20 Jul Saint Margaret, Virgin, Martyr
Today is the feast day of Saint Margaret. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Margaret (also called Marina) was born in Antioch (modern day Turkey) near the end of the third century. She died about the year 275, others say about 304. Father Weninger, in his sermon below, places her death about 175. She was about 15 when she was beheaded. The Greek Church honors her under the name Marina on 13 July; the Latin, as Margaret on 20 July. Her Acts place her death in the persecution of Diocletian (A.D. 303-5), but in fact even the century to which she belonged is uncertain. St. Margaret is represented in art sometimes as a shepherdess, or as leading a chained dragon, again carrying a little cross or a girdle in her hand, or standing by a large vessel which recalls the cauldron into which she was plunged. Relics said to belong to the saint are venerated in very many parts of Europe; at Rome, Montefiascone, Brusels, Bruges, Paris, Froidmont, Troyes, and various other places.
St. Margaret, Virgin and Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Margaret, a chaste virgin and glorious Martyr of our Lord Jesus Christ, was born at Antioch, in Pisidia. Her parents were rich and noble, but heathens, and her mother died while she was still an infant. Hence her father, whose name was Edesius, gave her to a nurse who lived in a neighboring village. This nurse was a Christian, and she endeavored to bring up Margaret with love for the Christian faith. God decreed that Edesius should leave his daughter for several years with her nurse, who having thus time and opportunity, instructed her in the doctrines of the true faith, and early awakened in her heart the desire to give her life for Christ’s sake, by relating to her the tortures that so many Christians had suffered, for the love they bore to their Saviour. When Margaret had come to the age of discretion, she not only desired to be baptized, but soon afterwards consecrated her virginity to the Almighty, desiring nothing more ardently than to be numbered among the martyrs.
Margaret’s father was greatly incensed when he was informed that she had embraced the Christian faith, but he concealed his wrath, and taking his daughter home, he endeavored by alternate promises and terrible menaces, to induce her to forsake Christ. When he found that all was useless, he took other means, which he believed would be efficacious. He told her that henceforth he would no longer regard her as his daughter, but as his servant and slave. He commanded her to lay aside the garments she had worn until now and to put on old ragged clothes; after which he turned her out of the house, and ordered her into the fields to guard the herd. Edesius supposed that this would be harder for her to bear than tortures, and that it could not fail to produce a change in her mind. But he had deceived himself. Margaret, who had well taken to heart that Christ, for our sake, had so deeply lowered Himself, as to hide His dignity in human form, rejoiced in being humiliated for His sake, and discharged her duties most faithfully. She guarded the herd with untiring patience, although she suffered greatly from the inclemency of the weather, and complained not of the miserable food that was given her. Her only consolation was that she could occupy her time in prayer and singing the praises of God.
Olibrius, Prefect of Pisidia, passed, one day, while travelling, near the place where Margaret was watching the herd. Addressing her, he asked her name, where she was born and who were her parents, all of which questions Margaret answered with so much decorum and modesty, that Olibrius became deeply interested in her. As Margaret, in the course of the conversation, had also told him that she was a Christian, he made this a pretext to have her brought to him at Antioch. Speaking most kindly to her, he warned her to forsake Christianity, saying that she was born to something better than to guard the herd, and that he would make her his wife, and one of the greatest ladies of the city, if she would consent to his wishes. Margaret declared fearlessly that she would neither leave Christ, nor take as spouse a human being, as she was united with a much greater Lord. So unexpected an answer transformed Olibrius’ love into such wild rage, that he immediately gave orders to tear off her clothes, and stretch her on the ground; after which she was so barbarously whipped that the ground was covered with her blood, so that those witnessing the scene were overcome with pity. The Christian heroine, during this torture, kept her eyes fixed on heaven, and showed no sign of pain; nay, when her executioners were tired, she appeared still willing to suffer more out of love to Christ. Observing this, Olibrius became so infuriated that he had her hands and feet bound and her whole body torn with iron combs and pierced with sharply pointed nails until he himself could no longer look at his victim, but ordered that she should be cast into a dungeon. Here the Virgin, her whole body mangled, gave thanks to God for having sustained her in her first terrible struggle, and humbly prayed that He would further help her with His grace. Heaven permitted that the Evil One, called in Holy Writ a serpent, appeared to her in this form, threatening to devour her; but as she had conquered the tyrant, so she conquered also the hellish serpent. Opposing him with the sign of the holy Cross, she banished him; and when he appeared a second time, she again made the same holy sign, and Satan had to confess that he possessed no longer power to harm her.
After this twofold glorious victory, God sent an Angel who immediately healed her wounds, and encouraged her to further conflicts, with the promise that Divine assistance would be given to her. The following morning, Olibrius again called the fearless heroine into his presence, and repeated his promises and threats of the day before, but without any success. When he ascribed the healing of her wounds to his idols, the holy virgin refuted it with incontestable proofs, repeating that she would rather die a thousand deaths than forsake her faith. The tyrant seeing her firmness, again ordered her clothes to be torn from her, after which, having tied her hands and feet, they burned her breast and sides with torches, and to make the suffering still more intolerable, they threw her into cold water, after her whole body had thus been cruelly tortured. But never had Margaret been more cheerful than during this terrible martyrdom, at the time of which, a voice from heaven was heard, saying: ” Come, thou Spouse of Christ, enter the dwelling of the Saints, and receive the crown of eternal glory!” All present heard these words, and as the earth trembled under their feet, an indescribable fear seized them. Many openly confessed themselves Christians, and Olibrius fearing a revolt, commanded that Margaret should immediately be beheaded. The executioner showed timidity in obeying the prefect’s words, but Margaret herself encouraged him to obey, and thus ended by the sword her chaste and holy life, in the year of our Lord, 175. (1)
Saint Margaret’s body was buried at Antioch, but her remains were taken translated to Italy where they were divided between shrines in Montefiascone and Venice. She remains a popular saint today throughout Europe, with a common belief that those who read and spread her story will receive an eternal crown in heaven. She is also invoked frequently by women during childbirth, whom she promised to pray for following her encounter with Satan. (6)
Image: Museum of Mining and Gothic art in Leogang ( Salzburg state ). Gothic collections: Altarpainting of Saint Margarete ( 1480s ) from Southern Tyrol.(4)
Research by REGINA Staff