November 16 – Margaret of Scotland

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Margaret of Scotland, faithful servant

Saint Margaret was canonised in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV in recognition of her personal holiness, faithfulness to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity, her Feast Day now being celebrated on 16 November. An English princess of the House of Wessex, she is also known as Margaret of Wessex, Queen Margaret of Scotland and sometimes called “The Pearl of Scotland”.

Margaret was born in exile in Hungary around 1045, daughter of Edward the Exile and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, King of England and with her siblings, Edgar the Ætheling and Cristina, grew up in the Hungarian court.

When Margaret was still a child her father, Edward, was recalled to England as a possible successor to Margaret’s great-uncle, the childless Edward the Confessor, but died soon after landing. Margaret continued to live at the English court, her brother Edgar Ætheling being considered a possible successor. But when the Confessor died in January 1066, Harold Godwinson was selected as king. After Harold’s defeat at the battle of Hastings later that year, Edgar was proclaimed King of England. But after William the Conqueror’s victory, Edgar was taken to Normandy. He was returned to England in 1068, when Edgar, Margaret, Cristina and their mother Agatha fled north to Northumbria.

According to tradition, Agatha decided to return to the continent, but they were shipwrecked on the way and driven on to the coast of Scotland. Soon after, Margaret met Malcolm 111, and they were married by 1070.  She is believed to have had a moderating influence on this rather rough and uneducated man, and would read to him from the Bible. He so admired her devotion that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. One of these is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. She and Malcolm had six sons and two daughters, whose religious instruction and other studies Margaret supervised.

Guided by Lafranc, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, she encouraged reforms in the Scottish Church, seeking to bring it in line with the Church of Rome. She encouraged synods and was present for the discussions which tried to correct religious abuses common among priests and lay people, such as simony, usury and incestuous marriages. Together with Malcolm, she founded several churches. She also sought to improve her adopted country by promoting the arts and education.

In her personal life, she spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. During Lent and Advent she would rise at midnight to go to church. In 1072 she invited the Benedictine order to establish a monastery at Dunfermline in Fife, and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims. She was also known for her charity. Before eating her own meals, she would wash the feet of the poor and ensure that they were fed. Margaret was also a benefactor of Iona Abbey providing funds for a chapel in the Relig Oran (the graveyard were Oran, a companion of Columba, was the first to be buried). It is the only chapel that still stands on the monastic site.

Because of all this, she was considered as an exemplar of the “just ruler”.

By 1093 Margaret was close to death and died three days after hearing that Malcolm and their eldest son Edward had been killed at the Battle of Alnwick.  People still visit her tomb at Dumferline Abbey and her chapel in Edinburgh Castle.

Rev Pam Kerr