Saint of the Day – 30 December – Blessed Margherita Colonna (c 1255-1284) Virgin, Nun, Mystic, Apostle of the poor. Born in c 1255 at Palestrina, Rome, Italy and died on 30 December 1284 at Castel San Pietro, Rome, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Margaret, Margherita, Marguerite.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Palestrina in Lazio, Blessed Margherita Colonna, Virgin, who preferred poverty for Christ to the riches and pleasures of the world, which she served by professing the Rule of St Clare.”
Margherita was a member of the Italian Colonna family, which was notable in Italian history for centuries. She was born in Palestrina in 1255, daughter of Oddone Colonna and Mabilia Orsini who had two other children – Giovanni and Giacomo. In 1212, Giacomo became Cardinal of St Prassede and Legate of the Pontiff during the Fifth Crusade. It was he who brought the Column to Rome from the East, which, according to tradition, was used for the flagellation of Christ and which, even today, is preserved in the Roman Basilica which was his seat.
The years in which Margherita lived, were complicated and tumultuous for the Church: from 1268 to 1271, the Papal seat remained vacant, for the longest period in history. The Pope had not resided in Rome for twenty years. Long conclaves were followed by short Pontificates – the power of the Pontiff was fundamental eroded in the balance of the antagonism between France (Charles of Anjou occupied many regions of Italy) and the German Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Margherita and the two brothers were soon orphaned. Destined for a prestigious wedding, important for noble alliances in her day, Margherita, in her heart, however, only wanted to be the virginal bride of Jesus. On 6 March 1273, with two pious housewives, she retired to Castel San Pietro, on the mountain overlooking Palestrina, at the Church of St Maria della Costa, to follow her vocation. In the wake of the Franciscan movement, their ideal of life fascinated a multitude of people from all walks of life. Margherita put on the rough habit, under which she put a sackcloth. She began fasting and penance, praying that her wish would come true: – to become a Poor Clare Nun.
She lived there for a few years in retreat. Her life as an anchorite was a scandal for the powerful Colonna family. However, the comfort came from her brother Giacomo, who, although very young, was already a Cardinal (from 1278) at the behest of Pope Nicholas III, while Giovanni was a Senator of Rome. Giacomo sincerely loved Christ as did his sister, so he took Margherita to Rome and together they prayed at the Tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Then a new life began for Margherita. The substantial inheritance no longer belonged to her, it belonged to the poor who are never lacking on the path of the Saints. Her shining example aroused interest, especially from other women eager to spend their lives like her in the service of Jesus.
Margherita asked the General of the Friars Minor Girolamo Masci (future Pope Nicholas IV) for permission to enter the Monastery of Assisi. However, an illness prevented her from doing so. The Lord’s plans were different. She then thought of the Convent of Mentola (between Palestrina and Tivoli) where an image of the Holy Virgin, to which she was very devoted, a place also visited by St Francis. However, it was a fiefdom of the Count of Poli who did not want a Colonna in his territories. Margherita returned home and, with the help of her brother, the Cardinal, founded a Monastery on the nearby mountain, where the Lord was praised night and day.
Margherita took care of the formation of her companions but her charity went further, to the sick and the poor of the neighbouring region. Tradition says ,that once Jesus and the St John the Baptist came to her table, when she fed the poor but then disappeared when Margaret recognised them.
Having exhausted her substantial personal patrimony, she, who was born very rich, reached out to ask for alms and thus be able to continue her works of mercy for the suffering and hungry. She is also remembered for assisting the Friars Minor of the nearby Zagarolo Convent.
Margherita’s union with Christ became more and more intense: she was visibly comforted by Jesus, the Madonna and the Holy Father Francis. She fell into ecstasy several times and for seven years, she patiently endured an ulcerative wound on her side, carried like a stigmata of the Passion of Jesus.
Not even thirty years old, Margherita’s death was precious in the eyes of the Lord. She died, due to violent fevers, on 30 December 1284. Immediately her Tomb became a pilgrimage destination and the devotees, through her intercession, obtained many graces. In 1285, the community of Poor Clares moved to Rome, by the authorisation of Pope Honorius, taking with them, the venerated body of the Blessed (it remained there until 1871).
Margherita’s first biographer was her brother, the Cardinal and the second was the first Abbess of the St Sylvester Monastery in Rome, where her sisters had moved.
On 17 September1847, the Blessed Pope Pius IX confirmed the “ab immemorabili” cult and the liturgical memorial. Today the relics of Blessed Margherita are venerated in the Church of Castel San Pietro, not far from Palestrina. Here the seed she sowed over seven centuries ago, is still alive today through the Poor Clares of the Monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
O God, You have made
the Blessed Virgin Margaret
admirable in the contempt of earthly goods,
ardent with love for You,
grant us, through her intercession,
that we may be continuously united to You,
as we carry our cross.
Pour upon us, O Lord,
the spirit of holiness
that You have given
to Blessed Margherita Colonna,
so that we can know the love of Christ,
which surpasses all knowledge
and enjoy the fullness of eternal life.
With Christ our Lord
and the Holy Ghost.