Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Pearl of York: St. Margaret Clitherow

She was pressed to death on Good Friday in 1586. The reason for this unique form of execution is that St. Margaret Clitherow refused to plead at her trial, to avoid her family having to testify against or for her. She was accused of harboring priests and protecting them, and she certainly had broken the law. Her husband was Anglican and paid fines on her behalf since she did not attend the Church of England. She did have Catholic priests in their home to teach her children and other Catholic children--remember that many in the north of England remained true to the Catholic Faith--and provided a hiding place. When these activities were discovered, St. Margaret was arrested and put on trial. Because she would not plead the judge proclaimed this sentence:

You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back. . . . [except that they did not prolong her torture to force her to plead in the trial against her, but proceeded with an execution by pressing or crushing]

Ten days were allowed to pass between her sentencing and execution. On the day of her execution she was calm and forgiving. When asked to pray for the Queen, she asked God to turn Her Majesty to the Catholic faith. They placed the board upon her and the hired executioners placed the huge stones upon her. Within a quarter of an hour she was dead. The sheriffs left the body under the door from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. They then buried her body in some waste ground, where they hoped it would never be found.

Last year I published this review of a book that considered her martyrdom and her sufferings as a Catholic in Elizabethan York in the context of the debate between Catholics about what relief from recusancy fines they could obtain by some outward indications of conformity. (The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan Englandby Peter Lake and Michael Questier).

Earlier this year, one of the bloggers for The Catholic Herald presented the notion that St. Margaret Clitherow should be included among the eminent Britons honoured by a postage stamp.

St. Margaret Clitherow shares a feast day with St. Margaret Ward and St. Anne Line, on August 30 in the dioceses of England.


  1. And why we should treasure our Fifth Admendment rights. (previously unknown in the West, with the notable exception of the Inquisition!)

  2. Having seen her shrine in the York Shambles last year, I appreciate knowing her story. The beautiful Mass in her honor will ring out splendidly in the magnificent York Minster.