|Image of Margaret from a medieval family tree|
Saint Margaret of Scotland was also known as ‘Margaret of Wessex’ and ‘the Pearl of Scotland’.
Margaret was born in exile in the Kingdom of Hungary, probably in 1045. In context, she was the sister of Edgar Ætheling, the shortly reigned and uncrowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. Edward the Confessor invited the family back to England in 1057, but again they fled following the Norman conquest of England in 1066. This time, the Scottish King, Malcolm III offered his protection to the royal family. Margaret married Malcolm in 1069 or 1070 to become Queen of Scots.
Margaret was pious from an early age. Her biographer was Turgot of Durham, Bishop of St Andrew’s, who credits her with having a civilising influence on her husband the king by reading him narratives from the Bible. Among many charitable works she established a ferry across the Firth of Forth to enable pilgrims to reach the shrine of St Andrew in Fife which, incidentally, gave the towns of South Queensferry and North Queensferry their names. She rose at midnight every night to attend the liturgy. She gave alms on a lavish scale. Her charitable works included serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate and, in imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper, washing the feet of the poor.
Margaret’s faith was later inspired by Lanfranc, a future Archbishop of Canterbury. With his help, she reformed the Scottish monasteries and helped the Scottish Church conform to the continental Church. She founded churches, monasteries and pilgrimage hostels, and established the Royal Mausoleum at Dunfermline Abbey with monks from Canterbury. She also helped restore the ancient abbey on Iona, where the remains of almost all the Scottish kings are buried.
Under Margaret, Mass was changed from the many dialects of Gaelic to the unifying Latin. By adopting Latin in this way, she hoped that all Scots could worship together in unity, along with the other Christians of Western Europe. Indeed, in doing so, Margaret sought not only to unite the Scots but also the two nations of Scotland and England in an attempt to end the bloody warfare between the two countries.
Margaret was mother to three Scottish kings and passed her faith to each, especially the youngest, who became King David I of Scotland, and who clearly revered her.
Margaret’s piety involved severe fasting and abstinence, and probably shortened her life. According to Turbot’s Life of St Margaret, Queen of the Scots, she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093, a few days after receiving the news of her husband’s death in battle. She was aged forty-seven. She was buried beside her husband Malcolm in Dunfermline Abbey. Her youngest son, King David I honoured her memory by building St Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle on the spot where his mother died in 1093. Within a few years, miracles took place in and around her tomb, and it became a popular shrine.
The Church formally declared her a saint in 1250, and celebrates her feast on the anniversary of her death, 16 November.