THE LIFE OF ST. MARGARET OF ANTIOCH
St. Margaret’s father, chief priest of the pagans, considered her irrational. She was sent to live with a foster mother fifteen stades from Antioch. There she learned of the lives of the martyrs. The prefect Olibirus, visiting from Asia, saw her tending sheep. He told his soldiers to propose marriage if she were free, and buy her as a concubine if she were a slave.
She called out to Christ, “Do not destroy my soul among the wicked nor my lifelong men of blood. Do not let my soul be defiled nor my faith polluted. Let not my body be contaminated, let not my mind be changed, let not my pearl be cast forth into the mud, but send me your holy angel as a guide to open the channels of my understanding. For I see myself as a sheep in the midst of wolves, and I am become as a sparrow caught by a fowler in a net, and as a fish on a hook. Help me, Lord, and heal me. Do not abandon me into the hands of the wicked.”
Hearing this, the soldiers told Olibrius she worshipped Christ. He told them to imprison her until he decided how to ravage her chastity. Then he went into Antioch to worship his deaf and dumb gods.
In the place of justice, Olibrius proposed once more. St. Margaret, steadfast, replied, “You will never be able to move me from he path of truth upon which I have started. For I worship Him before whom the earth quakes and the sea is terrified.” Olibrius threatened to devour her flesh with his sword and to destroy her bones on a burning fire. St. Margaret said simply, “Christ has sealed me to himself with his sign.”
Dangling in the air, being hit with rods, she said, “Let me not be confounded in eternity. Free me from the grasp of this tormentor, lest perhaps my heart be stricken into fear. But send dew from heaven, so that my wounds may be soothed and my sorrow may find repose.” The crowds told her to believe in their gods and she would be their queen. St. Margaret said, “If my body is destroyed, my soul will repose with the just virgins.” She implored them to believe in her God, saying, “He is strong and listens to those who knock. I will not worship your deaf and dumb gods, which are made by human hand.” She turned to Olibrius, crying, “O horrible, insatiable lion.” To heaven she made this plea, “Save me from the mouth of the lion, and my abjectness from the horns of unicorns. Send to my aid a dove from heaven.” Olibrius drew his cloak over his eyes so he could no longer see her. He threatened her, “Submit, or my sword will devour your flesh and I will destroy your bones.”
It was seven o’clock at night. Olibrius ordered her imprisoned. In the dark cell she whispered to God, “I have become gloomy in the contest. Do not let my soul be contaminated.” Her foster mother brought her bread and water. Her foster father, watching her through a window, wrote her prayers as she said them. A dragon with a particolored coat and gold beard emerged from the shadows. It had terrible, iron-like teeth, and its eyes were like fire. Its tongue dangled down to its neck and it carried a double-edged sword. Flames flared when it spoke. St. Margaret went pale as grass and her bones splintered from fear. She fell to her knees and prayed, “God, you who are invisible, look upon me, an orphan in tribulation.” The dragon swallowed her, but the cross she held grew until it tore the dragon’s mouth. St. Margaret jumped out and lay prostrate on the prison floor in gratitude.
A dark man appeared with his hands attached to his knees. He grasped her small hand. He said the dragon was his brother Rufo, sent to blot out her memory from the earth. St. Margaret clutched the devil’s hair and smashed him to the ground. She stood on his neck and commanded him, “Abandon me.”
An illuminated cross appeared. A white dove perched on the cross said, “The gates of heaven await you.” The dark man said, “Do you wish to know our secret knowledge? After Beelzebub I was made a leader. You have put out my eye and slain my brother Rufo. I am he who enflames the passions of the just, blinds their eyes, and makes them forget heavenly wisdom. I cause them to sin in their sleep. I have been defeated by a tender girl.”
The dark man said, “Release me and I will tell you everything. Solomon enclosed us in a glass vessel, but we sent fire into one part of this vessel, and the men of Babylon came and thought they discovered gold in it and broke it, and then we were freed and filled the world.” St. Margaret made the sign of the cross and the earth devoured him.
St. Margaret was summoned to the seat of justice. Olibrius ordered her to be hung in the air and touched with fiery torches. She said, “Burn up my heart, Lord, so that there may not be wickedness in me.” Olbriuis had her hands and feet bound and told soldiers to immerse her in water until she drowned. St. Margaret looked to heaven and said, “Break apart my fetters. Let this water become for me a sanctification and the illumination of salvation, and let it become for me an everlasting fountain. May the holy dove bless this water, so that it may wash all my sins away from me.” An earthquake shook the land and a dove descended from heaven and placed on St. Margaret’s head a crown of gold. Her bonds were loosed and she emerged from the water. The dove in heaven said, “Come, Margaret, into the kingdom of the heavens.” Five thousand men instantly converted to Christianity. Evil Olibrius beheaded them.
Olibrius ordered St. Margaret beheaded as well, and the executioner said, “Stretch out your neck and receive the sword, and have pity on me, because I see Christ with his angels.” St. Margaret said, “God, who have measured heaven in your palm, if anyone reads this book of my deeds or hears it read or carries it in his hand, may that person’s sins be blotted out; and whoever comes with his light to the church where my relics are, may his sins be blotted out. Whoever builds a basilica in my name or creates a book of my passion, in his home let there not be born an infant lame or blind or dumb.” Thunder came over the land and a dove from heaven carried a holy cross, saying, “You have defeated the world and have sought the holy oil.” St. Margaret fell to the earth. The dove touched her and said, “Where your relics are, or a book of your passion, or memorials of your name, when a sinner comes and prays tearfully in that place and recalls your name, he will find remission of his sins. And blessed are you and the place where you repose. Blessed are you and every generation which believes through you. I am with you, and I will open for you the palace of the heavenly kingdom.” St. Margaret told the crowd she would pray for them that they might be filled with light in the kingdom of brightness, and sang her last hymn to the Lord. She said to the executioner, “Behold, I have defeated the world,” and bid him do his work.
Angels rested upon her blessed body. The sick, blind, lame, deaf, weak and feeble were healed by touching her body. Angels removed her body to heaven, singing as they ascended above the clouds. The sick who were healed now believed.
Theotimus, who recorded her deeds, placed her relics in a reliquary made of sweet scented stone, which was kept in the house of a noble lady in Antioch. He had listened to her prayers in prison and recorded them, and so he wrote her life on the thirteenth of July, so that all Christians would know the truth.
A thousand years later she guided St. Joan of Arc to sainthood, just as she had once been led, continents and centuries apart.