On Sunday, a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in the church of San Domenico in Castillo, Italy—where Margaret of Castillo’s body lies incorrupt—provides a joyful conclusion to her long journey to official sainthood.Margaret of Castello – the unwanted saint – Catholic Herald
On Sunday, a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving in the church of San Domenico in Castillo, Italy—where Margaret of Castillo’s body lies incorrupt—provides a joyful conclusion to her long journey to official sainthood.
Margaret was born in 1287 in Metola in Italy. Her father Parisio, a successful soldier, expected a healthy first-born son—instead, God gave him Margaret. Lame, hunchbacked, ugly, a dwarf, and blind, Margaret was immediately rejected by both her parents. At the age of six, they walled her up in a stone cell, where she remained until age eighteen under the spiritual care of their castle chaplain.
From the very beginning, ‘Little Margaret’ embraced the sufferings of her enforced life as an ‘anchoress,’ spending long hours in prayer and fasting, and even wearing a hair shirt. Later, her parents took her to Castello, where healing miracles were happening, but when Margaret, praying only for God’s will, wasn’t healed, they abandoned her—a nobly-brought up young lady, penniless, blind and alone—in a strange city.
Despite this, such was Margaret’s love, respect, and forgiveness for her parents, all her life long, that to this day historians have never discovered her family name.
While living as a beggar on the streets, Margaret’s radiant cheerfulness and faith in God’s love—despite her personal circumstances—soon drew attention and led the other beggars to view their lives differently. She was adopted by the poor, living in one family home after another to spread the expense. Recognising her holiness, an order of nuns offered her a place among them—but Margaret persisted in observing the Rule they had grown lax in following and they put her back out on the street.
Ridicule accompanied this apparent ‘failure,’ but her meek humility gradually won over her critics. She became one of the first young unmarried women to join the ‘Order of Penance of Saint Dominic’—the early Lay Dominicans—dedicating the rest of her short life to works of mercy. She died age 33 with such a reputation for holiness that the townsfolk demanded she be buried (as saints were) within the church itself. After a mute and crippled girl was healed right there at the funeral, they got their wish.
More than two hundred miracles have followed her death, her popularity on a local scale has never waned, and in recent decades she has become beloved of the pro-life movement, so she fulfils the criteria for ‘equivalent’ canonisation perfectly, and it’s no surprise that Pope Francis signed the document of canonisation on April 24th, prior to the celebration in Castello this Sunday.
Pope Francis’s decision to canonise Saint Margaret seems timely. It is hard to read about Margaret’s life without the chilling reflection that had she been conceived in our western world today, she would probably never have been born at all. We live in a strange state of contradiction—one might say hypocrisy—where those with disabilities enjoy more rights and opportunities than ever in the history of the world. Yet, in stark contrast to their ‘fully-abled’ peers, they can in many countries be aborted right up until birth.
Another contradiction in our western world is the fact that we have reached a recognition—again, possibly greater than at any time in the past—of the inexpressible value of each individual—yet in the face of suffering we are now prepared to give up on people and accept their belief, in circumstances when their own judgment cannot possibly be sound, that they are ‘better off dead.’
Saint Margaret presents an example that was ahead of her time. She never allowed her disabilities or sufferings to define her or stop her from serving others, and she never gave up on another person, even the most miserable, bitter, foul-mouthed, blasphemous sinner in the town prison. The sight of her limping painfully along on continual errands of mercy, day after day, navigating streets she had never seen, astonished the whole town. The radiant beauty of her character is a rebuke to any society that places too much weight on appearances.
We live in an age that has lost confidence in the value of patient endurance, forgiveness, and love, and which defaults instantly to strident activism, complaints, and noise—such a stark contrast to Margaret’s patient, soul-winning joy. Far from wishing for healing, Margaret viewed her disabilities as gifts from God. She understood that by embracing her suffering, she could grow far closer to God than if she had been born whole and ‘normal’.
The Church has always taught the redemptive power of suffering but do we still believe it today, bone-deep, or do we, like many of her contemporaries, see the appalling rejection and suffering in her life and regard Margaret’s unwavering faith in God’s love with astonishment?
May she inspire us as she inspired them!
Corinna Turner is author most recently of Child, Unwanted (Margaret of Castello) — available now in the UK and US — as well as numerous other highly acclaimed works of young adult fiction.
Image caption: (Unknown painter, “St. Margaret, St. Liberata, Saint Lucy”, fresco, XV century, Montalto Dora (Turin, Italy), Exterior of the Castle chapel.) Credit: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5