Today the church remembers a relatively obscure 13th Century saint, St. Margaret of Cortona, Mother and Friend of Those Who Self-Harm.
St. Margaret lived an unconventional life in many ways, at least for one who is considered a saint of the church…which makes her so relatable. Her father was a Tuscan farmer and her mother died while she was quite young. In the hustle and bustle of all her siblings, Margaret was neglected and largely forgotten, which caused her to run off early in life with a local man and have his child out of wedlock.
Though her child was this man’s, she was not his wife, and remained his mistress for nine years. One day the man’s dog came bounding toward her without her lover, and following the canine, she found him murdered under a nearby tree with no explanation.
With her young son, St. Margaret attempted to be reconciled to her father, but he rejected her and his grandson. Having no where else to go, she turned to the Friars Minor of Cortona to take sanctuary.
She was so tormented by her life which she assumed was a failure, that she tried to harm herself a number of times. Our past can be difficult to carry, especially when we feel like we are rejected by those we most love. The systems we find ourselves in can trap us in cycles of pain; this is most certainly true.
The kind Friars she found herself with, though, would not let her hurt herself. Gently and honestly they walked with her, and because she knew intimately the pain of rejection, she made a wonderful nurse in their sick ward, and spent her days tending those others refused to touch.
She eventually joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and her son became a Franciscan as well. She deepened her spiritual practices, and was granted permission by the church to dedicate herself to the care of the outcast, the poor, and the sick as her life’s work. She gathered her small group of followers and eventually became known as “The Poor Ones,” standing in solidarity with those who felt rejected and hurt in life.
She died on this day in 1297.
St. Margaret of Cortona is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes people harm themselves not because they are selfish, but because they feel unseen, forgotten, and guilt-laden by a world that does a poor job at teaching us to transform pain rather than transmit it.
-historical bits gleaned from public source material
-icon written by Noah Gutierrez