Faithful Heroes: St. Margaret of Scotland

 

Saint Margaret of Scotland, a Scottish Queen, seems like an unlikely person for the Heroes of Faith. She is described as a pious Roman Catholic and her charitable works brought her great renown.

Margaret was born around 1045 while in exile in Hungary. She was the daughter of Edward the Exile and his wife, Agatha. Margaret grew up in a deeply religious home.

Saint Margaret of Scotland

In 1057, Margaret and her family returned to England, when her father was recalled as a successor to the throne. Her father died immediately after landing and her brother, Edgar Ætheling, was considered for the throne. His uncle Harold was appointed king, given Edgar Ætheling young age, and was defeated by William the Conqueror in 1066 and the family fled north.

“According to tradition, the widowed Agatha decided to leave Northumbria, England with her children and return to the continent. However, a storm drove their ship north to the Kingdom of Scotland in 1068, where they sought the protection of King Malcolm III. The locus where it is believed that they landed is known today as St Margaret’s Hope, near the village of North Queensferry, Fife, Scotland.”

Malcolm meeting Margaret by Victorian artists William Hole

King Malcolm III married Margaret in 1070. King Malcolm had two sons from a previous marriage. Margaret would add six sons and two daughters to the family.

Margaret is said to have “A civilizing influence” on her husband and would read him stories from the Bible.

She began to bring conformity in worship to the Church of Scotland.

The Encyclopedia Britannica says, “The chroniclers all agree in depicting Queen Margaret as a strong, pure, noble character, who had very great influence over her husband, and through him over Scottish history, especially in its ecclesiastical aspects. Her religion, which was genuine and intense, was of the newest Roman style; and to her are attributed a number of reforms by which the Church [in] Scotland was considerably modified from the insular and primitive type which down to her time it had exhibited. Among those expressly mentioned are a change in the manner of observing Lent, which thenceforward began as elsewhere on Ash Wednesday and not as previously on the following Monday, and the abolition of the old practice of observing Saturday (Sabbath), not Sunday, as the day of rest from labour.”

Saint Margaret of Scotland

Margaret is said to have served orphans and the poor every day before she ate. She even washed the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. Every night she would rise at midnight to attend worship.

“Margaret tried to improve her adopted country by promoting the arts and education.”

She established monasteries, established ferries, used a cave on the banks of the Tower Burn in Dunfermline as a place of devotion and prayer {St. Margaret’s Cave is open to the public}, restored Iona Abbey, and attended to numerous other charitable works.

“She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery.”

Saint Margaret of Scotland

“She set aside specific times for prayer and to read Scripture. She didn’t eat often and slept very little so she would have more time for her devotions. She lived holiness of life as a wife, mother and lay woman; truly in love with Jesus Christ.”

“On the way home {from Mass} she would wash the feet of six poor persons and give them alms. She was always surrounded by beggars in public and never refused them. It is recorded that she never sat down to eat without first feeding nine orphans and 24 adults.”

Malcolm is said to have admired his wife’s piety and had her books decorated in gold and silver.

On November 13, 1093, Malcom III and their eldest son, Edward, were killed in the Battle of Alnwick, against the English.

Her son, Edgar, was given the difficult task of telling his mother the news.

King Malcolm III

Margaret was already ill. “Margaret was not yet 50 years old, but a life of constant austerity and fasting had taken their toll.” She died three days after her husband and son on November 16, 1093. She was buried at Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, Scotland.

In 1250, Pope Innocent IV canonized Margaret for “her personal holiness, fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church, work for ecclesiastical reform, and charity.”

Mary Queen of Scots is said to have had Margaret’s head brought to her at Edinburgh Castle to assist in childbirth. Her head later ended up in France, but was lost during the French Revolution. King Philip of Spain had Margaret and Malcolm III remains transferred to the Escorial Palace in Madrid, Spain but the location of the remains is unknown.

Her youngest son, King David I, founded St. Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle and is the oldest edifice in Edinburgh.

Saint Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle

Margaret is Scotland’s only royal saint. “Her impact in Scotland led her to being referred to as, “The Pearl of Scotland.”

Margaret’s feast day is celebrated on November 16th.

Queen Margaret had the heart of a servant. She gave unselfishly to the poor and those in need and spread the gospel of Jesus with her piety and servant heart. For this reason, she belongs as a Faithful Hero.

 

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