03 March 2010

Saint Margaret the Virgin of Antioch

Margaret is derived from the Greek word margarites (wikt:μαργαρίτης) or "beautiful pearl." Alternately, it might be of Persian origin, derived from the Persian language marvârid (مروارید), "a beautiful pearl" or "daughter of light". Marg from Marq or Marka meaning "chicken" (مرغ), probably because pearls looked like small bird eggs.

Margaret the Virgin, also known as Margaret of Antioch (in Pisidia), virgin and martyr, is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on July 20; and on July 17 in the Orthodox Church. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercessions; these no doubt helped the spread of her cultus.[1]

Left is "Saint Margaret and the Dragon", alabaster with traces of gilding, Toulouse, ca 1475 (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

According to the Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. She was scorned by her father for her Christian faith, and lived in the country with a foster-mother keeping sheep. Olybrius, the praeses orientis (Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East), offered her marriage at the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical moment of scepticism, describes this last incident as "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously" (trans. Ryan, 1.369). She was put to death in A.D. 304.

The Eastern Orthodox Church knows Margaret as Saint Marina, and celebrates her feast day on July 17. She has been identified with Saint Pelagia – "Marina" being the Latin equivalent of the Greek name "Pelagia" – who, according to a legend, was also called Margarita. We possess no historical documents on St Margaret as distinct from St Pelagia. The Greek Marina came from Antioch, Pisidia (as opposed to Antioch of Syria), but this distinction was lost in the West.

The cultus of Saint Margaret became very widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her, most famously, St. Margaret's, Westminster, the parish church[2] of the British Houses of Parliament in London. Some consider her a patron saint of pregnancy. In art, she is usually pictured escaping from, or standing above, a dragon.

She is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, being listed as such in the Roman Martyrology for July 20.[3] She was also included from the twelfth to the twentieth century among the saints to be commemorated wherever the Roman Rite was celebrated.[4][5] Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and is supposedly one of the saints who spoke to Joan of Arc.
  1. "Margaret of Antioch" The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed 16 June 2007
  2. Westminster Abbey. "St. Margaret's, Westminster Parish details". Retrieved 2008-05-03.
  3. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  4. See General Roman Calendar as in 1954
  5. Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 130





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