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Saint Margaret of Scotland: Queen and Mother of her People

Let us contemplate the heart, at once regal and maternal, full of faith and idealism, of a Queen chosen by God to reflect in some way Mary Most Holy among her people: Saint Margaret of Scotland.

Newsdesk (30/11/2022 11:10 AM , Gaudium Press) Let us begin the narration by turning our gaze to a certain night in the year 1066. A terrifying storm was raging in the North Sea. Amidst the roaring and foaming waters, a fragile vessel can be seen struggling to stay afloat. Its crew members are of royal lineage: on board is Princess Agatha, widow of Prince Edward, accompanied by her children Edgar and Margaret.

The late Prince Edward was born in 1016 in England during the reign of his father, Edmund Ironside. He was still a baby when Canute the Great invaded his country and deported him to Sweden.

He was later taken to Kiev and from there he eventually travelled to Hungary, where he married Princess Agatha, a close relative of St. Stephen. Hence the name with which he became known in history: Edward the Exile. He was around forty years old when St. Edward the Confessor called him to become his heir and successor to the throne of England.

In 1057 he was back in his native country, accompanied by his wife and two children, but a few days after his arrival he died.

When St. Edward also departed for eternity in 1066, the upheavals in the kingdom forced Princess Agatha to flee to Northumbria, just north of England.

Finding herself a widow and destitute in a foreign land, she decided to return to the continent with her children and to this end embarked on the ill-fated ship…

Impotent in their efforts against the wild sea, the travellers desperately sought a place of refuge. They finally managed, with great difficulty, to land in the estuary of the River Forth, near present-day Edinburgh. The boat, instead of following the planned course, had been pushed north by the storm.

She becomes Queen of Scotland

The Scottish sovereign, Malcolm III, welcomed the noble family into his palace and treated them with the greatest sympathy and kindness. Astonished at Margaret’s virtue, he decided to marry her, and the young woman, although she had a desire to consecrate her life to God, eventually accepted. She was then about twenty years old.

Thus on earth she became queen of the Scottish nation, while in heaven the Blessed Virgin seemed to have chosen her as mother and protector of a people who were open to the sublimities of the Faith. It would seem that Our Lady wanted to first place in the hands of St Margaret all the graces that She would bestow on these children of hers.

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Under the influence of St Margaret, Scotland lived through the happiest period of its history. Customs were consolidated and laws were instituted which encouraged the observance of the precepts of the Church, and on this moral basis the Scottish people achieved remarkable social prosperity.

Venerated as a mother by her people

Turgot of Durham, Bishop of St. Andrews, confessor and principal biographer of the Queen, tells us that in the person of the sovereign, there was a combination of hard work and contemplation, elevation of spirit and a keen sense of practical things, a brilliant intelligence and an affability that led the least of her subjects to venerate her not only as a Queen but also as a mother.

With her modesty, gentleness of spirit and constant benevolent disposition, she attracted great and small, inspired respect and obedience in men of letters, religious as well as simple and uneducated people, uniting the kingdom around herself, in order to then lead all to virtue and the practice of the Commandments and teach them to be devoted sons of the Holy Catholic Church.

She never failed to attend to those who had recourse to her protection, listening not only to those who came to make requests of her, but to anyone who wished to confide in her their difficulties, sorrows and trials.

To help those in need, she spared no effort, even selling her personal jewels when she could not give from the royal treasury. During Lent, she took three hundred poor people a day into the castle, attending to all their needs, healing their wounds with her own hands. She would feed them at her table, placing the men on one side of the hall, next to her husband, while she sat with the women in the opposite wing.

Excellent teacher of good morals

In addition to the power of influence proper to virtue, the Queen guided her subjects along the right path by giving the example of an ardent and zealous piety for all that concerned the Holy Church.

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She attended five or six Masses a day and took such pains to perfect all that pertained to the Sacrifice of the Altar, that her quarters in the castle were like a storehouse of sacred vestments and vessels.

The queen also sought to enhance the splendour and pomp of the court as a fundamental means of raising the cultural and spiritual level of the people. While always demanding modesty in dress from the members of the court, she introduced into Scotland the use of fabrics of better quality and with a greater variety of colour. There are historians who attribute to St. Margaret the creation of the tartan, the characteristic woollen fabric, used even today, whose colours and patterns vary according to the clan or the region to which one belongs.

Far from wanting to stimulate vanity or ostentation, she remained, yet, concerned with these matters because she knew well how good manners, a dignified mode of dressing and elevation in social relations contribute to the formation of an orderly and respectful mentality upon which peace rests.

Respected and admired by the king

Undoubtedly, St. Margaret’s zeal was dedicated, before anyone else, to the king himself. It was her duty as a wife to support him and to help him grow in the spiritual life, but it was also her duty as a queen.

The further a ruler advances along the paths of holiness, the greater his ability to lead his subordinates to imitate him. Thus, she went about teaching the uncultivated King Malcolm to pray and to govern with true justice. Her husband loved her and feared to offend her, such was the respect that her virtues instilled in him.

“May my children love and fear God”

The couple had eight children and Saint Margaret spared no effort to educate them, being ever vigilant about the evil inclinations that emerge already at an early age.

When they reached adulthood, the lives of St Margaret’s children were worthy of the greatness of their ancestors. Three of them became kings of Scotland, so that for two hundred years the country was governed by the sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of the holy queen.

Wisdom and balance, right to the end!

For six months Margaret convalesced and could hardly get out of bed. Each day her pains increased, but she endured them with patience and prayer. She did not complain and always remained serene.

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At that time, King Malcolm had to go to war against William the Conqueror and he and his first-born son, Edward, perished in the battle.

It is said that Margaret knew from a distance what was happening, for she was very sad that afternoon, for no apparent reason, and at one point said, sighing, “Perhaps on this very day such a heavy calamity may befall the realm of Scotland as has not been ifor many ages past.”

Four days later her son Edgar returned from battle. On entering his mother’s room, she asked him, “Is all well with the king and my Edward?” Edgar replied, “Your husband and your son have been killed.”

Raising her eyes to heaven, she replied, “Praise and blessings be to Thee, O almighty God, who hast seen fit to cause me to suffer such bitter anguish in the hour of my departure, to purify me in some measure from the corruption of my sins. And you, Lord Jesus Christ, who by the will of the Father have redeemed the world by your Death, set me free!”

Saying these words, she surrendered her soul to God.

* * *

The life of Saint Margaret is presented to our eyes as an uninterrupted stream of acts of virtue, rewarded by God with happiness and success.

However, we could ask ourselves: did she not suffer terrible trials of the soul, unknown to those around her? And was not this inner holocaust the incense of sweetest odour that obtained the conversion and sanctification of her people?

We do not know. However, if St. Margaret has come down the centuries as a model mother and queen, a mirror of the virtues of Mary Most Holy, she must in some way have carried in the depths of her heart, the stark, black and cold Cross of Christ. Through her love for the Divine Master, her desire to imitate Him and to ensure that the Precious Blood of the Redeemer transformed her subjects, the virtuous Queen of Scotland still radiates today the brilliance proper to souls of uncommon greatness.

Text extracted, with adaptations, from Heralds of the Gospel Magazine n.215. November 2019. Sr. Mary Teresa MacIsaac, EP

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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