Margaret Clitherow

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Saint Margaret Clitherow
Margaret Clitherow.png
one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales
Born 1556
York, Yorkshire, England[1]
Died 25 March 1586
York, Yorkshire, England
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized 25 October 1970, Rome by Pope Paul VI
Major shrine The Shambles, York, North Yorkshire, England
Feast 30 August
Patronage businesswomen, converts, martyrs, Catholic Women's League, Latin Mass Society

Saint Margaret Clitherow (1556 – 25 March 1586) is an English saint and martyr of the Roman Catholic Church.[2] She is sometimes called "the Pearl of York".


She was born as Margaret Middleton,[3] the daughter of a wax-chandler, after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. She married John Clitherow, a butcher, in 1571 (at the age of 18) and bore him three children. She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 21, in 1574. Her husband John was supportive (he having a brother who was Roman Catholic clergy), though he remained Protestant.[4] She then became a friend of the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England. Her son, Henry, went to Reims to train as a Roman Catholic priest. She regularly held Masses in her home in the Shambles in York. There was a hole cut between the attics of her house and the adjoining house to enable a priest to escape in the event of a raid. A house in the Shambles once thought to have been her home, now called the Shrine of the Saint Margaret Clitherow, is open to the public (it is served by the nearby Church of St Wilfrid's and is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough); her actual house (10 and 11, the Shambles) is further down the street, she was married to a butcher where she lived in a shop there at No. 10 Shambles, her home is now a cufflinks shop, Cuffs & Co, and features the priest hole fireplace that ultimately led to her death.

In 1586, she was arrested and called before the York assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead to the case so as to prevent a trial that would entail her children being made to testify, and therefore being subjected to torture. As a result, she was executed by being crushed to death, the standard inducement to force a plea, on Good Friday 1586.[5] The two sergeants who should have killed her hired four desperate beggars to do it instead. She was stripped and had a handkerchief tied across her face then laid out upon a sharp rock the size of a man's fist, the door from her own house was put on top of her and slowly loaded with an immense weight of rocks and stones (the small sharp rock would break her back when the heavy rocks were laid on top of her). Her death occurred within fifteen minutes, but her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed. After her death her hand was removed, and this relic is now housed in the chapel of the Bar Convent, York.

Following her execution, Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York expressing her horror at the treatment of a woman. Because of her sex, she argued, Clitherow should not have been executed.[citation needed]

Commemorative plaque on the Ouse Bridge, York

In 2008, a commemorative plaque was installed at the Micklegate end of Ouse Bridge, York to mark the site of her martyrdom; the Bishop of Middlesbrough unveiled this in a ceremony on Friday 29 August 2008.[6]


She was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI and canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI along with other martyrs from England and Wales. The group of candidates canonised at that time is commonly called "The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales". Her feast day in the current Roman Catholic calendar, together with the other English martyrs, is 4 May. However her feast day in England is 30 August, which she shares with fellow female martyrs St. Anne Line and St. Margaret Ward.

A number of schools in England are named after Margaret Clitherow, including schools at Bracknell, Brixham, Manchester, Nottingham, Thamesmead SE28, Brent, London NW10 and Tonbridge. The Roman Catholic primary school in Nottingham's Bestwood estate is named after Clitherow. In the United States, St Margaret of York Church and School in Loveland, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, is also named after her. Another school named after her is St. Margaret Clitherow RC Primary School, located next to Stevenage Borough Football Club.

She is also the patroness of the Catholic Women's League, an organisation of Catholic women founded in 1906, with small groups (known as branches) and sections (groupings of branches, usually along diocesan lines) across the world. St Margaret is also a co-patroness of the Latin Mass Society, who organise an annual pilgrimage to York in her honour every year. A group of parishes in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool, Sacred Heart in Hindsford, St Richard's in Atherton, Holy Family in Boothstown, St Ambrose Barlow in Astley, St Gabriel's, Higher Folds in Leigh are now united as a single community with St Margaret Clitherow as its patron.[7][8]

The English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem honouring "God's daughter Margaret Clitheroe."[9] The poem, entitled "Margaret Clitheroe" was among fragments and unfinished poems of Hopkins discovered after his death and is a tribute to the woman, to her faith and courage, and to the manner of her death.[10]

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter Lake and Michael Questier, 2011, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England: New York/London: Continuum ISBN 1-4411-0436-4

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Rayne-Davies, John (2002). Margaret Clitherow: Saint of York. Beverley : Highgate of Beverley. ISBN 1-902645-32-4. 
  3. ^ St. Wilfrid's Roman Catholic Church - York
  4. ^ The Little Black Book: Six-minute reflections on the Weekly Gospels of Lent 2009, page about "The Pearl of York", published by the Diocese of Saginaw
  5. ^ McGoldrick, T.A., "Saint Margaret Clitherow", Catholic Pamphlets
  6. ^ "Bishop Terry to unveil plaque to St Margaret Clitherow". The Roman Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2010. 
  7. ^ The Catholic Church in the Leigh Area, Leigh Pastoral Area, retrieved 28 April 2013 
  8. ^ History,, retrieved 28 April 2013 
  9. ^ Garner, W. H. (ed.) (1953), Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 78-80
  10. ^ "The Poet’s Eye: Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Margaret Clitheroe”". 16 October 2008. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 

External links[edit]




 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.