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Margaret Clitherow: 1555-1586

She was born Margaret Middleton, the daughter of a wax-chandler, after Henry VIII of England had split the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. She married John Clitherow, a butcher, in 1571 (at the age of 15) and bore him three children. She converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18, in 1574. Her husband John was supportive (his own brother was a Catholic priest), though he remained Protestant. She then became a friend of the persecuted Roman Catholic population in the north of England. She regularly held Masses in her home in the Shambles in York. There was a hole cut between the attics of her house and the house next door, so that a priest could escape if there was a raid.

The death penalty was also introduced for those hiding priests. Margaret was aware of the danger she was in and the risks involved, but continued to hide priests. She was arrested many times under suspicion but no evidence was found. In 1586, priest's vestments and communion bread were discovered in her house and she was arrested and called before the York assizes for the crime of harbouring Roman Catholic priests. She refused to plead to the case so as to prevent a trial that would entail her children being made to testify and therefore they would be tortured, and she was executed by being crushed to death – the standard punishment for refusal to plead.

She was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI along with other martyrs from England and Wales.



Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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