At times, it’s easy to see why the lives of the saints are treated with doubt by non-Catholics. Many of the early saints are shrouded in history, their lives glorified by implausible legends. We may know little about them besides their names, patronage, and perhaps where and when they lived. St. Margaret of Antioch, a patron saint of childbirth, is one of these saints.
The Life of St. Margaret of Antioch
St. Margaret of Antioch lived during the third century, under the persecutions of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Her father was a pagan priest who drove her out of his home after she became a Christian. Margaret then became a shepherdess to support herself.
Like many other saints from this era, St. Margaret was a virgin who refused marriage with a pagan. In anger, that man put her on trial for her faith. When she was threatened with torture, she answered,
“The true life and true joy, thanks be to God, I have already found, and have placed them in the stronghold of my heart that they may never be removed. I mean that I adore and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, that I venerate Him with confidence and will never cease to honor Him with my whole soul. Know that no human power, no torture will be able to extract from my heart so great a treasure. “
She was then thrown into prison and likely tortured as well. It is said that first attempts to execute her were unsuccessful, so that many watching were converted. In The Big Book of Women Saints, Sarah Gallick says, “In her last moments, she asked God to pardon her tormenters and prayed that any pregnant woman might call on her for a safe delivery. A celestial voice announced that her prayers had been granted.” She was finally beheaded.
Patron Saint of Childbirth
St. Margaret’s patronage of women in labour is linked to a legend about one of her trials. While she was in prison, she was supposedly visited by Satan disguised as a dragon. He attempted to swallow her whole, but the cross she carried caused him to spit her out again. Because she came out of the dragon unharmed, pregnant women ask for her prayer that their babies are also born safely.
St. Margaret of Antioch was a very popular saint during the Middle Ages. Her voice is one of those heard by St. Joan of Arc and she is one of the fourteen Holy Helpers. In art, she is usually pictured standing above a dragon, as in the Raphael painting above.
Gallick says, “This is a saint with staying power. A fifth-century pope declared her legend apocryphal, but six hundred years later the Crusaders were still spreading Margaret’s story all over Europe. Her cult was officially suppressed in 1969, because of lack of historical evidence, but churches dedicated to Margaret remain and her legend lives on.”
She is the patron saint of childbirth, expectant mothers, falsely accused people, pregnant women, women, and women in labour. She is also the patron saint against kidney disease and against loss of milk by nursing mothers.
Lessons from St. Margaret of Antioch
What can we learn, as moms, from the life of a virgin martyr?
First, moms face a myriad of choices, starting with pregnancy. Some of those decision may put us in conflict with our parents, as St. Margaret’s decision to trust in Jesus Christ did. Like St. Margaret, we must approach these decisions with faith and prayer. Then, if it is the right decision for our child and our family, we must go ahead with it, even if it causes strife.
Second, whether or not St. Margaret was swallowed by a dragon, she did likely face pain and suffering before her death. The persecutions of the Christians under the Emperor Diocletian are historical fact. Just as St. Margaret had the hope of heaven and her love for Jesus to carry her through her suffering, as moms we have the hope of motherhood and our love for our babies to carry us through the pains of childbirth. We can ask St. Margaret to pray for strength and grace for us to face our trial just as she faced her trial.
Prayer to St. Margaret of Antioch
My Lord and God! I offer up to Thee my petition in union with the bitter passion and death of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, together with the merits of His immaculate and blessed Mother, Mary ever virgin, and of all the Saints, particularly with those of the holy Helper in whose honor I make this novena. Look down upon me, merciful Lord! Grant me Thy grace and Thy love, and graciously hear my prayer. Amen.
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