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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

St Margaret of Antioch

St. Margaret is the patron saint of our parish here in Durham. We celebrate her feast day today.

St. Margaret of Antioch

Virgin Martyr

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 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 also known as the patron saint of women, nurses, and peasants. She also intercedes for those who call on her from their deathbed. She became one of the most popular saints in England in the 9th century when the first of many Lives was written about her in English; over two hundred early churches were dedicated to her there, even though her legend had been declared apocryphal by the Pope as early as 494.

She 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. (See also St. Catherine and St. Pantaleon, who are also among the Holy Helpers.) St. Margaret's feast day is July 20 in the west and July 13 in the east.

In her window she is shown in victory over the dragon, holding it at bay with a long cross. The coronet she wears features pearls which are a symbol often shown with Margaret because her name in Greek means "pearl." The cross over her head signifies her devout faith. To her left is a shield showing a dragon's head with a sword through its throat.

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
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