margaret clitherow

Who Was Margaret Clitherow?

At heart, I’m a history geek. I have a degree in History and particularly enjoy learning about English history. When I was in high school, I came across an article about Henry VIII and his six wives. During that time, the religious history engrained in his story didn’t resonate with me but now, being older and firmly Catholic, it definitely does. This is probably why yesterday’s homily stuck with me so much. The homily focused on Margaret Clitherow, a woman who was living during Queen Elizabeth I. Between the way her story was told and her story itself, I was drawn in and knew walking out of mass, I needed to find out everything I could about St. Margaret Clitherow. 

What is Margaret Clitherow the Patron Saint Of? 

Margaret Clitherow had a very different story in comparison to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton or other female saints. Margaret Clitherow, also known as Saint Margaret Clitherow, is recognized as the patron saint of martyrs, specifically the patroness of martyrs who were persecuted for their Catholic faith during the English Reformation. She is also often regarded as the patron saint of converts to Catholicism.

Margaret Clitherow lived in York, England, during the late 16th century when practicing Catholicism was illegal in England. Despite the risks, she openly practiced her Catholic faith and was known for harboring Catholic priests who were on the run from persecution. Her refusal to renounce her faith and attend Protestant services led to her arrest and subsequent execution in 1586.

Margaret Clitherow’s courage and steadfastness in the face of persecution have made her an inspiration to many Catholics. She was canonized as a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and is venerated for her martyrdom and commitment to her religious beliefs.

What was Margaret Clitherow’s Life Like? 

Margaret Clitherow, born Margaret Middleton, was born around 1556 in York, England, during a tumultuous period known as the English Reformation. She grew up in a Protestant family, but at the age of 18, she converted to Catholicism, likely influenced by her uncle, a prominent Catholic priest.

Margaret married John Clitherow, a butcher and a member of the local city council, in 1571. They had three children together. Margaret’s husband was a Protestant, but he respected her Catholic faith and allowed her to practice it openly.

Margaret was known for her devoutness and her commitment to her Catholic beliefs which resulted in a very unique and sad Catholic mom journey. She attended secret Masses held by Catholic priests, as public practice of Catholicism was banned at the time. She also provided shelter and support to Catholic priests who were being persecuted and hunted by the authorities.

In 1586, Margaret’s commitment to her faith led to her arrest. She was accused of harboring Catholic priests and refusing to attend Protestant services. She was put on trial and ultimately sentenced to death by a particularly cruel method known as “pressing.” This involved laying her on the ground with a sharp rock beneath her back and placing heavy weights on top of her, slowly crushing her to death.

Margaret Clitherow’s execution took place on March 25, 1586. Despite the brutal manner of her death, she remained steadfast in her faith and refused to renounce her Catholic beliefs.

Margaret’s life and martyrdom have made her a symbol of religious freedom and a source of inspiration for many Catholics. She was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929 and canonized as a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Her home in York is now a shrine and a place of pilgrimage for Catholics.

What are Some Interesting Facts About Margaret Clitherow? 

There are several interesting facts about St. Margaret Clitherow. Some of them are relatable for Catholic moms and others may be a bit hit and miss. However, these interesting facts are things that every mother can remember and focus on as they continue to grow in their motherhood and in their faith:

  • Conversion and Marriage: Margaret Clitherow converted to Catholicism at the age of 18 and married John Clitherow, a Protestant, shortly after. Despite their religious differences, they had a loving and supportive marriage.
  • Secret Masses: Margaret Clitherow actively participated in the secret Masses held by Catholic priests in York during a time when Catholicism was suppressed. These Masses were held in hidden locations, such as private homes, to avoid detection by the authorities.
  • House of the Press: After her arrest, Margaret’s home on the Shambles in York became known as the “House of the Press.” This was due to the brutal method of execution she faced, which involved being pressed to death. The house is now a shrine dedicated to her memory.
  • Martyrdom: Margaret Clitherow’s refusal to renounce her Catholic faith and attend Protestant services led to her arrest, trial, and execution. She became one of the most celebrated English Catholic martyrs of the Reformation period.
  • Role as a Wife and Mother: Margaret Clitherow was not only committed to her faith but also fulfilled her roles as a wife and mother. She had three children and took care of her household while actively practicing her Catholicism.
  • Symbol of Catholic Resistance: Margaret Clitherow has been seen as a symbol of Catholic resistance during a time when practicing Catholicism was illegal. Her steadfastness and martyrdom inspired many Catholics to persevere in their faith despite persecution.
  • Canonization: Margaret Clitherow was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonized as a saint in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. She is one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, a group of Catholic martyrs who were executed for their faith during the English Reformation.

My Thoughts on Margaret Clitherow 

It goes without saying that Margaret Clitherow was a truly incredible woman. The time of the Reformation was truly a scary one for any Catholic, let alone a Catholic mother. While there must have been a part of her that was terrified for her children, let alone herself, the fact that she could remain steadfast in her faith and know that God would see her and her family through these tribulations is incredibly inspiring. 

Margaret raised her children in the Catholic faith and her son, Henry, would go on to become a priest. Her daughter, Anne, would also go on to become a nun in Louvain. Her spirit, memory and her faith ultimately lived on through her children which is something that every Catholic mother can only hope to strive for. St. Margaret Clitherow, pray for us! 

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