Saint Margaret Clitherow is an English saint and martyr of the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes called “the Pearl of York“.
St Margaret Clitherow was born Margaret Middleton in 1556, one of five children of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a respected businessman, a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York in 1564. He died when Margaret was fourteen. She married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in 1571 and bore him three children. The family lived in The Shambles, York.
Brought up In Protestant England she converted to Roman Catholicism in 1574.She refused to attend the Anglican church and was repeatedly fined for refusing. She was first imprisoned in 1577 for failing to attend church. Two more incarcerations at York Castle followed. Her third child, William, was born in prison.
The Black Swan, Peasholme Green, York
Margaret risked her life by harbouring and maintaining priests. She provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and, with her house under surveillance, she rented a house some distance away, where she kept priests hidden and Mass was celebrated through the thick of the persecution. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in the north of England. Local tradition holds that she also housed her clerical guests in the Black Swan Inn at Peaseholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were lodged.
She sent her older son, Henry, to the English College, relocated in Reims, to train for the priesthood. Her husband was summoned by the authorities to explain why his oldest son had gone abroad, and in March 1586 the Clitherow house was searched. A frightened boy revealed the location of the priest hole.
Margaret was arrested and called before the York assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead preventing a trial that would entail her children being made to testify, and being subjected to torture. Although pregnant with her fourth child, she was executed on Lady Day, 1586, (which also happened to be Good Friday that year) in the Toll Booth at Ouse Bridge, by being crushed to death, the standard inducement to force a plea.
The two sergeants who should have carried out the execution hired four desperate beggars to do it instead.
Following her execution, Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York expressing her horror at the treatment of a woman. Because of her sex, she argued, Clitherow should not have been executed.
Margaret Clitherow was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonised on 25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Their feast day in the current Roman Catholic calendar is 4 May in England and 25 October in Wales. She is also commemorated in England on 30 August, along with martyrs Anne Line and Margaret Ward.
A relic, said to be her hand, is housed in the Bar Convent in York. St. Margaret’s Shrine is at 35-36 The Shambles.