By Larry Peterson
She was only fifteen years of age when she died, and many stories have been attributed to her short life. What is factual is this: St. Margaret of Antioch is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and is listed in the Roman Martyrology. Her feast day is on July 20. She is also honored in the Eastern Orthodox Rite, where she is referred to as St. Marina, the Great Martyr. She is the patroness of pregnant women and those in childbirth. So who was this teenage saint, and what parts of her life are fact and what are fiction?
According to writings in the Golden Legend (a text of over 1000 manuscripts about different saints that was published in the 13th century) Margaret was born at the beginning of the fourth century in Antioch. She was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius, and her mom died shortly after Margaret was born. Her father allowed a Christian woman who lived nearby to nurse her and care for her. When Margaret was old enough, she converted to Christianity and took a vow of virginity. Her father disowned her, and her mistress adopted her.
When Margaret was around fifteen years old, she was out in the fields watching the flocks that belonged to her mistress. A Roman prefect by the name of Olybrius had been watching her. He was attracted to her and filled with lustful thoughts. He began a quest to make her his wife. He tried to charm her, cajole her, and then began to threaten her in an effort to win her over. She adamantly refused.
As the Golden Legend states, what follows should be considered apocryphal (of doubtful authenticity and not to be taken seriously). Olybrius had Margaret taken prisoner and demanded she denounce her Christian faith and adore his pagan gods. She refused and was made to stand trial in public. Threatened with death, she still refused. They tried to burn her, but the flames did not harm her. Then she was thrown into a cauldron of boiling water, but as she prayed, the boiling water did not harm her at all. When this happened, many of the people watching this spectacle immediately converted to Christianity.
The story continues that Margaret was put in prison, and while waiting for her sentence to be announced, she prayed to Jesus for strength. This infuriated Satan who appeared in the form of a dragon and he swallowed her. But she was wearing a cross, and it proved to be an antidote to the evil one. The cross burned the insides of the dragon, and he spit her out. She appeared before the prefect unharmed, unscathed, and still as defiant as ever. Olybrius gave up and had her beheaded.
As with many of the pre-congregation saints who lived during the early years of the church Margaret was real and was a devout Christian. As with many of the early saints there is apocryphal legend associated with their stories. However, we should remember that in Margaret’s case, she gained great popularity in England during the 13th century. Today there are more than 250 churches in England that are dedicated to her including St. Margaret’s Westminister, the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament.
Margaret of Antioch is also among those counted in the group of saints known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers. This group of saints is venerated together because their intercession is very effective against different diseases. St. Margaret is the patroness of those in childbirth, those who are pregnant, and those with kidney disease. The childbirth patronage is because of Margaret’s encounter with Satan appearing as the dragon to her.
How can we not love the rich and yes, even apocryphal history, of our Catholic Church. No matter what direction these stories may take, they invariably always lead to GOODNESS.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019