Saint Margaret of Antioch

The Church  in Tintinhull is dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch.  Antioch was populous city in ancient Syria (now in the Republic of Türkiye) and was one of the earliest areas where Christianity flourished.  Margaret of Antioch is celebrated as a saint by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on 20 July and by the Orthodox Church on 17 July.

Nothing certain is known of Margaret of Antioch who probably existed more in legend than in fact.  According to legend, she was the daughter of a pagan priest at Antioch where her mother died soon after her birth.  Margaret was nursed by a Christian woman, Theobitus who lived about 20 miles from Antioch.  Margaret embraced the Christianity of her guardian and consecrated her virginity to God.  Consequently her father disowned her and she was adopted by her nurse, becoming a shepherdess.

While looking after the flocks she was observed by Olybius, a lascivious Roman Prefect struck by her great beauty.  He determined to marry her or have her as his concubine if she was a slave.  When neither cajolery nor threats of punishment succeeded in moving her to yield to his desires, he had her brought before him in public trial at Antioch.  Threatened with death unless she renounced the Christian faith, Margaret refused the gods of the Roman Empire and was cruelly tortured.  First an attempt was made to burn her but the flames left her unhurt.  She was then bound hand and foot and thrown into a cauldron of boiling water but as she prayed her bonds were broken and she stood up uninjured.

Back in prison Satan appeared to her in the guise of a huge and frightening dragon. Somehow the dragon managed to swallow her but she made the sign of the cross and its stomach burst open and she was able to walk free.  Finally, she was beheaded at the supposed age of 15, along with her many converts around AD 304.

At her death she prayed that women in childbirth would, upon calling on her, be safely delivered of their child as she had been delivered from the belly of the dragon.  She is the patron saint of expectant mothers and also the patron saint of women, nurses, and peasants.

Her story was immensely popular in the Middle Ages, spreading from the East all over Western Europe.  By early in the eighth century she had become one of 14 Holy Helpers (a group of saints venerated together by Roman Catholic Christians because their intercession is believed to be particularly effective against various diseases).  Devotion to Margaret of Antioch became widespread in medieval England with more than 250 churches dedicated to her, most famously St. Margaret’s Church next to Westminster Abbey and regarded as the parish church of the Houses of Parliament in London.