In the Gospel of Matthew, a rich man asks Jesus how he can enter the kingdom of heaven. Disappointed in Jesus’ answer, he turns away in sorrow, instead desiring to hold onto his great wealth. Later in the chapter, Jesus reiterates the difficult path that the rich face in entering Christ’s kingdom:
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.'”Matthew 19:23-24
Many scholars have debated what is exactly meant by “eye of the needle,” however all agree that it references an exceedingly difficult task. So the rich will have a hard time entering heaven – does this mean it’s impossible? Fortunately this is not so, as there have been many saints that have come from the upper crust of society, even royalty.
In this article we will explore the lives of three saints who had royal blood. Each exemplified virtues that led them down the narrow path toward Christ’s kingdom.
Saint Casimir of Poland and Lithuania
Casimir Jagiellon, son of King Casimir IV, was the prince of Poland and Lithuania from 1458 to 1484. Contemporary accounts of the period report that Prince Casimir was a young man of exceptional intellect, humility, and politeness who strived for justice for his subjects and showed a particular generosity towards the sick and poor. Casimir was also exceptionally pious. He often spent hours in prayer kneeling before the church gates, waiting for a priest to open them. One author describes a hexameter verse on Christ’s incarnation that was composed by Casimir, though this prayer has not survived the ages. The prince’s religious interests were eventually cut short due to an illness, which some scholars speculate he acquired during one of his extreme fasts or hours spent in the cold praying. At 25 years old, the illness that affected his lungs (thought to be tuberculosis) ended his life prematurely.
However, Casimir’s legacy failed to die with him, as he is credited with several miraculous appearances after his death. Most famously, he appeared to the Lithuanian army in 1518 as the city of Polotsk was besieged by the grand Duchy of Moscow. Casimir’s apparition showed the army how to cross the Daugava River and relieve the city. According to the legend, a young man appeared to the Lithuanians on horseback, robed in white. He rode into the river, showing the army where to cross. Once on the other side, he disappeared. Many soldiers identified the horseman as the late Prince Casimir, brother of the Grand Duke Sigismund I. Once across, the Lithuanians set fire to haystacks that disoriented the Russian army. The Lithuanians were then able to drive back and defeat the Russian forces, winning the day.
In 1521, Pope Leo X led a commission to investigate Casimir’s canonization, and eventually the prince was declared a saint. Casimir’s example shows us that even short lives can have lasting impacts on the world when lived for the service of others. Though Casimir was born to the upper rungs of society, his dedication to serving the least of his subjects earned him a place among the saints.
Saint Louis IX of France
In 1226 Louis ascended to the throne of France at the age of twelve and enjoyed a long and eventful reign until 1270. The king was well-loved not only in his own kingdom, but throughout all of Europe and was sometimes asked to arbitrate between rival states. His reign is often considered a “golden age” for the Kingdom of France during the medieval period as he helped to usher in many important legal changes such as an appeal system, the presumption of innocence, and the banning of trials by ordeal.
Many admirers of Louis have regarded him as an ideal Christian ruler. He was a skilled knight and a gregarious politician while adhering strictly to his faith. He often wore a hair shirt (a form of asceticism at the time) and visited the sick. He also was an avid collector of religious relics and helped to construct the stunning gothic chapel Sainte-Chapelle, where shards of the True Cross and Crown of Thorns were said to be housed.
Louis is perhaps most famous for his involvement in the Seventh and Eighth Crusades. In 1249, Louis led a crusader army onto the shores of Egypt and captured the port fortress of Damietta. The victory was short lived however, as the crusaders quickly became entrapped after attempting to chase the Muslim army up the Nile River. They were subsequently defeated and Louis was taken captive. He was eventually released for an enormous ransom and a return of Damietta to the Egyptians, which left his crusade fruitless. Despite minimal material gains to show for the crusade, many still admired Louis for his courageous leadership during the odyssey.
The Eighth crusade proved to be no less disastrous for Louis. In 1267 he joined his three sons on an expedition to capture the city of Tunis. While encamped at Carthage, disease broke out among the crusaders and the aged king fell victim, ending his 44-year reign.
Louis was canonized in 1297. His life proves that a saintly life can also be adventurous, and one need not lock oneself away resigned strictly to prayer and fasting (though those are certainly encouraged). Louis IX kept his humility despite the authority bestowed upon him, a responsibility few are able to bear.
On a somewhat related note: During my research I came across this epic crusader anthem, “Le Roi Louis,” written in honor of Louis’s leadership during the Seventh Crusade. I thought it exemplified the loyalty that Louis’s followers had toward the king and how he was viewed as a defender of Christendom. Check out below:
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary
Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and hailed from a long line of noble blood. At the age of 14, the princess was married to Louis IV of Thuringia, cementing a political alliance between Hungary and the German state. Throughout this marriage Elizabeth’s love of charity was fostered as she began to follow the ideals of Francis of Assisi. Her husband Louis actively encouraged her devotion to the poor. Unfortunately, their marriage ended quickly in 1227 when Louis died of fever on his way to join the Sixth Crusade. Shortly afterward, Elizabeth took a vow of celibacy which hindered her family’s political ambition. Despite intense pressure by family members to marry again, Elizabeth stuck by her vow, even threatening to cut off her nose in order to appear less attractive to potential suitors. After her husband’s death Elizabeth managed to recover her dowry and used the money to build a hospital. Here she personally tended the sick until her death at the age of 24.
Elizabeth has several miracles attributed to her, most notably the Miracle of the Roses. As the legend goes, Elizabeth met her husband with his hunting party by chance while taking bread to the poor in secret. Louis asked Elizabeth to reveal what she was hiding in her cloak, and as she unraveled her cloak a miraculous vision of red and white roses appeared to Louis. He took this as a sign that she was doing God’s work.
Elizabeth also had many miracles attributed to her after her death. Miracles of healing at the hospital she founded were widely reported and these contributed to her canonization in 1235 by Pope Gregory IX.
Today she is known as the patron saint of hospitals and nurses. Her life exemplifies complete abandonment to God’s will and fortitude in the face of opposition.
Learning from the Greats
Casimir, Louis, and Elizabeth teach us that those with great wealth can obtain heaven, but only if that wealth is used for God’s purposes and not our own human desires. These saints recognized that God was the source of all material goods, thus those goods should be directed toward Him. Let us learn from their example and direct the material blessings we have received toward His will.