St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret of Scotland

by Dr. Chris R. Powell

mage resultAs we travel back and forth in time through Laura’s books, we wonder about all the aspects of life in the 14th century – what did people do?  Eat?  (Wait, there’s a cookbook for that…)  Who did they revere, and why?  Coming out of the Dark Ages, after Viking and other raids all through Ireland and Scotland, the knowledge of the world was on the precipice.  If it were not for the warrior-monks during that time, including St. Columba, the sum of Western knowledge up to that point may have been lost forever.  We see this knowledge as it was spread through Irish-founded monasteries and schools throughout Europe, carefully copied and transcribed by hand.  We also see it in occasional finds, as the Lindisfarne Gospel and Book of Kells were found preserved in peat bogs as the monks must have buried these works before the monks were killed or were able to run off from a raid, as their churches, schools, books, and sometimes people, were burned.  By the time of Robert the Bruce, life could still be barbaric, but knowledge and worship had been restored, and people leveraged this knowledge not only to understand what virtue was, but also to live virtuous lives.  Into this time we find St. Margaret of Scotland (1045-93), whose feast day is celebrated in the Catholic Church on November 16. 


When Margaret was 12, she was brought from her birthplace in Hungary to the court of King Edward the Confessor in England, but was forced to flee with her mother, brother, and sister after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  They were given refuge at the court of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and in 1070 Margaret and Malcolm were married in Dunfermline Castle, which later featured prominently in the monarchy of Robert the Bruce.  Margaret became known for her great personal piety expressed in prayer, austerities, and fasting, her great concern for the poor and the needy, and for her royal benefactions.  She supported synods that reformed abuses that were very common at the time, including simony and usury.  Simony – the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges (pardons or benefices) – might later be a term we might employ to mean something completely different in Laura’s stories, as we meet the rather dangerous Lord Simon Beaumont…and we find both medieval and modern times haunted by this rather murderous individual.  In Margaret’s time, the practice of simony was not as – dangerous – but it was still against what the Church stood for. 


She also set regulations for the Lenten fast and Easter Communion.  She and Malcolm kept two Lents, one before Easter and one before Christmas. During these times she always rose at midnight for Mass. On the way home she would wash the feet of six poor persons and give them alms. She was always surrounded by beggars in public and never refused them. It is recorded that she never sat down to eat without first feeding nine orphans and 24 adults, even as the King’s wife!1  She also encouraged arts and education, acted as an advisor in state matters, and also, with Malcolm, founded Holy Trinity Church at Dunfermline.2  Imagine, a Queen, who could easily stay inside the castle walls and still care for the poor, at least indirectly, getting out of the castle, touching, caring for, and feeding these people, every day.  A lesson in how to be charitable – the “clean” way vs. the “dirty” way that St. Margaret demonstrated for us and for Scotland, and those after her, including St. Teresa of Calcutta. 


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