St Margaret Clitherow, Patron Saint of CWL

Margaret Middleton was born about 1553 in the City of York; her father was Thomas Middleton a wax chandler who lived in Davygate – a man of substance who later became a city sheriff. Margaret was one of 5 children and was brought up as a Protestant; by the time she was 6, the Act Supremacy had been passed which permitted only the Prayer Book liturgy to be used. In 1567 Margaret’s father died leaving her a house, a silver goblet and six silver spoons. Later that same year, her mother re-married to Henry Maye.

Margaret was growing up in stirring times; among the events she would have heard about was the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots and the Northern Uprising of Catholics which led to the execution of Thomas Percy, Duke of Northumberland, in York itself.

In 1557 Margaret married John Clitherow, a butcher. He was a bridge master and in 1573 he was a ‘sworn man against rebels and evil disposed people suspected of papistry’. That same year he was elected as one of 8 City Chamberlains which entitled him to be called ‘Mr’. As to his religious preference – he was not a Catholic but not an ardent Protestant either, but his two brothers were not only Catholic but one of them, William, was a Catholic priest.

In 1574 Margaret Clitherow, having become disenchanted with the new Gospel and learning of the sufferings of many Catholics, became a Catholic herself. Two years later much stricter action was being taken against recusants and Margaret, although pregnant, was imprisoned for her recusant activities of harbouring Catholic priests.

In 1585, following another plot against the Queen, all Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country and, henceforth, it was death to harbour a priest. But Margaret said, “If God’s priests dare venture themselves to my house, I will never refuse them.” 

Margaret had been out of prison for under surveillance when the blow fell on  10th of March –  John Clitherow was summoned to appear to answer for his wife. Whilst he was being questioned, his house was searched and though the Catholic tutor of her children escaped, Margaret and the servants were arrested. One of the servants was tortured and revealed the priest’s hiding place.

On 14th March Margaret was charged with treason for harbouring Catholic priests but she refused to enter a plea saying, “Having made no offence, I need no trial. If you say I have offended and that I must be tried, I will be tried by no-one but my God and your own consciences.” She would not put herself on trial as this would involve witnesses being called and she did not want her kith and kin made responsible for her death.

Margaret stood firm and on 25th of March she was led barefoot to the Ouse bridge tollbooth, laid on the ground with a sharp stone in the middle of her back, a handkerchief over her face and a door placed on top of her with weights placed on it until she was crushed.

She was Canonized on 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI – the Feast Day of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. Her individual Feast is 25th March.

Praying Together

We include in all our meetings a time for prayer. This usually involves saying together the League Prayers. See them on Member Resources.

Some of our members also pray The Living Rosary.  This form of prayer was first founded by Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot at Lyon, France in 1826. The Living Rosary Association was approved and heartily supported by Pope Gregory XVI. In 1832 the association received official canonical status.

The beauty of a Living Rosary is that it is a ‘perpetual Rosary’. That means the Rosary is continually being prayed among groups with all participants praying each day. Across CWL, someone in your group is invoking our Mother Mary, asking her to watch over our cares and concerns.

CWL Prayer Services on zoom for Advent and Lent are very successful and well attended.  United in prayer, members get to see members from different parts of the country. This is particularly helpful for members who are housebound. For our Lenten services in 2023 we used the Stations of the Cross, written by Pact.

Pilgrimages and Retreats

Many Branches and Sections organise their own pilgrimages each year but every three years we organise a National President’s Pilgrimage which is enjoyed by members from all over the country. The choice of venue is chosen by the President at the end of her three years of service. 

There is something very special attending a pilgrimage as a group to one of the many national Shrines.
Prayer is such an important part of our faith, and to pray together in a group not only adds strength to the prayer but also strengthens faith – such a big part of CWL life.