St Margaret Clitherow
Margaret Clitherow was born Margaret Middleton in 1556 in York. She was the daughter of a wax chandler, Thomas Middleton, and was brought up as a protestant. In 1571 Margaret, only 15 years of age, married widower John Clitherow who was a prosperous butcher with two sons. They married in St Martin-Le-Grand Church in Coney Street, York. In 1574 she became a catholic. John Clitherow had a brother, William who was a catholic and later became a priest. It is thought that William may have influenced her to convert.
John Clitherow's butchers shop was in the Shambles, a narrow street of butchers and abattoirs. John was also a Bridge Master (member of a committee who were responsible for the maintenance of Ouse Bridge). He was also a special constable too and assisted in finding catholic priests and those hiding them.
Margaret had a happy marriage with children. She assisted her husband in the shop and helped hang up the meat. Within a couple of years of her conversion she was playing an active part in helping and sheltering priests in the city. Many of the priests came from Douai in France. Catholics were under persecution in England and Mass was celebrated in secret. Priests moved from place to place to avoid being caught. Punishment was extreme and an act of parliament in 1585 demanded a traitor's death for priests caught. The death penalty was also introduced for those hiding them. Margaret was aware of the danger she was in and the risks involved, but continued to hide priests. She was arrested many times under suspicion but no evidence was found.
In 1586 her home was raided. The priest managed to get away and Margaret and her family refused to answer any questions. A small boy who was from Flanders and staying with Margaret was so frightened that he began to cry and told the interrogators everything. Priest's vestments and communion bread were discovered in Margaret's house. Margaret was arrested and her children never saw her again.
She was imprisoned in York Castle and she shared a cell with a friend, Anne Tesh also convicted.
On March 14th Margaret was put before the Judges at the Guildhall. She was charged with harbouring Jesuit and seminary priests and with celebrating Mass. Margaret was asked if she was guilty of indictment or not? She replied "I know of no offence whereof I should confess myself guilty". The trial continued until Margaret faced the Judges for the last time. Although she was defended by a Puritan teacher named Wigginton her fate had been decided. Wigginton said "You sit here to do justice; this woman's case is touching life and death. You ought not either by God's law or man's judge her to die upon the slender witness of a boy" The Judge John Clinch replied "I may do it by law", before passing the death sentence. Margaret's friends and relatives in a desperate effort to save her announced she was pregnant. But this failed.
Margaret met her terrible death on March 25th 1586 in the tollbooth on Ouse Bridge. A sharp stone was placed in her back and a door laid on top of her on which heavy stones were piled. This was such a cruel barbaric time. It took a quarter of an hour for her to die. Her last words were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! Have mercy on me".
She was canonised on 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI in Rome.
Her feast day is celebrated on 30th August.
- St. Joseph’s Church
- Parish Office,
- Stanley Walk, Bracknell
- RG12 1HA