Saint Margaret of Cortona
Died 1297 A.D.
Margaret is derived from a Persian name that means "Pearl."
Margaret, which means “Pearl”, was born in Laviano, Italy, near Perugia, in 1247. Her parents were farmers. When Margaret was seven, her mother died. Her father remarried but the step mother appears to have been domineering and exacting. Margaret, who was headstrong and willful, was often at odds with her stepmother while her father meekly refused to intervene.
At the age of seventeen, the reckless young Margaret met a young noble man who wooed her. He is believed to be James Pecora, the son of William di Pecora who was lord of Montepulciano. Marriage was out of the question—noble men did not marry farm girls—so Margaret went to live in the castle as her lover’s mistress. She made no effort to hide her lack of a wedding band. In fact, Margaret flaunted her position, riding well dressed and proud into the town of Montepulciano, over which the castle hovered. When her son was born out of wedlock, she proudly took him with her. After all, her lover promised that he would marry her some day. He was taking a long time about it, however.
One day, her lover’s little dog raced to the castle without his master. Tugging at Margaret’s gown, the dog induced her to follow him. The dog led Margaret into the woods and began to dig furiously at the base of a tree. Margaret dug down with her hands and unearthed the corpse of her lover who had been murdered by his enemies. Suddenly a frightening thought came to her. “Where is he now?”
In an instant she realized her own sinfulness. Filled with grief and remorse, Margaret left the castle and her finery and, taking her son, went home, contrite. But her stepmother refused to allow her back.
Without her lover and with her child, Margaret became a wandering beggar, looking for shelter and hand outs. She made her way to Cortona where the friars who followed St. Francis had a friary where she asked to be admitted to their group of penitents who were living the Rule of 1221. Knowing her past flamboyance, the friars did not believe her and tested her resolve. Some pious women of the town pitied her, helped her and her son, and gave them shelter and work. Margaret persisted in her good works and conversion and, eventually, after three years, the friars accepted her as a genuine penitent. This was a formal acceptance for Margaret into what would become the Third Order of Saint Francis. The acceptance was formal because Margaret had been living the penitential tenets of the Rule of 1221 ever since she had found her lover dead.
Soon after, Margaret’s son became a young Franciscan friar. Margaret established a hospital to care for the sick, homeless, and poor. She performed many acts of penance, fasted with great attention, and prayed deeply. Her prayer life was intense and mystical. She also spoke up for injustice whether in society or the Church. The fervor she had applied to a life of license she now applied to a life of conversion. Margaret, the “Pearl of the Third Order,” did nothing by half measures. When she died in 1297, the towns people of Cortona knew they had lost a holy woman.
Margaret was canonized on 16 May 1728 by Pope Benedict XIII. She teaches us that, as long as we are alive, it's neer too late to turn to God.
Saint Margaret of Cortona, pray for us.