Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Margaret

July 20; A.D. 306

Some—perhaps many—of you who will read this book have been christened Margaret. It is a good old name, and not in England alone, but in almost every country of Europe; in France, Italy, Germany, one meets with many Margarets. The sound of the name is very little changed in the different lands. Margaret, Margherita, Marguerite, all are much alike. The word has also a very beautiful meaning, or rather two meanings—pearl and daisy. One ought always to strive to be worthy of the name one bears, and those who have been christened Margaret should try to be precious, through good deeds and acts of kindness to those among whom they live, and pure, like the pearl, and sweet and simple like the daisy.

But better than even the thoughts of these beautiful meanings of the name is the remembrance of the holy life and noble martyrdom of one of the first maidens who was called Margaret. It was in fact from the time of her death that the name became so general; Christian people liked to baptize their little ones after a maiden who had given so grand an example of faith and steadfastness. In England alone more than two hundred churches are named in honour of St. Margaret.

She was born about the year 289, and was the daughter of an old pagan priest, a Greek. He was a man of good birth and great learning, and people thought Margaret had reason to be proud to call herself his child. But while still very young she lost her mother, and the little girl, who was not at all strong, was sent away to the country. She was given into the care of a woman known to be very good and likely to take great care of the motherless little one. This woman was a Christian, and as Margaret grew up with her, and learned to love her as a mother, she learned also to know and love the Saviour.

By-and-by she went back to her father, but when he found that she had become a Christian he was very angry. He said she must give up Christianity or else leave his house, and be to him thenceforth an outcast and a stranger.

It must have been a dreadful trial to poor Margaret to find that the father whom she wished to love and honour, and whose home she was now old enough to take care of and make happy for him, turned from her because of her love for JESUS CHRIST. But she could not give up her faith. She went quietly back to the humble cottage of her nurse, and begged to be allowed to work for her, and so earn her daily bread.

Except that she must have grieved at the loss of her father's love, Margaret lived very happily now. She was content to be poor and lowly, and used to go out upon the hills to tend the sheep, or do gladly whatever other work she could for her foster-mother, who was quite a poor woman.

One day it happened that a rich pagan governor passed through the country, and saw Margaret watching her sheep in the fields. He thought he had never seen any one so fair, and he sent at once to ask if she were really a poor slave, as it would seem from the work she was doing, or if she were free-born. He wanted to make her his wife, and he bade his men bring her in to speak with him.

The young girl dared not refuse to go with the men, and she was led in before the governor, who spoke to her in a gentle tone, and told her she must not be afraid of him. "Tell me," he said, "art thou slave or free-born?"

"My family is no unknown one," she answered, coldly, "nor my house of low degree. But since thou speakest of freedom, know that I depend on no man, I am a servant of the LORD JESUS CHRIST."

"What is thy name?" asked the prefect.

"Men call me Margaret. But by Baptism I have received a nobler name: I am a Christian."

At this answer the prefect was very angry. Never did the young maiden look more lovely than as she stood before him and proudly owned her faith. She knew he wanted to make her his wife: she knew she had only to give way a little, to hide the warmth of her belief in JESUS, and a life of ease would be hers. No more need would there be to tend sheep upon the hills, to lead a hard, spare life without any of the state or comfort to which she had been born. But truth and the love of CHRIST were all in all to Margaret.

The prefect thought that if she were put under torture she would surely give in. He fixed a day for the cruel trial; it was to take place before all the people of the city.

Margaret bore up bravely through all the frightful torments. She was then cast into a dark dungeon. But she would not yield. We read that when she was in the dungeon the devil came to her, looking like a huge dragon, and that the young girl held up the cross to him, when he at once vanished.

By this is meant that she was indeed assailed by strong temptation, that in spirit the devil did really come to her in the dark prison, tempting her to give way, as he so often comes to us now-a-days. Just one word, and Margaret would have been free and rich, and honoured by the great of the land. Never would she speak that word. She spoke, instead, of her faith in JESUS CHRIST. Through all her tortures she tried to tell the people who looked on of the Saviour's love.

Like St. Agnes, she was beheaded at last. They took her outside the walls of the city; there she knelt and said her last prayer. Then with one blow of the axe the brave and faithful maiden was put to death. Her body was consigned to dust; her pure and noble soul returned to GOD Who gave it.