St. Margaret of Antioch

St. Margaret of Antioch is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, a group of saints widely venerated against disease starting in the fifteenth century. Along with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Michael the Archangel, she spoke to St. Joan of Arc in a vision.

Lifetime: ~289 to ~304
Region: Antioch (modern Turkey)
Patronages: Pregnant women; Kidney disease; Exiles; The falsely accused
Iconograpy: Slain dragon or demon; Crucifix; Hammer
Feast Day: July 20 (Western); July 17 (Eastern)

Margaret, also known as Marina, was the daughter of a pagan priest. Her mother died when Margaret was still a baby, so she was raised by a local nurse, who happened to be Christian. Margaret's foster mother had Margaret baptized and given a Christian education and she grew up modest and pious. When she returned to her father, he was very impressed with her grace and virtue, but he was upset that she would not join him in worshipping idols. She told him that she had dedicated her life to Jesus and that she would never take part in his religion.

When it became clear that he could not convince her, Margaret's father disowned her, and she retuned to her foster mother. Margaret helped care for her foster mother's sheep and other menial work, all the while perfecting her virtue.

While Margaret was a teenager, the Roman emperors began to make Christianity illegal. Soon after, one of the Roman governors spotted her and was overtaken with her beauty and humility. He asked her to marry him, but in order to do so she would have to give up her now-illegal Christian faith. She also explained to him that she had already dedicated herself to Jesus and would never take any husband on earth.

This angered the governor, who was not used to being refused, especially by lowly shepherdesses. Since she refused to deny her illegal faith, he had her publicly scourged as a punishment, hoping that the pain would make her choose the easy route and be with him instead of receiving more tortures. She still refused, and he had more and more tortures inflicted on her before throwing her in prison.

In prison, Margaret praised Jesus that he had given her the strength to maintain her faith despite all the suffering she had endured. She also knew that her trials were not over, and prayed that God would continue to bestow courage upon her.

Knowing that Margaret's witness could bring many more people to worship Christ, Satan himself appeared in her cell in the form of a dragon. He swallowed her whole, thinking that he had won against this pious fifteen year old. But Margaret's prayers had prepared her well. She still held a crucifix in her hands that she had been using in prayer, and used it to carve at the dragon's insides. While any simple tool may not have been able to harm the Father of Lies, the image of the One who defeated Hades proved more than strong enough to rip through his flesh and send him back to the Underworld. Margaret emerged from the dragon and launched back into prayer.

The cell she was in became filled with heavenly light, which healed all of the wounds Margaret had received from her earlier tortures. Not a single scar remained on her flesh.

The governor saw that she had healed, and told her that it was the pagan gods who had healed her. He told her that she must make a sacrifice to their idols to show them her gratitude. She declared that no, it was her God who had healed her, and that she hated the pagan gods. The governor grew irate. He no longer wished to marry her or torture her into changing her faith; now he just wanted to kill her.

The governor tried to burn her, but the flames wouldn't harm her. He tied her up and tried to have her lowered into a cauldron of boiling water, but an earthquake broke her bonds and spilled the waters. All of these failed attempts on her life won more and more converts to her Christian faith. Finally, he had her beheaded, and having received a glorious martyrdom, Margaret entered the gates of Heaven, to be united with Christ forever.

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