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Catholic Heroes… St. Margaret Of Scotland

November 14, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Quite frequently saints have left their home country and died in another country, but most of them died in a foreign land because they left to serve as missionaries to Asia, Africa, or America.
The land of Hungary, however, has seen a few saints depart because they were of royal families, including St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who went to Germany to be married, and St. Margaret of Scotland. They lived virtuous lives, loved the poor, and made heroic sacrifices. Thus they became saints.
Margaret’s parents were heirs to the throne of England around the time of 1016 when King Ethelred died. The royal family was forced to flee when the Danes invaded England and controlled the throne for many years. With the end of Danish rule, St. Edward the Confessor was crowned king in April 1043.
Meanwhile, Margaret’s father, Edward the Exile, was also forced into exile in 1016. Edward and his brother were sent to Sweden by the Danes with orders that they be executed, but they managed to get to Hungary after escaping to Kiev.
While in Hungary, Edward married Agatha, a Hungarian princess. Margaret was born in Hungary in 1045 while her parents were under the protection of the royal family, most likely in Castel Reka in Mecseknadas. In 1046, Edward the Exile, a loyal friend of Andrew, backed him in his successful bid to gain the throne of Hungary after his father, St. Stephen of Hungary, had died in 1038.
Margaret’s brother, Edgar the Atheling, and her sister, Cristina, were also born in Hungary. The family stayed there until St. Edward the Confessor, having regained the throne, recalled Edward the Exile to England.
Edward finally decided to return to England in 1057 with his wife and children. Sadly, Edward died shortly after their arrival in England. Agatha and her children resided in London at Edward the Confessor’s court until 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded England. At that time they planned an escape to the continent and set sail from Northumbria, but a storm blew them off course and they landed in Scotland, a place which became popularly known as Margaret’s Hope.
King Malcolm III of Scotland then took Agatha and the children under his protection, settling them in Dunfermline. (Dunfermline later became the royal residence and special burying place for the kings of Scotland.) Some historians believe that he probably met Margaret and her family during their sojourn in London. Malcolm, a widower with two sons, Doland and Duncan, fell in love with the serene and statuesque Margaret and proposed to her.
Margaret demurred because she wanted to become a religious. Her faith had become very deep through her exposure to the holy court in Hungary, influenced by St. Stephen of Hungary, and the court in England, led by the holy St. Edward the Confessor. Margaret therefore desired to become a religious. Nevertheless, she finally agreed and married Malcolm in 1070.
Together they had eight children: Edward (1071-1093) who was killed in the Battle of Alnwick; Edmund of Scotland (1071-1097); Ethelred who served several monasteries as abbot in Scotland; Edgar of Scotland (1074-1107) who reigned from 1097 until his death. Alexander I of Scotland was born in 1078 and was king of Scotland from 1107 when Edgar died, until April 23, 1124.
Edith of Scotland (1080-1118) married King Henry I of England and her sister Mary of Scotland (1082-1116) married Count Eustace III of Boulogne, just south of Calais, France. Finally, David I of Scotland (1083-1153) served as king from 1124 until 1153.
Margaret, a gentle and pious woman won the heart of her husband whom she deeply loved. Commentaries about her give very little information about her physical appearance because her inner beauty was so overpowering. Her husband’s devotion to her led him to mount several attempts to win back Northumbria for her brother. These attacks were unsuccessful, however.
Margaret’s virtue became known wide and far with the spiritual guidance of Lanfranc, who later became the archbishop of Canterbury. She possessed an advanced education and read the Sacred Scriptures in Latin. She also had available the works of the saints such as St. Augustine of Hippo. Lanfranc led the reform of the Church in England while she labored to improve the conditions in Scotland.
Under her influence, the Church in Scotland, which had been heavily influence by Celtic pagan practices, became more in line with the liturgy and devotions of the continental Church. The people also made an effort to learn more about the doctrines of the Church because Margaret led such a wonderful life.
Margaret loved the Scottish people and would spend hours outdoors to make herself available to them and to hear their concerns. Near Dunfermline she would sit on a stone so that all could approach her, especially children.
The poorest were held in high regard and she placed their needs above her own. When nine orphans were brought to her, she placed them on her knee and fed them herself. Thus, Margaret never considered any of her wealth or possessions as her own, but only as gifts of God that she was to use for the benefit of the people.
The king could not read, and he was not very pious, but he loved Margaret so much that he would kiss her devotional books. He had some of them covered with precious metals and beautiful jewels to show his love for her.
Toward the end of her life, she and her husband lived in the Castle of Edinburgh. In order to please God, and for the welfare of both her family and her people, Margaret spent long hours in prayer. Her fasting and sacrifices may have been the cause of her becoming so weak when she was not yet 50 years old.
In 1093 Malcolm and their oldest son, Edward, left the castle for the Battle of Alnwick. Both Malcolm and Edward were killed in the battle. Margaret received the tragic news with outward calm and surrender to God’s will. She died just a few days later, leaving a nation grieving at such great loss.
She was buried in Dunfermline and was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1250. During the violence of the Protestant Reformation, Margaret’s remains were desecrated and dispersed. Her head was saved and taken to France. Once again, during the French Revolution, however, her remains were attacked and lost.
In 1250, Pope Innocent IV canonized Margaret. She is the patron saint of Scotland and her feast day is November 16.
Dear Margaret, by your holiness and your open arms you won over an entire nation to follow the teachings of Christ more closely. Help us to be a beacon of light in a world of darkness with heroic and supernatural charity, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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