Margaret Clitherow (n Middleton) (‘The Pearl of York’) was born about 1556 and died on 25 March 1586. She was a daughter of Thomas Middleton, Sheriff of York (1564-5), a was-chandler. She married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in St Martin’s church, Coney Street, 8 July 1571, and lived in the Shambles.
After about three years of married life Margaret converted to Catholicism and became most fervent in her faith, continually risking her life by harbouring and maintaining priests, and was frequently imprisoned sometimes for two years at a time; she was a model of all virtues. Though her husband wasn’t a Catholic, his brother was a priest, and Margaret provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and a second in another part of the city, where she kept priests hidden and had Mass continually celebrated through the thick of the persecution. Some of her priests were martyred, and Margaret who desired the same grace above all things, used to make secret pilgrimages by night to York Tyburn to pray beneath the gibbet for this intention.
In 1586, Margaret was arrested and called before the York Assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead to the case to prevent a trial that would entail her children being made to testify, and therefore being subjected to torture. As a result she was executed by being crushed to death, the standard inducement to force a plea, on Good Friday 1586. “God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this“, she said. She was constantly urged to confess her crimes but only said “No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu“.
Her sons Henry and William became priests, and her daughter Anne a nun at St Ursula’s, Louvain.
In 2008, a commemorative plaque was installed at the Micklegate end of Ouse Bridge to mark the site of her martyrdom; the Bishop of Middlesbrough unveiled this in a ceremony on Friday 29 August 2008.
Link: YouTube video – St Margaret Clitherow (1 min)
Collect: O God, who raised up the glorious martyr Saint Margaret Clitherow to be a pattern of womanhood, mercifully grant us the grace to walk in her ways and win the crown of the blessed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Prayer over the Offerings: Sanctify our offerings by your blessing, O Lord, we pray, and by your grace may we be set afire with that flame of you love through which Saints Margaret Clitherow overcame every bodily torment. Through Christ our Lord.
Prayer after Communion: May the sacred mysteries of which we have partaken, Lord, we pray, give us that determination which made your blessed Martyr Margaret Clitherow faithful in you service and victorious in suffering. Through Christ our Lord.