Saint of the Day – 25 March – Saint Margaret Clitherow (1556-1586) “The Pearl of York”Martyr, Married Laywoman and Mother of 3. Her 2 sons became Priests and her daughter a Nun. She was Beatified on 15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI and Canonised with the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Born in 1556 at York, England as Margaret Middleton and died by being crushed to death, on Good Friday, 25 March 1586 at their home, No 10-11 The Shambles,York. Also known as – Margaret Clitheroe, Margaret Middleton, Margarita, Margherita, Marguerite. “The Pearl of York.” Patronages – the Catholic Women’s League, business-women, converts, Martyrs, Co-Patron of the English Latin Mass Society which organises an annual pilgrimage to her Shrine in York . Additional Memorial – 4 May with the 40 Martyrs.
Margaret was born in 1556, one of five children of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a respected businessman, a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York, who died when Margaret was fourteen years old.
In 1571, she married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the City and bore him three children. The family lived at today’s renowned tourist destination, “The Shambles” – their home was Nos 35–36, which is now St Margaret’s Shrine..
Margaret converted to Catholicism in 1574. Although her husband, John belonged to the Established Church, he was supportive of his wife and of his brother William, who was a Catholic Priest. He paid the fines Margaret received for not attending the heretical church services. She was first imprisoned in 1577 for failing to attend and two further incarcerations at York Castle followed. Her third child, William, was born in prison!
Margaret risked her life by harbouring and maintaining Priests which was made a capital offence. She provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and, with her house under surveillance, she rented a house some distance away, where she kept Priests hidden and Mass was celebrated throughout the time of the most violent and virulent persecution. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive Priests in the north of England. Local tradition holds that she also housed her clerical guests in The Black Swan at Peasholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were also lodged!
She sent her older son, Henry, to the English College, relocated to Rheims, to train for the Priesthood. Her husband was summoned by the authorities to explain why his oldest son had gone abroad and in March 1586, the Clitherow house was searched. A frightened boy revealed the location of the Priest hole.
Margaret was arrested and called before the York Assizes for the crime of harbouring Catholic Priests. She refused to plead, thereby preventing a trial that would entail her three children being made to testify and being subjected to torture. She was sentenced to death. Although pregnant with her fourth child, she was executed on Lady Day, 1586, (which also happened to be Good Friday that year) in the Toll Booth at Ouse Bridge, by being crushed to death by her own door, the standard inducement to force a plea. Upon hearing the sentence, Margaret exclaimed – “God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this.”
Before her execution, Margaret was asked to confess her crimes. Instead she confessed, Our Lord Jesus Christ by saying: “I die for the love of my Lord Jesu.” The two Sergeants who should have carried out the execution hired four desperate beggars to do it instead. She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face, then laid across a sharp rock the size of a man’s fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones, so that the sharp rock would break her back. Her death occurred within fifteen minutes but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed.
A relic, of her hand, is housed in the Bar Convent in York.
St Margaret’s Shrine is at 35–36 The Shambles. John Clitherow had his butcher’s shop at No 35. My family and I have been able to visit this Shrine a few times, taking some of our visitors to venerate St Margaret.
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