Ave Maria Meditations
St. Margaret Clitherow, martyr. Feast Day is March 26th.
Despite the risk of discovery, Margaret had a “priest hole” built in her home, where visiting clergy could hide if a raid should occur. She further built a hidden cupboard to hide vestments, missals, Eucharist and blessed wine. In Margaret’s attic, still preserved for the visiting faithful to see, a hole was cut between her home and the neighbor’s home, to allow an escape route for priests, should it come to that. Margaret stated, in defiance of the laws of the time, “by God’s grace all priests shall be more welcome to me than ever they were, and I will do what I can to set forward God’s Catholic service.” She organized celebrations of Mass, and hired a Catholic tutor for neighborhood children of the faith. It was through this tutor that she came to be discovered.
One afternoon, while the tutor was instructing the children, the police raided the house. The tutor escaped, and the authorities found children studying, but convinced of treason, they questioned the children until one broke down in tears, revealing the cupboard of hidden items. Margaret was immediately arrested, and the children were removed from their homes, placed with devout Protestant families. Margaret would never see her children again. Moved by her life, however, her younger son became a priest, and her daughter, a nun.
Margaret was taken before the court and accused of treason. It was customary for those accused to plead guilty, resulting in a less severe penalty. Margaret, however, refused to plead, both out of conviction that she had done nothing wrong and concern that her children might have to testify in a trial. She stated, “I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial.” The court was outraged, and sentenced her to the maximum penalty for failing to plead guilty—death via crushing.
Prior to her execution, visited by a friend in prison, Margaret remained faithful and eager to meet her Maker. She said to her friend, “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.”
Saint Margaret Clitherow was a practical woman, remembered for her humility, hospitality and her humanity. She was a wife and mother, she worked in her husband’s butcher shop, she was concerned with the education of her children. Margaret was also a fearless protector of the faith, risking her life to instill in her children the message of Christ.