice to vote for him.

  1. Elizabeth did in Thuringia dwell;
    Of her kindness many a tale do they tell:
    Spent her marital bling
    On a hospital wing;
    To the poor she brought bread — and roses as well.

    1. Thank you for that John Cabot. 🙂 All true but I had to vote for Herman, he baptized 7,00 people! Wish I could rhyme.

  2. Hard choice but went with Herman because of his sympathy for the indigenous peoples of Alaska. I think he may have been mentioned in James Michener's book "Alaska"....

    1. I went with Herman. I so admired the church in Sitka with the Russian missionary influence.

    2. I agree - It was a hard choice, but I already knew of St. Elizabeth, but not St. Herman,who cared for indigenous Americans -

  3. Wow, this was a hard one. Both Elizabeth and Herman followed Jesus' path well. As much as I liked Elizabeth's solution to caring for the poor and hungry, protecting all the people against harm as Herman did for the Aleuts, while nursing everyone during an epidemic, wins my vote.

  4. As a fellow Elizabeth, I have to go with her. Always loved the story of bread being turned into roses. Can't go wrong building a hospital.

  5. An easy choice for me today. We lived in Kodiak from 1970-72. I loved it there. My 2nd child was born there.

  6. Such a hard choice today; I loved both of these saints and their stories! I ultimately went with Herman because 1) I spent a year living in Alaska and absolutely loved it! and 2) He was kind to the Native Americans. Oh, by the way, Terre Haute is spelled with an "e" at the end and not an "a".

  7. Elizabeth's short life is inspiring. Hurman's four decades of devotion and work get my vote. Befriending the oppressed Aleuts and braving the epidemic helps me seek ways to express my faith in my eighties.

  8. To be married at fourteen to someone she didn't really know. Still a child and yet a woman who went on to feed the hungry. And Herman was only sixteen. Amazing stories but i had to vote for Elizabeth.

    1. Judy, don't confuse 14-year-old Elizabeth with today's 14 year old girls. In the thirteenth century, one was considered a woman and of marriageable ge at 12, and as a member of Hungary's royal family, Elizabeth fully understood that she was destined to marry for dynastic reasons. The only thing unusual about the marriage of Elizabeth and Ludwig is that they genuinely loved one another.

  9. I love the story of Elizabeth concealing bread in the folds of her dress to distribute to the needy, but Herman's long life of service and his support for the Aleuts earned my vote.

  10. It was a difficult choice, but I remember visiting Alaska. The people who live there are truly awesome and strong. Herman was a true sour dough, one who truly shared the hardships and lived the Gospel with the native people. Awesome witness!
    Go, Herman, Go!

  11. Another nail biter, it seemed to me. Elizabeth had great courage to choose joining a religious community over becoming a "political pawn" in a second marriage. That said, I voted for Herman because of the variety of work he did among the people in Alaska. Also, his serving during an epidemic reminds me of St. Damian of Molokai, who accepted his ministry to persons afflicted with Hansen's disease before the time of antibiotics, knowing the risk he was taking.

  12. Ah yes, feeling a personal connection to Elizabeth: there's a stained glass window to her in the Unitarian church in Weston MA, and I'm now attending St Elizabeth of Hungary Episcopal Church in Sudbury, MA. She is like an old friend giving flowers and bread to the poor. We should do likewise.

    1. I have difficulty with missionaries to indigenous peoples. No matter how they help, they still create avenues for others to come, others who may not have similar loving intentions.

      And from where and whom did the germs for the epidimic originate?

      I guess I'm a Prime Directive gal.

  13. I have many reasons to support Herman today. First, I nominated him, and have to admit I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had made the final bracket. Second, I strongly appreciate his ability to see beyond his race and treat the native Alaskans with dignity and respect. Third, my nieces are native Alaskans (Tsihimian and Tlingkit, members of the Frog clan), so I have a special feeling for anyone from Alaska, even if not born there. Fourth, he is one of those people who are willing to leave a life they enjoy when feel called by God to do so, such as the missioners I work with who go overseas away from their families and friends to work with people in need. I am happy that Herman was able to return to his life in solitude at the end of his life. I am also pleased to see that Herman is in the lead at the present moment. Go Herman!

      1. Beautiful story and image. Thank you St. Celia. I forwarded it to Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, which was founded in Alaska more than 50 years ago. I served in Seattle. Have to go with Herman today for the JVC connection and his respect for and defense of the Aleut people into whose home he moved.

        1. (Secret reply to St. Susan: I'm taking iconography, and as grace would have it, we just looked at that icon last night; the iconographer passed a day or so ago, and we were looking at all her icons. The Tlingit Madonna is especially amazing. The child is wearing elaborate beadwork as the son of a chief, and all the imagery is drawn from indigenous symbolism.)

      2. I found it under the name "Our Lady of Alaska"--Mary herself looks much the way she does in "traditional" paintings, but in her lap little Jesus is wearing a robe that looks indigenous. There's a similar blanket hanging behind the Madonna and Child. Lovely combination of Western and Indigenous spirituality!

    1. Thank you for nominating this very worthy Saint. I too was very moved by his care for the Aleut people. It also didn't hurt that one of my Grandfathers was named Herman.

  14. I went with Elizabeth since sacrifice was her goal in life. Give to the poor, built a hospital amazing young woman. Walked the way of Jesus

  15. Gotta go with Liz. My Hungarian grandmother (also Elizabeth) would come back to haunt me if I didnt.

  16. Elizabeth also had four children, was devastated when her husband died and subsequently bullied by her spiritual advisor into privations that probably shortened her life. A great saint -vote Elizabeth.

  17. I notice the male/female ratio of (annual) winners is even = 5 each. I don't always want to vote for a woman but from my perspective, thus far, they are the stronger choice.

  18. This was easy for me. Elizabeth seems like a mash-up of the Virgin of Guadalupe and any number of Roman virgin martyrs. But Herman of Alaska appealed to me due to his commitment to the well being of indigenous peoples. The Tlingit Madonna is especially lovely and the iconographer has just died requiescat in pace. In honor of the Virgin of Alaska I vote for Herman.

    1. Thank you for the link to this wonderful icon. Having lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for 25 years (including 26 winters) I have great respect for anyone who chose to live in the far north and cared for indigenous people. Herman was an easy choice for me.

  19. How could I not vote for Herman? That was my father’s name and he LOVED Alaska. He was in the Air Force there and worked on the Pipeline for a few years. Even though he live most of his life in New Jersey

  20. A 'coin toss' decision. Two more-than-worthy saints who are every bit models for our 'modern' times. She for her care of the poor, sick, and outcast and he for similar reasons. You can't go wrong either way.

  21. Had to vote for Herman because he defended the Aleuts and is remembered on my birthday.

      1. Herman of Alaska. A sublime example of a faithful servant of God putting that faith into action where he was and using the tools he had available. Perhaps the most valuable tool he had was that classic White Male Privilege! He wrote letters to the Russians in charge of Russian America urging that their duty was to protect the Aleuts and not brutalize them. There are memories extant of his concern for peaceful harmony within families! He would stay up all hours with a bickering Aleut couple assisting them to find a place of peace in their relationship. There are memories of Herman’s love of children! The man would make tons of cookies for the visiting children.
        What a lovey, saintly man, Herman of Alaska.

  22. I was compelled to go with St. Elizabeth because my grandmother (who spoiled me rotten) was Elizabeth, my first granddaughter is Elizabeth and my grade school growing up was St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic School.

  23. Like others, I find this a very difficult choice. I moved by Herman's prayerful solitude and faithful solidarity with the Aleut in a context where racism was running rampant. But Elizabeth's embrace of the Franciscan charism and being the patron saint of widows wins the vote of this widower who serves a parish dedicated to Francis.

  24. Going with Herman for his devotion to the Aleuts. I believe he really "walked the walk".

  25. St. Elizabeth of Hungary has always been my favorite saint. There is a story of her moving the poor and the sick of her community into her palatial home and tending them herself. Her family--especially her in-laws--were terribly upset by this. Her husband had been away from Thuringia at the time. He returned home to find all manner of suffering peasants in his home, including a sick man in his own bed! I can picture a moment like "I Love Lucy" when he questioned his young wife. "Elizabeth, you've got a lot of 'splainin' to do!" 🙂 Herman was someone I had never heard of and I love his story. But, St. Elizabeth has my heart and my vote!

  26. I voted for Elizabeth, because I believe it was likely much harder for a woman to resist the traditions of a royal family than a man. In England, the man who would have been Edward VIII renounced the crown and became the Duke of Windsor; recently Prince Harry has withdrawn from the royal Windsor circle. These two men renounced their royal connection for love, but also to be unshackled by obligations. Elizabeth turned her back on her privileged position to take up service to the poor.