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Margaret Clitherow- a brave 16th century saint

( Saints and Martyrs of England)

November 8th

The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales are a group of Christian martyrs who were canonized on 25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI to represent the Catholics martyred in England and Wales between 1535 and 1679, years of great turmoil and change in the church in England.

One of the 50 was a woman named Margaret Clitherow. Let me tell you a little bit about her this morning.

She was born  Margaret Middleton in 1556 in York –  the daughter of a  protestant wax-chandler Thomas Middleton – this being in the time  after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church

She married a butcher John Clitherow in 1571 ( aged only 15 years) and bore him two children. When she was 18 years old in 1574 she converted to Roman Catholicism.

She then befriended many of the persecuted Catholics in the north of England. Her son, Henry, went to Reims to train as a catholic priest  and she regularly held masses in her home in the Shambles in York

There was a secret tunnel between her house and the house next door, so that a priest could escape if there was a raid. A house once thought to have been her home, now called the Shrine of the Saint Margaret Clitherow, is open to the public in York and  her actual house (10, the Shambles) is further down the street.

In 1586, she was arrested and called before the York assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead to the case so as to prevent a trial that would entail her children being asked to testify, and she was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for refusal to plead. On Good Friday of 1586, she was laid out upon a sharp rock, and a door was put on top of her and loaded with immense weight. Death occurred within fifteen minutes.

She was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI along with other martyrs from England and Wales. The group of candidates canonized at that time is commonly called “The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales“. Her feast day in the current Roman Catholic calendar is March 26.

She was a  woman with an extraordinary faith and determination to stand up for what she believed. A woman of great  devotion and piety for whom prayer and spiritual discipline was the backbone of her life. A woman who wouldn’t compromise what she believed to keep her own life. A family person who wanted the best for her children and beyond the family circle, cared deeply about fellow catholics who were being persecuted.

I take from her story a profound gratitude that we live in an age where brutal  religious intolerance such as was to be found at the time of the English Reformation does not exist in this country. Having said that, and without going down this road of comment now, it maybe raises issues for how we all regard people of other Christian denominations and faiths. How tolerant are we – how tolerant should we be of other faiths at a time when there is much inter-faith tension around.

We  can take from her life  and that of those who have been persecuted for their faith, thankfulness that we can worship openly and without fear of reprisals. And remember those across the world for whom that is not possible.

When we are travelling through difficult times which may be hard to bear, may Margaret’s simple prayer “ Jesu, have mercy on me” be our prayer too.

November 10, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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