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Saint Margaret of Clitherow

Saint Margaret of Clitherow
  • Century: 16th Century
  • Patronage: Business Women, Converts, Martyrs, Catholic Women’s League
  • Feast Day: March 26th

St. Margaret of Clitherow was born as Margaret Middleton, and was the daughter of a wax craftsman, after Henry VIII of England split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.  She married John Clitherow, a butcher at the age of 15, and they had three children.  She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18.  He husband was supportive of her conversion, since he had a brother that was a Priest, although he remained Protestant.   Her decision aligned her with the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England.  Her son Henry went to Reims and became a Priest, and she regularly held Masses in her home in the Shambles in York.  They cut holes in the attic of her house and the adjoining house, to enable a Priest to escape in the event of a raid.  

In 1586, she was arrested and called before the York, charged with the crime of harboring a Roman Catholic Priest.  She refused to plead to the case so as to prevent a trial that would involve her children having to testify, so she was immediately subjected to torture.  She was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for the refusal to plead.  She was executed on Good Friday, 1586 at the age of thirty.  The two sergeants who were assigned to kill her, could not, and hired four desperate beggars to kill her.  She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face, then laid out upon a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, a door was put on top of her and slowly loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones.  Her death occurred in fifteen minutes, but she was left as an example for six hours before the weight was removed from her corpse.  After her death, her hand was removed and the relic is now housed in the Chapel of the Bar Convent, York.  After her execution, Queen Elizabeth I, wrote to the citizens of York to say that she should never have been executed due to her being a woman.  

A plaque was installed at the end of the Ouse Bridge in 2008, to mark the site of her martyrdom.  She was beatified in 1929, by Pope Pius XI and canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI along with martyrs from England and Wales.  This group of candidates that were canonized are commonly called, “The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales”.  A number of schools in England are named after her, as well as St. Margaret of York Church and School in Cincinnati, Ohio.  

Practical Take Away

St. Margaret of Clitherow was married at the age of fifteen and had three children.  She was a Protestant that converted to Catholicism.  This was about the same time that King Henry VIII had separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.  She knew that she would be persecuted if discovered.  She had a son that became a Priest and she covertly held Mass in her house daily. She was caught and executed, in a gruesome manner.  Her life reminds us just how precious our faith is, and how we have to guard it, protect it, at all times.  She laid down her life to spare those around her of having to testify.