Monday, 2 July 2012

little switzerland or like water for chocolate

Over the weekend, H and I took a very scenic tour of the region known as the Fränkishe Schweiz (Little Switzerland, as the Americans call it) and stopped to marvel at Burg Pottenstein, cleaving to a cliff-face with a narrow ribbon of a path spanning the continuous karst outcroppings the portion up the landscape. As with a dozen other vantage points nearby, the castle commands an impressive vista, both from a distance and looking outward from its towers and turrets. For a year or so, this fortress, vassal to the Diocese of Bamberg, was also home to St. Elizabeth of Hungary (Hl. Elizabeth von Thüringen) while essentially under house-arrest by inquisitor and spiritual-advisor Konrad from Marburg. Married and tragically widowed at a young age, Elizabeth promised her husband that she would never remarry and devoted her life to charitable works. Her politically-engaged family, however, were not pleased with her choice, since at the apex of a noble-line, discounting a second-marriage in high royal circles left them with little chance for advancement.
The family, eying potential suitors—including the Emperor, solicited the confessor’s help to dissuade her from a life dedicated to helping the poor. Elizabeth was abducted and treated badly, taken away from the hospital she founded in Marburg and her chaste existence at the Wartburg by Eisenach, and held at Pottenstein. While secreting bread and valuables for the poor, she was caught but miraculously her bundle transformed into a bunch of roses—which was probably the ideal expression of noblesse oblige for Elizabeth’s conniving family, who’d fawn over that sort of gallant gesture, sort of like “…then, let them eat cake” or the unhelpful exploits of Monty Python’s Dennis Moore, who robbed from the rich and gave the poor lupins. Threatening to cut off her nose, eventually her advisor and family released Elizabeth, who only had a few months to work to reestablish her charities. Her support for the fledging Franciscan Order and ongoing intervention for the destitute earned her sainthood and reverence in her native Hungary and adoptive Germany.