Saint Margaret Clitherow: Defender of the Faith

Feast Day: 30 August

Saint Margaret Clitherow was born Margaret Middleton in 1556. Not much is known about her early life other than her father was a wax-candler, and they lived in York. At the age of 18 she married John Clitherow, a butcher, and they had three children together. At the age of 21 Margaret converted to Catholicism. Her husband, although supportive of her, remained Protestant.

Because Margaret lived in England after the Reformation and Henry VIII’s split from Rome, her being Catholic meant she was considered a traitor because the Roman Catholic Church refused to accept the validity of Elizabeth as Queen.

For the most part, it is believed that Margaret led a normal family life raising her children, but she also became increasingly involved in the secret world of Catholicism; she regularly harboured and maintained priests and held Masses in her home. In 1586, Margaret was arrested for the crime of Harbouring Roman Catholic Priests. She refused to plead to the case so there could not be a trial, which meant her children would be free from the risk of being tortured for information. As a result she was executed by being crushed to death.

Margaret was canonised in 1970 as one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales. The house where she lived with her family in York still exists today, and you can still see the priest hole fireplace that led to her death.

The method of Margaret Clitherow's death - being crushed to death
The method of Margaret Clitherow’s death – being crushed to death

Why Margaret Clitherow is important

A reflection from someone in our young Catholic community

I particularly like the Reformation saints because they generally were just ordinary people who lived out their faith the best way they could in a culture and society that was hostile to it. In many ways, I think we have a lot to learn!

I like the fact that Margaret Clitherow was a wife and mother. I love the fact that she displays courage and integrity. Margaret sets an example of how to live out faith day to day. Although it is not illegal for us to practice our faith in England today (thanks to our Reformation saints for keeping it alive when we couldn’t!), I do sometimes find it hard to stand up for what I believe in, to go against the tide of popular opinion.

Margaret and the others are powerful witnesses of faith and courage and show me that some things are worth dying for.

Some quotes

“I ground my faith upon Jesus Christ, and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved, as is taught in the Catholic Church through all Christendom, and promised to remain with Her unto the world’s end, and hell gates shall not prevail against it.”

“The sheriffs have said that I am going to die this coming Friday; and I feel the weakness of my flesh which is troubled at this news, but my spirit rejoices greatly. For the love of God, pray for me and ask all good people to do likewise.”