A VALIANT WOMAN
Saint Margaret Clitherow, English Martyr, Recusant Catholic, Elizabethan, Mother, Saint.
Margaret Middleton married John Clitherow, butcher and grazier, a freeman of the city of York, in 1571, and shortly afterwards became a Catholic. During the following twelve years her house was a refuge for priests, whom she received at her own peril, and she brought up her children in the faith; her husband was not a Catholic, but seems not to have hampered his wife’s activities. For her persistent recusancy, Margaret was several times put in prison, even for two years together, but her sufferings only increased her fervour. “Were it not,” she said, “for my husband and children I would rather stay there always, apart from the world with God.” She was most attentive to the care of her house, witty, cheerful and good-looking, and her constancy and patience never failed. Her husband was later to say of her, “Let them take all I have and save her, for she is the best wife in all England, and the best Catholic.” She has, he said, only two faults, fasting too much and refusing to go to church.
On 10 March 1586 Mr Clitherow was summoned before the council at York, and in his absence his house was searched. The priest in hiding there escaped, but Margaret and her children were taken. Enraged at their failure, the searchers terrorized a Flemish boy of twelve years, staying in the house, till he showed them the priest’s room and where the church stuff was kept. At her trial, lest her children might be forced by evidence to be guilty of her blood, Margaret refused to plead, on the ground that she had committed no offence. At her second examination she again refused to plead, saying there was no evidence against her save that of children, whom you can make say anything by a stick or an apple. An Anglican clergyman who was present boldly protested to the bench against the iniquity of the proceedings.
The judge urged her to demand a jury, but in vain, and she was sentenced to be pressed to death, the ancient penalty for standing mute to a charge of felony. Margaret told the judge that, if this was his conscientious judgement, she prayed God to give him a better judgement in future. Forbidden to see husband or child, pestered by people who tried to shake her resolution, Margaret yet thanked God for all that was befalling her. The judge unwillingly issued an order for the execution on the following Friday (25th March 1586). Margaret had prepared herself by fasting and prayer; but she begged for a woman to be with her during the night, for, “though death is comfort,” she said, “the flesh is frail.” As no one could be admitted, the keeper’s wife sat with her for a while.
The first hours of the night Margaret passed on her knees in prayer, clothed in a linen habit made by herself for her passion. At three she laid herself flat on the stones for a quarter of an hour, then rested on her bed. At eight the sheriff and his officers came, and with them she walked barefoot, going along through the crowd to the Tolbooth. There, turning from those present, she knelt and prayed by herself. Then she laid herself on the ground clothed only in the linen habit, her face covered with a handkerchief, her hands outstretched and bound as if on a cross. The weighted door was laid on her; at the first crushing pain she cried, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu have mercy on me,” and after a quarter of an hour passed to God. So died Saint Margaret Clitherow, of whom it was said that “everybody loved her.”
Reading from Mementoes of the Confessors and Martyrs of England and Wales by Henry Sebastian Bowden of the Oratory. (Imaged used in the post taken from the DVDs ‘Saint Margaret Clitherow’ and ‘The Shining Pearl of York’ by Mary’s Dowry Productions)
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