18 Jan Saint Margaret of Hungary
Today is the feast day of Saint Margaret of Hungary. Ora pro nobis.
Margaret was born to King Bela IV of Hungary and his wife Mary Lascaris at a time when the Tatars were invading Hungary. The king offered to dedicate their child to the Church if Hungary was freed from the Tatars. It was, and so Margaret was brought to the Dominican convent at Vesprem at the age of three.
Invested with the habit at the age of four, she was transferred in her tenth year to the Convent of the Blessed Virgin founded by her parents on the Hasen Insel near Buda, the Margareten Insel near Budapest today, and where the ruins of the convent are still to be seen. Here Margaret passed all her life, which was consecrated to contemplation and penance, and was venerated as a saint during her lifetime. She strenuously opposed the plans of her father, who for political reasons wished to marry her to King Ottokar II of Bohemia.
But Margaret declared that she would cut off her nose and lips rather than consent to leave the cloister. In fact, when she became aware of a tendency to treat her with special consideration, she deliberately sought to perform the services that were most menial and repulsive, and with an extraordinary tenderness and charity. Probably she was allowed her own way in this where a stronger superior might have prevented excesses.
All narratives call special attention to Margaret’s sanctity and her spirit of earthly renunciation. Her whole life was one unbroken chain of devotional exercises and penance. She chastised herself unceasingly from childhood, wore hair garments, and an iron girdle round her waist, as well as shoes spiked with nails; she was frequently scourged, and performed the most menial work in the convent.
In the process for her beatification begun soon after death, many of her contemporaries told of these excesses and of miracles in which Margaret was involved. The sacristan told how Margaret would stroke her hand and coax her to leave the door of the choir open after Compline so that she might spend the night before the Blessed Sacrament when she ought to have been sleeping.
One of the convent maids fell into a well and was on the point of drowning but was saved by Margaret’s prayers. Asked what she thought of Margaret, she said, “She was good, holy and edifying in her conduct, a lot more humble than we serving-maids”. Intense too were Margaret’s prayer life and penance. She spent every Friday in tears, contemplating the suffering of Jesus. She worked much for the relief of the poor and sick.
Margaret shortened her life by her austerities. At the end of every Lent she would be exhausted by fasting and lack of sleep. On Holy Thursday she claimed the right as the daughter of the convent’s founders to wash the feet not only of the sisters but also the servants. Worn out by her efforts, she died on 18 January 1270 aged only twenty-eight.
Shortly after her death, steps were taken for her canonization, and in 1271-1276 investigations referring to this were taken up; in 1275-1276 the process was introduced, but not completed. Not till 1640 was the process again taken up, and again it was not concluded. Attempts which were made in 1770 by Count Ignatz Batthyanyi were also fruitless; so that the canonization never took place, although Margaret was venerated as a saint shortly after her death; and Pius VI consented on 28 July, 1789, to her veneration as a saint. Pius VII raised her feast day to a festum duplex.
She was canonized in 1943 by Pope Pius XII.
Margaret’s remains were given to the Poor Clares when the Dominican Order was dissolved; they were first kept in Pozsony and later in Buda. After the order had been suppressed by Joseph II, in 1782, the relics were destroyed in 1789; but some portions are still preserved in Gran, Gyor, Pannonhalma.
In art she is depicted with a lily and holding a book in her hand.
Image: Death of Saint Margaret of Hungary, artist: Molnár József , circa:
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff