Feast Day : June 10
Margaret of Scotland probably was born around 1045, though the date is not reliable. She was the granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside of England and daughter of Edward the Aethling. Her mother, Agatha, was related to Gisela, the wife of St. Stephen of Hungary. According to tradition, Margaret and her family were exiled to Hungary when Canute and the Danes controlled England. Her father became known as “Edward the Exile.” They returned to England in 1057, but when the Norman Conquest came, Agatha went back to Europe and Margaret and other members of her family went north to Scotland to the court of King Malcolm III. In 1069 Margaret married Malcolm, despite her original desire for a life of piety. Margaret devoted herself to piety as much as possible. She was well educated and had a keen intellect. She convened a synod, at which various reforms were instituted. She persuaded Malcolm to romanize the Celtic Church, substitute Saxon for Gaelic as the court language, and replace the clan system with a feudal system. Such reforms earned her much criticism. Margaret founded several churches, including the abbey of Dunfermline, where she placed a true relic of the Cross, as well as many objects made of gold. She built a chapel at Edinburgh Castle. She worked to improve the literacy at court and among the people. Tradition holds that Margaret did not hesitate to help the poor, and even washed their feet and fed children from her own dish. According to legend, Margaret and Malcolm enjoyed a true love relationship. Malcolm could not read or write, but bought for her a book of the Gospels and had it encrusted with jewels. One day the book fell into a river and was miraculously recovered. The book now is housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Margaret severely impaired her health by following strict austerities. By the time she was 40, her health was permanently damaged from fasting and abstinence, and also from the rigors of birthing seven children. Malcolm tried to expand his kingdom into England, but was met with resistance by William the Conqueror. There was much fighting. Margaret foretold the day of her death, November 16, 1093. Prior to that she was severely ill and preparing for her death. She passed away upon hearing the news that her husband and oldest son had been killed several days earlier in England, where they had gone on a raid. Ambushed, they had surrendered, but the king was then murdered in treachery and his body dumped on the battlefield. Son Edward was killed soon thereafter. Margaret died in Edinburgh Castle, which was under siege. A thick mist arose, enabling the transport of her body to the abbey of Dunfermline, where she was buried before the high altar. Her body exuded a sweet perfume. Malcolm’s body, which had been buried at Tynemouth after his murder, was moved to the abbey 20 years later. In 1250 her remains were translated to the shrine of the Lady Chapel at the abbey. Legend has it that her coffin became too heavy to move, until the coffin of her husband was moved as well. Both repose beneath the high altar. Margaret became the only Scots monarch ever to be canonized. Three of her sons became kings of Scotland: Edgar, Alexander and David. After 1560, during the Protestant Reformation, Margaret’s relics were moved for safety. The torso of Margaret and body of Malcolm were sent to Madrid. Margaret’s head went to Edinburgh Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots thought it would aid the birth of her child, James, the future king James VI of Scotland and king James I of England. In 1567 Mary fled to England, and the head was given to a Benedictine monk to keep in the castle of the laird of Durie. In 1597 the head was taken to Antwerp by a Jesuit. In 1627 it went to the Jesuits of the Scots College at Douai in northern France, where it was placed in a silver case. The college was destroyed in the French Revolution, and Margaret’s head disappeared. Meanwhile, the remains sent to Spain mysteriously disappeared by 1863, save for one six-inch piece of bone, now kept in the Ursuline Convent of St. Margaret in Edinburgh. Bone splinters were sent to two churches in Hungary. In 1991 a set of teeth identified as Margaret’s were found in Spain. Margaret’s holy rood, which she requested as she lay dying, disappeared sometime during the Protestant Reformation. It was a gold cross set in diamonds with a figure of Christ carved out of ivory. It was taken to England, then returned to Scotland. In 1346, King David II took it into battle with him and lost it to the English.