22 Feb Saint Margaret of Cortona
Today is the feast day of Saint Margaret of Cortona. Ora pro nobis.
Margaret was born at Laviano, in Tuscany, Italy, about 1247, of poor farm people. Her mother died when she was only seven years old, and two years later her father married again. His new wife was a strong, masterful woman, who had little sympathy for her pleasure-loving stepdaughter. Margaret had always yearned for love and it was always denied her at home. It is not hard to understand, then, how the pretty young girl fell prey to the prospect of love and luxury offered her by a rich young cavalier (whose name she never divulged) from a neighboring village. She went away with him one night and lived with him as his mistress for the next nine years, during which time she gave birth to a son. During all those years Margaret remained faithful to her lover, even though she was an object of scorn to the townspeople, who regarded her as a depraved woman.
The sudden and brutal murder of her lover brought Margaret to the realization of God's grace. (1) Margaret's first intimation of his death was the return of his favorite hound without its master. The hound led her to his body. It was characteristic of her generosity that she blamed herself for his irregular life, and began to loathe her beauty which had fascinated him. She returned to his relatives all the jewels and property he had given her and left his home; and with her little son set out for her father's house. Her father would have received her, but his wife refused, and Margaret and her son were turned adrift. For a moment she felt tempted to trade upon her beauty; but she prayed earnestly and in her soul she seemed to hear a voice bidding her go to the Franciscan Friars at Cortona and put herself under their spiritual direction.
On her arrival at Cortona, two ladies, noticing her loneliness, offered her assistance and took her home with them. They afterwards introduced her to the Franciscan Friars at the church of San Francesco in the city. For three years Margaret had to struggle hard with temptations. Naturally of a gay spirit, she felt much drawn to the world. But temptation only convinced her the more of the necessity of self-discipline and an entire consecration of herself to religion. At times remorse for the past would have led her into intemperate self-mortifications, but for the wise advice of her confessors. As it was, she fasted rigorously, abstaining altogether from flesh-meat, and generally subsisting upon bread and herbs. Her great physical vitality made such penance a necessity to her. (2)
Again and again Margaret begged for the habit of the Third Order, that she might be recognized by all the world as a penitent. But not until 3 years had elapsed and she had been severely tried, was her wish granted. She received the habit in 1277. Now her fervor increased, and it is almost incredible what rigorous penances she practiced from then on. Day and night she wept over her sins, and often sobs so choked her voice that she could not speak. Satan made use of every wile and snare to cause Margaret to relapse, but prayer, mortification, and humiliation successfully put him to flight.
When finally, after uninterrupted struggling, she had triumphed over every earthly inclination, God assured her that her sins were fully pardoned and granted her special proofs of His knowledge of the innermost secrets of hearts. In many an instance, even when people came from great distances, she recalled grievous sins to their mind, while her exhortations and prayers were instrumental in bringing about conversion. Many souls were released from purgatory upon her prayers. Almighty God wrought many miracles through her even in her lifetime. Health was restored to the sick, a dead boy was raised to life, and at her approach evil spirits shuddered and left those whom they possessed. (4)
Finally, after 23 years of rigorous penance, in the 50th year of her life, God called the great penitent to the Beatific Vision on February 22, 1297. Her body is preserved in a precious shrine in the Franciscan church at Cortona which bears her name. It is incorrupt even at the present day and frequently emits a pleasant perfume. Several popes have confirmed the public veneration accorded her. Pope Benedict XIII canonized her amid great solemnity in 1728. (4)
The original “Legend of St. Margaret” wsa written by her director and friend, Fra Giunta Bevegnati. It is almost entirely taken up with her revelations, and was mainly dictated by Margaret herself, in obedience to her directors. It is published by the Bollandists in “Acta SS., mense Februarii, die 22”. The most notable edition of the “Legend” however is that published in 1793 by da Pelago, together with an Italian translation and twelve learned dissertations dealing with the life and times of the saint. In 1897 a new edition of da Pelago's work, but without the dissertations, was published at Siena by Crivelli. An English version of the greater part of the “Legend”, with an introductory essay, has been published by Fr. Cuthbert, O.S.F.C. (London, 1906). (2)
Image: Estasi di santa Margherita (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff