Feast Day : February 22
Patronage: homeless; midwives; single mothers; tertiaries
Also known as: Magdalen of the Seraphic Order
Margaret of Cortona was born in Laviano, Tuscany, Italy, in 1247. Her mother died when she was seven. Her father remarried, but the stepmother mistreated the girl. Margaret grew to be a great beauty. At age 17, she ran off with a cavalier and lived with him as his mistress in his luxurious castle in Montepulciano for nine years, during which she bore a son. She desired to be married, but her lover always reneged on his promises to do so. Her arrangement scandalized people, but according to lore, Margaret asserted she would die a saint and pilgrims would visit her shrine. One day her lover set out on a journey with his dog. The dog returned without him and led Margaret to his mangled body in a shallow grave—he had been brutally murdered. She gave up all her possessions to his family. Her family refused to accept her, and so she and her son set out for Cortona to seek entry with the Franciscan Friars there. They were taken in. Margaret struggled to adjust to life as a religious. She publicly repented for her life of sin. She once tried to mutilate her beautiful face, but was prevented from doing so by Father Giunta. She earned her living nursing women. After three years she was admitted to the Third Order of St. Francis. She took a vow of strict poverty, and subsisted on alms and ministered to the sick and poor. In 1277 she had the first of her mystical experiences. While praying in the church of the Franciscan Friars, she heard these words: “What is thy wish, poverella?” She responded, “I neither seek nor wish for aught but thee, my Lord Jesus.” From then on she experienced a continuing and intense communion with Christ. Initially, He called her “poverella” (“poor one”) and then “my child.” In her frequent ecstasies she received many messages from Him, some for her and some for others, which she delivered. Father Giunta recorded some of the divine messages. Margaret was instrumental in the establishment of a hospital in Cortona for the sick and poor. She established a congregation of Tertiary Sisters, called le poverelle (“poor ones”), to serve as nurses to the sick and poor, and she also established a confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy to support the hospital and the needy in the community. She also did not hesitate to speak up, and twice criticized the bishop of Cortona for his lavish lifestyle. Margaret lived in the hospital and then moved to the ruined church of St. Basil, which she had repaired. She lived the remainder of her life in the church, working miracles of healing. She knew the date of her death in advance, and died on February 22, 1729. She was buried at the church, which later was rebuilt in a grander style and dedicated to her. The body of Margaret remains incorrupt, with all of the nails on her hands and feet intact. The body is exposed in a glass-sided reliquary decorated with precious gems and ornaments that have been donated by pilgrims.