Sunday, July 20, 2008
Margaret of Antioch was a Christian virgin whose tortures and martyrdom became famous in early books of Acts. According to her legend, she was the daughter of a 3rd or 4th century pagan priest of Antioch who either threw her out of the house when she converted to Christianity or who was converted by her nursemaid. She was noticed by the local prefect who wanted to marry her, but she spurned him and vowed to keep her virginity for Christ. He turned her in to the Roman authorities to be persecuted. In prison she was swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon, but the cross she was carrying irritated his throat, and he spit her out unharmed.
Her persecutors tried to kill her by fire and then by drowning, but each time, she survived, converting the growing crowd of onlookers. Finally, she was beheaded, along with her many converts, by Emperor Diocletian. She was buried at Antioch, but her remains were taken later to Italy where they were divided between shrines in Montefiascone and Venice.
Part of her very popular cult was the promise that if you spread her fame and read her story, you would receive a perpetual crown in heaven. She prayed at her death that women in childbirth would, upon calling on her, be safely delivered of the child as she had been delivered from the belly of the dragon. She is the patron saint of pregnant women, nurses, peasants, and sterility. She also intercedes for those who call on her from their deathbed.
Margaret was one of the saints who spoke to St. Joan of Arc, and she is included in a group of saints known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who are venerated for their special ability to intercede for people. St. Margaret's feast day is July 20 in the west and July 13 in the east.