Margaret Clitherow

A Saint is someone who is close to God, and who follows his example. A Saint is someone who has departed from the world, yet while they were alive, they strongly believed in God.

Margaret Clitherow was born in York in1556 as a Protestant. She married John Clitherow in 1571 and was instructed in the Catholic faith three years later, just before the birth of her daughter Anne. At that time, the religion of the country was Protestant and it was a crime to be a Catholic. Although Margaret knew this, she did not give up her Catholic religion. Her husband John was a Protestant, but did nothing to prevent Margaret practising her Catholic religion. In 1574, Margaret started to hear stories that many priests of the Catholic faith were suffering for their religion. In a nearby street, Thomas Percy, a martyr, made a public confession of his faith as he went to his death. It was then that she made a very daring decision. She decided to shelter priests in her home and invited them to say Mass. Because of her faith and for giving shelter to priests, Margaret was imprisoned three times. During her time in prison she learnt to read the New Testament and Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.

In prison, she met many Catholics. Together they were united in their love of Christ. After her experiences in prison, she wished for her children to be educated as Catholics. It was then that she parted with her eldest son Henry, so that he could be educated, as a Catholic in France. Henry was just twelve years old.

In 1585, an act was passed: it meant that anyone who was found giving shelter to priests would be punished by death. Eventually Margaret's husband was asked by the Council to explain the absence of their son Henry. Whilst being questioned, their house was searched: vestments, altar breads and the priest hole were discovered and Margaret was immediately arrested and imprisoned. Margaret was tried and when asked how she would plead she answered 'Having made no offence, I need no trial... If you say I have offended and must be tried, I will be tried by none but God and your consciences.

The judge was frustrated by Margaret's dignity and calm and so sentenced her to death by "peine forte et dure". The judge explained what this meant, she was to be stripped naked, laid down upon her back upon the ground and as much weight laid upon her as she could bear. This was to continue for three days without meat or drink, except a little barley bread and a puddle of water. On the third day she was to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts and a sharp stone under your back. Margaret dignified and clam answered "If this judgement be according to your conscience, then I pray to God to send you better judgement before him. I thank you heartily for this."

Margaret stayed in prison for ten days before her death sentence was carried out. She remained calm and in control for these last ten days of her life, she said "My spirit is very weak, but I trust in my Lord Jesus, that he will give me strength to bear all troubles and torments, which may be laid upon me for his sake." In her last days she occupied herself with an important piece of needlework, she wished to have a white garment to protect her modesty in which to suffer martyrdom. She sent her belongings to her family as a sign of her presence in their lives.

When Margaret's sentence was carried out, a Protestant knelt by her side and comforted her with love. As the clock reached midnight, the woman laid Margaret's garment over her and prayed for three hours after her death. Her hands were bound to posts so her body was shaped in a cross, as the pressing weight was laid on her she uttered her last words "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu have mercy on me," a quarter of an hour later she died.

Nearly four hundred years later, on 25th October 1970, Margaret was declared a Saint by Pope Paul VI, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The Church places her before us as a heroic example of devotion to Jesus. Her love of Christ was stronger than her fear of death. Martyrdom was her vocation. Her example encourages everyone throughout the world who has to suffer for his or her faith. She was a great woman who has set us all an example to be strong and stand up for what we believe in.

Lizzie Bermel, Toyin Labinjo, Amelia Ryokowsha and Katie McCarthy
Year 9 Pupils
St. Michael's Convent School,
Barnet, North London.

Bibliography

Information from Daily Reflections, Internet
Oxford Dictionary of Saints
1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation-Encarta
Daily Reflections, published by Fox
Sheets provided by Mrs. Whitelock with information about Margaret Clitherow.