Elizabeth of Schönau

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Saint Elisabeth of Schönau
Born c.1129
Died June 18, 1164
Schönau Abbey, Strüth, Germany
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
Canonized Not canonized
Feast June 18

Elizabeth of Schönau (1126 – 18 June 1165) was a German Benedictine visionary. When her writings were published, the title of "Saint" was added to her name. She was never canonized, but in 1584 her name was entered in the Roman Martyrology and has remained there. Her feast day is June 18.


Altar of St. Elizabeth of Schönau (with the reliquary in which Elizabeth's skull is kept) in the monastery church of St. Florin, Kloster Schönau im Taunus

Elizabeth was born about 1129, of an obscure family named Hartwig.[1] and She was educated at the double monastery of Schönau in Nassau and made her profession as a Benedictine in 1147. In 1157 she became abbess of the nuns under the supervision of Abbot Hildelin.[2] F.W.E. Roth points out that in the 12th century only women of noble birth were promoted to spiritual offices in the Benedictine order; it seems probable that Elizabeth was of noble birth.[1]

Her hagiography describes her as given to works of piety from her youth, much afflicted with bodily and mental suffering, a zealous observer of the Rule of Saint Benedict and of the regulation of her convent, and devoted to practices of mortification.[2] In the years 1147 to 1152 Elizabeth suffered recurrent disease, anxiety and depression as a result of her strict asceticism. St. Hildegard of Bingen admonished Elizabeth in letters to be prudent in the ascetic life.

In 1152, Elizabeth began to experience ecstatic visions of various kinds. These generally occurred on Sundays and Holy Days at Mass or Divine Office or after hearing or reading the lives of saints. She reported that Christ, the Virgin Mary, an angel, or the special saint of the day would appear to her and instruct her; or she would see quite realistic representations of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, or other scenes of the Old and New Testaments.[2]

She died on June 18, 1164[1] and was buried in the abbey church of St. Florin.


What Elizabeth saw and heard she put down on wax tablets. Her abbot, Hildelin, told her to relate these things to her brother Egbert (or Eckebert), then a priest at the church of Bonn, who acted as an editor. At first she hesitated fearing lest she be deceived or be looked upon as a deceiver; but she obeyed. Egbert (who became a monk of Schönau in 1155 and eventually succeeded Hildelin as second abbot) put everything in writing, later arranged the material at leisure, and then published all under his sister's name. The events in the first book probably took place before Hildelin intervened and told her to write these things down, while the things in the later books may have been after this point in time and occurred when Elizabeth had already begun writing.[3]

Thus came into existence three books of "Visions". Of these the first is written in language very simple and in unaffected style. The other two are more elaborate and replete with theological terminology.

  • "Liber viarum Dei". This seems to be an imitation of the Scivias (scire vias Domini) of St. Hildegarde of Bingen, her friend and correspondent. It contains admonitions to all classes of society, to the clergy and laity, to the married and unmarried. Here the influence of Egbert is plain. She utters prophetic threats of judgment against priests who are unfaithful shepherds of the flock of Christ, against the avarice and worldliness of the monks who only wear the garb of poverty and self-denial, against the vices of the laity, and against bishops and superiors delinquent in their duty; she urges all to combat earnestly the heresy of the Cathari; she declares Victor IV, the antipope supported by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I against Pope Alexander III, as the one chosen of God. All of this appears in Egbert's own writings.
  • The revelation on the martyrdom of St. Ursula and her companions. This is full of fantastic exaggerations and anachronisms, but has become the foundation of the subsequent Ursula legends.

The first diary opens with an account of the devil appearing to her in various forms to torment her. She wrote down many supposed conversations between herself and the saints, Mary, her guardian angel and occasionally God Himself.

On one occasion of religious frustration and fear, she wrote down an experience she supposedly had at a mass on a Saturday when the Blessed Virgin was being celebrated, when she saw in the heavens "an image of a regal woman, standing on high, clothed in white vestments and wrapped with a purple mantle".[4] The lady then eventually came closer to Elizabeth and blessed her with the sign of the cross, and reassured her that she would not be harmed by the things she had been frightened of. After receiving communion at the mass, she then went into an ecstatic trance and had another vision, declaring "I saw my Lady standing beside the altar, in a garment like a priestly chasuble and she had on her head a glorious crown".[5] In her third text, she has Mary acting as an intercessor to hold back the anger of her Son from punishing the world in His anger for sin.[6]

Her works are found in the 195th volume of the Patrologia Latina.


Because the population soon venerated Elizabeth as a saint, her bones were reburied between 1420 to 1430 in a special chapel. This chapel was destroyed in the great fire of the Schönau Abbey in 1723 and not rebuilt.

During the Thirty Years War Swedish and Hessian soldiers attacked Schönau Monastery. The Swedes expelled the monks, plundered the monastery, broke into the grave of Elizabeth, and scattered her bones. Only the skull was saved. It is now preserved in a reliquary on the right side of the altar of the church.

The parish of St. Florin Schönau Monastery annually celebrates the traditional Elisabethen-Fest on the Sunday after June 18.


There is a great diversity of opinion in regard to her revelations. The Church has never passed sentence upon them nor even examined them. Elizabeth herself was convinced of their supernatural character, as she states in a letter to Hildegard; her brother held the same opinion. Trithemius considers them genuine; Eusebius Amort (De revelationibus visionibus et apparitionibus privatis regulae tutae, etc., Augsburg, 1744) holds them to be nothing more than what Elizabeth's own imagination could produce, or illusions of the devil, since in some things they disagree with history and with other revelations (Acta Sanctorum, October, IX, 81).


  • Complete edition of her writings, in Latin, by Ferdinand Wilhelm Emil Roth (Brunn, 1884).
  • In English, her writings are available as Elisabeth of Schönau: the complete works, translated and introduced by Anne L. Clark; preface by Barbara Newman, (New York: Paulist Press, 2000)
  • The German translation is: Peter Dinzelbacher, Die Werke der Heiligen Elisabeth von Schönau, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2006, 188 pages, ISBN 3-506-72937-3
  • Translations have been published in Italian (Venice, 1859), French (Tournai, 1864), and in Icelandic (1226–1254).


  1. ^ a b c Roth, F.W.E., "St. Elizabeth von Schonau and her Visions", American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. 36, No. 143, 1911
  2. ^ a b c Mershman, Francis. "St. Elizabeth of Schönau." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 29 Jan. 2014
  3. ^ Anne L. Clark. The Priesthood of the Virgin Mary: Gender Trouble in the Twelfth Century. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 2002
  4. ^ Anne L. Clark. The Priesthood of the Virgin Mary: Gender Trouble in the Twelfth Century. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 2002
  5. ^ Anne L. Clark. The Priesthood of the Virgin Mary: Gender Trouble in the Twelfth Century. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 2002
  6. ^ Anne L. Clark. The Priesthood of the Virgin Mary: Gender Trouble in the Twelfth Century. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 2002


  • Butler, Lives of the Saints
  • Streber in Kirchenlex., s.v.
  • Hauck, Kirchengesch. Deutsche., IV, 244 sqq.
  • Wilhelm Preger, Geschichte der deutschen Mystik im Mittelalter (1874–93), 1, 37
  • Acta Sanctorum, June, IV, 499
  • Roth, Das Gebetbuch der Elisabeth von Schönau (1886)
  • Franz Xaver Kraus: Elisabeth, die Heilige, von Schönau. In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 6, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1877, S. 46 f.
  • Kurt Köster: Elisabeth von Schönau. In: Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). Volume 4, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1959, S. 452 f.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz (1975). "Elisabeth von Schönau". In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 1. Hamm: Bautz. cols. 1497–1498. ISBN 3-88309-013-1. 
  • Peter Dinzelbacher: Mittelalterliche Frauenmystik. Schöningh, Paderborn 1993.
  • Joachim Kemper: Das benediktinische Doppelkloster Schönau und die Visionen der hl. Elisabeth von Schönau, in: Archiv für mittelrheinische Kirchengeschichte 54/2002 S. 55-102

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.