Saint of the Day – 16 November – St Margaret of Scotland (1045-1093) Queen consort of Scotland – born in c 1045 in Hungary and died on 16 November 1093 at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, four days after her husband and son died in defense of the castle. Patronages – Scotland, Dunfermline, Fife, Shetland, The Queen’s Ferry, queens, widows, against the death of children and Anglo-Scottish relations. St Margaret was the mother of three kings of Scotland, or four, if Edmund of Scotland, who ruled with his uncle, Donald III, is counted and of a queen consort of England. According to the Vita S. Margaritae (Scotorum) Reginae (Life of St Margaret, Queen (of the Scots), attributed to Turgot of Durham, she died at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1093, merely days after receiving the news of her husband’s death in battle.
Saint Margaret’s name signifies “pearl” “a fitting name,” says Bishop Turgot, her confessor and her first biographer, “for one such as she.” Her soul was like a precious pearl. A life spent amidst the luxury of a royal court never dimmed its lustre, or stole it away from him who had bought it with his blood. She was the grand-daughter of an English king and in 1070 she became the bride of Malcolm and reigned Queen of Scotland till her death in 1093.
How did she become a Saint in a position where sanctity is so difficult?
Margaret’s biographer Turgot of Durham, Bishop of St Andrew’s, credits her with having a civilising influence on her husband Malcolm by reading him narratives from the Bible. She instigated religious reform, striving to conform the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland to those of Rome. This she did on the inspiration and with the guidance of Lanfranc, a future Archbishop of Canterbury. She also worked to conform the practices of the Scottish Church to those of the continental Church, which she experienced in her childhood. Due to these achievements, she was considered an exemplar of the “just ruler” and moreover influenced her husband and children, especially her youngest son, the future King David I of Scotland, to be just and holy rulers.
“The chroniclers all agree in depicting Queen Margaret as a strong, pure, noble character, who had very great influence over her husband and through him over Scottish history, especially in its ecclesiastical aspects. Her religion, which was genuine and intense, was of the newest Roman style and to her are attributed a number of reforms by which the Church [in] Scotland was considerably modified from the insular and primitive type which down to her time it had exhibited. Among those expressly mentioned are a change in the manner of observing Lent, which thenceforward began as elsewhere on Ash Wednesday and not as previously on the following Monday and the abolition of the old practice of observing Saturday (Sabbath), not Sunday, as the day of rest from labour (see Skene’s Celtic Scotland, book ii chap. 8).” The later editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, however, as an example, the Eleventh Edition, remove Skene’s opinion that Scottish Catholics formerly rested from work on Saturday, something for which there is no historical evidence. Skene’s Celtic Scotland, vol. ii, chap. 8, pp. 348–350, quotes from a contemporary document regarding Margaret’s life but his source says nothing at all of Saturday Sabbath observance but rather says St Margaret exhorted the Scots to cease their tendency “to neglect the due observance of the Lord’s day.”
She attended to charitable works, serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate and washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She rose at midnight every night to attend the liturgy. She successfully invited the Benedictine Order to establish a monastery in Dunfermline, Fife in 1072 and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims journeying from south of the Firth of Forth to St Andrew’s in Fife. She used a cave on the banks of the Tower Burn in Dunfermline as a place of devotion and prayer. St Margaret’s Cave, now covered beneath a municipal car park, is open to the public. Among other deeds, Margaret also instigated the restoration of Iona Abbey in Scotland. She is also known to have interceded for the release of fellow English exiles who had been forced into serfdom by the Norman conquest of England.
Margaret was as pious privately, as she was publicly. She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading and ecclesiastical embroidery. This apparently had considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm, who was illiterate – he so admired her piety that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. One of these, a pocket gospel book with portraits of the Evangelists, is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.
Malcolm was apparently largely ignorant of the long-term effects of Margaret’s endeavours. He was content for her to pursue her reforms as she desired, which was a testament to the strength of and affection in their marriage.
St Margaret did not neglect her duties in the world because she was not of it. Never was a better mother. She spared no pains in the education of her eight children, 6 sons and 2 daughters and their sanctity was the fruit of her prudence and her zeal. Never was a better queen. She was the most trusted counsellor of her husband and she laboured for the material improvement of the country.
Her husband Malcolm III, and their eldest son Edward, were killed in the Battle of Alnwick against the English on 13 November 1093. Her son Edgar was left with the task of informing his mother of their deaths. Not yet 50 years old, Margaret died on 16 November 1093, three days after the deaths of her husband and eldest son. The cause of death was reportedly grief. After receiving Holy Viaticum, she was repeating the prayer from the Missal, “O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy death didst give life to the world, deliver me.” At the words “deliver me,” says her biographer, she took her departure to Christ, the Author of true liberty.
She was buried before the high altar in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, Scotland. In 1250, the year of her Canonisation, by Pope Innocent IV, her body and that of her husband were exhumed and placed in a new shrine in the Abbey. Her relics were dispersed after the Scottish Reformation and subsequently lost. Mary, Queen of Scots, at one time owned her head, which was subsequently preserved by Jesuits in the Scottish College, Douai, France, from where it was lost during the French Revolution.