St Margaret Clitherow is one of the best known and loved of the English Martyrs. Margaret Middleton was born in York in 1556. In 1571 she married a prosperous butcher, John Clitherow, and became a Catholic in 1574.
At this time, it was an act of treason to be a Catholic priest in England, or to shelter a priest. Despite this, Margaret celebrated Mass above the family’s shop in the Shambles. She also ran a small school to teach the Catholic Faith to children.
In 1586 her activities were betrayed to the authorities. When charged, Margaret refused to plead. She did not want to expose her family, friends or the children in her school to the risks involved in giving evidence at trial: they may have betrayed others or denied their faith in public.
The penalty for refusing to plead was being crushed to death. It was expected that the victim, in the absence of other evidence, might betray herself under the torture. Margaret suffered this fate on 25th March, 1586. It was Good Friday and the Feast of the Annunciation. She prayed aloud but gave nothing away.
Margaret Clitherow had three children. Her son Henry Clitherow went abroad to train as a priest and returned to work on the English Mission.
In 1929 Pope Pius XI beatified Margaret Clitherow, setting her on the path to sainthood, and on 25th October 1970 Pope Paul VI canonised her a saint among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
The feast day of the Forty Martyrs is 4th May in England and 25th October in Wales. St Maragret Clitherow is also commemorated in England on 30th August.