St. Margaret of Castello, OP – 1287-1320
St. Margaret of Castello was born in 1287 in Metola, Italy to noble parents. Her father was a famous military hero, and her parents were determined to have a son to carry on the family’s military reputation. When the news was told that their newborn was a daughter, born blind, hunchbacked, dwarfed, and lame, Margaret’s parents were embarrassed. Margaret was kept in seclusion on the upper floor of the family castle in the hopes that her existence would be kept secret, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment to the family’s reputation.
When Margaret was six years old, she was accidentally discovered by a guest of the manor. Her parents took further actions to hide her from others. Determined to keep her out of the public eye, her parents moved her to a small chapel on a remote part of the estate manor. They built a room without a door attached to the side of the chapel and walled Margaret inside this room. She lived there in seclusion for the next 14 years, never allowed to come out. Her food and other necessities were passed to her through one of two small windows. Another window opened into the interior of the chapel and allowed her to hear Mass and receive Holy Communion. During this imprisonment, a local priest took upon himself the duty to educate her. (On the internet, you can view the room attached to the manor chapel where Margaret lived for 14 years. A door to the left of the chapel was added centuries later – here).
After years of living in this enclosure, her parents heard rumors of miraculous cures occurring at a shrine in nearby Citta di Castello, Italy. Margaret’s parents made a pilgrimage to the shrine expecting a healing, taking Margaret with them in secret. They waited in the shrine for a few short minutes, but nothing happened; they quickly gave up and left in secrecy, abandoning Margaret in the shrine. They returned to their manor, never to see her again.
Margaret, abandoned and homeless in a strange town, had to beg to survive. Over time, while living on the streets of Castello as a beggar, she became known for her holiness. She often preached to her fellow beggars and helped guide them spiritually. She preached a message of joy and thankfulness, despite all their suffering. She noted that, as beggars, they were able to mimic the Holy Family by living in poverty and exile.
Her reputation for holiness continued to grow in Castello and she was asked to join a monastery of contemplative cloistered nuns in the town. Joining the monastery was initially a great joy for Margaret, but things quickly changed. As a nun, Margaret was intent on living the cloistered life exactly as written in their rule of life. In contrast, the nuns were largely ignoring their rule, living lavishly and lax. Soon the nuns became resentful of Margaret, claiming that Margaret was going too far in her piety and obedience. Margaret unintentionally exposed their corruption, so they expelled her from the monastery.
Margaret was now back on the streets of Castello. Since she had been kicked out of the monastery, many townspeople were skeptical of her. The nuns spread false rumors about Margaret to support their actions. Over time, the truth was revealed. The townspeople realized that it was the nuns who were being inauthentic. The people noticed that Margaret always spoke about her time in the monastery with gratitude while the nuns always spread evil rumors about Margaret. Eventually, the townspeople began to see the wicked truth about the nuns and the true holiness of Margaret. Not long after this incident, the monastery of nuns closed in scandal and the site eventually became a monastery for Dominican nuns.
Margaret’s reputation grew and soon Castello citizens invited her into their homes. It was now an honor to have Margaret live with them. She passed from family to family in this way, a homeless beggar now being adopted by the citizens of the city. At each home where Margaret stayed, the families reported physical healings, spiritual healings, mended relationships, and a sense of peace while Margaret was with them. In multiple interviews as part of her canonization process, the families reported that everywhere she went, things got better.
In one of the homes where Margaret stayed, she met a member of the Mantellata. The Mantellata were a group of women, often widowed, who led a life of prayer, penance, and charity devoted to the Dominican Order as lay members. In our time, we would refer to them as the Dominican Laity. Becoming a member of the Mantellata led her to meet the Dominican friars in Castello where she received spiritual guidance and the habit of the Dominican order. As a member of the Dominican laity, she devoted herself to tending to the sick and dying and visiting prisoners in the city jail for the rest of her life.
Margaret forgave her parents for their ill-treatment of her and always treated others with great care. Her cheerfulness stemmed from her conviction that God loves each person infinitely, for He has made each person in His own image and likeness. Despite her suffering, Saint Margaret remained serene, thankful, cheerful, and courageous. She never became bitter, complained, criticized others, or became discouraged. She preached through her joy and gratitude and through her service to the poor and imprisoned.
Margaret died on April 13, 1320, at the age of 33. As a member of the Mantellata, Margaret was buried in the Dominican tertiary habit. At the time of her death, the Dominican friars intended for her to be buried in the chapel of the Dominican convent, but the townspeople of Castello, recognizing her holiness, demanded that she be laid to rest in the town church so that all may have the opportunity to venerate her as a saint. (You can still view her incorrupt body in Castello at the altar of St. Dominic’s Church). More than 200 miracles have been credited to her intercession. She was beatified in 1609. Thus, the daughter that nobody wanted is now one of the glorious saints of the Church. Margaret was canonized in April of 2021 by Pope Francis. Her feast day is April 13.
Br. John Steilberg, OP