Saint Queen Isabel was born in 1271 in Zaragoza, Aragon (Spain). She was the daughter of King Pedro III of Aragon and Queen Constantia of Hohenstaufen (Sicily). She was named after her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, taking the name Isabel, the Spanish and Portuguese equivalent of Elizabeth.
In her early years, Isabel showed much enthusiasm for her faith. She said the full Divine Office daily, fasted and attended twice-daily choral Masses. She, like her great-aunt St. Elizabeth, was very devoted to the Holy Spirit.
In 1281, she was contracted to marry Prince Diniz of Portugal. Seven years would elapse before their wedding was celebrated. Dinis became King in 1325 and Isabel, his queen consort. They had two children, Afonso, later King Afonso IV of Portugal and Constancia, the future wife of King Ferdinand IV of Castile (Spain).
Isabel pursed her regular devotions, as in her youth, while doing her best to win her husband’s affections by gentleness and extraordinary forbearance. She was devoted to the sick and poor and even pressed her court ladies into service. She was known to save food from her own table to give to the hungry. On one occasion, she filled her apron with bread and attempted to leave the castle without her husband’s knowledge to carry out her mission. King Diniz frowned on her charity as he felt it put her at risk. Unfortunately, she crossed paths with him, and in doing so, he demanded her to reveal the contents of her apron. She claimed that she was carrying roses, which were not in season at that time. But without further protest, Isabel revealed the contents of her apron to the King and roses tumbled to the ground.
When Portugal was in the grips of a famine, Isabel prayed to the Holy Spirit that Portugal would be spared from it. Soon after, ships arrived in the port of Lisbon and their cargos relieved the country from certain disaster. Isabel then summoned the citizenry of the country, both rich and poor, and they gathered in the royal chapel to celebrate Mass. When the “Veni Creator Spiritus” was chanted, Isabel chose a poor peasant from the crowd. As an act of humility, she had the bishop place the royal scepter in the peasant’s hands and the royal crown on the peasant’s head. At the end of Mass, all were served a meal of bread, gravy and meat called “Sopas de Carne”.
Isabel died in the Castle of Estremoz, Portugal, on July 4th, 1336, and is interred in the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Nova, Coimbra, Portugal. Pope Urban VIII canonized Saint Queen Isabel on May 25, 1625, and the canonization celebrations included a Holy Spirit festival. Today, her feast day is celebrated each year on July 8th.