In praise of Scotland’s other Patron Saint

Today we trip the light fantastic to celebrate Scotland’s Patron Saint, Andrew.  Sadly, the heavy snow put paid to many of the planned festivities but it’s clear that we Scots are growing to love our national day and to indulge in ostentatious displays of patriotism.  Hurrah!

But Scotland is a male dominated culture, so it will come as no surprise that in whipping up a ceilidh for Andrew, our other patron saint languishes unloved and unacknowledged.   But actually she – and yes, it is a she – has much more claim to Scotland’s hearts than he does. 

St Margaret was declared a saint in 1250, particularly for her work on religious reform and her charitable works, and was declared Patroness of Scotland in 1673.  She is also patron saint for learning, against the death of children, for parents of large families, of Queens and of widows:  a quintessentially female saint then.  But she is also not without controversy, for key amongst her achievements as Queen to King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland, was the effective modernisation of the Church by resolving conflicting interests to bring the Church in Scotland back to conformity and also the anglicisation of the Scottish court,  Such was her influence over her husband, that Margaret succeeded in introducing English style feudalism and parliament.  Yet, she was a benign influence, achieving all this with little rancour or bitterness, and considered an exemplar of a just ruler.

Her legacy to Scotland is huge:  the introduction of Benedictine monasteries, the construction of St Margaret’s chapel at Edinburgh castle, the restoration of Iona Abbey and the instigation of the Queen’s ferry to enable pilgrims to travel more efficiently to St Andrews.  She also ensured the observation of the Easter communion and the abstinence from servile work on a Sunday.  Her patronage of the arts and education was important, as was her fondness for all things European (she was after all born in Hungary).  The side benefit of the adoption of European fashions and habits was the growth of trade and economic ties with the continent.

Above all, Margaret was pious and devoted to her faith.  She fasted often, ate frugally, and devoted herself to prayer.  She visited and cared for the sick, built hostels for the poor and held feasts for commoners at Advent and Lent. 

“In an age where the role of women in our society has only recently been seen as emerging to a truly equal status it is a matter of some wonder that nine centuries ago Margaret was to wield such an enormous influence in the life of her people on so many different and yet powerfully important levels.”

So why has she become Scotland’s forgotten patron saint?  Why is her feast day, on 16 November, ignored?  We not only celebrate St Andrew but wrap ourselves in his flag, yet his connection with Scotland is tenuous.  Margaret’s is much more robust and her works and influence are with us still.  Indeed, they are all around us, even in our attitudes to social justice.

But then Scotland’s track record at celebrating and lauding the women in its life is lamentable:  Margaret is not the only nor likely to be the last woman pushed to the margins when she should be at the centre.  Sadly, most children today won’t even know she exists. 

We are getting better at affording equal status to women who achieve but there is still a long way to go before the promotion of a woman author, artist, entrepreneur, politician or musician before a man goes unremarked. 

So let’s resolve to change all that.  And today, as you raise a glass to toast Scotland’s patron saint, raise it again in praise of St Margaret.  It’s time Scotland embraced both its patron saints.

7 thoughts on “In praise of Scotland’s other Patron Saint

  1. Pingback: A bridge named after a woman? Yes! | A Burdz Eye View

  2. Pingback: Snow, St. Andrew and the Scotland Bill – Scottish Roundup

  3. There is one Margaret who is held in a constant level of esteem in Scotland. She also tried a bit of anglicisation during her monarchy.

    Seriously though, whilst it is important for Scotland as a country to recognise the achievements of women, it would surely be better done through recognition of pragmatic achievement.

    “(She is) patron saint for learning, against the death of children, for parents of large families, of Queens and of widows”

    I mean.

    Really.

  4. Well, not entirely forgotten. We remember Margaret every year on 16 November with a splendid service in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow. We remember her as a very European saint, bringing influence and culture from across the continent to Scotland, we remember influence on the social conscience of the nation and we remember her as a figure of great learning. If I remember rightly, a good part of her influence stemmed from the fact that she could read and write, whilst her man couldn’t.

    A few years ago the St Margaret’s Day service was advertised as being particularly open to anyone bearing her name, and a fine selection of Margarets, Peggys & Marges turned up to celebrate her.

    • Many thanks Kelvin for your comment. And I am delighted that Margaret is remembered in some parts of Scotland. I have a very good friend who is a Margaret and we will make a point of getting along to St Mary’s Cathedral next year for your service! I agree entirely with your points, especially that she could read and write. The power of education!

  5. This is excellent and bang on the money.

    Unfortunately it’s always the boys who get all the credit. Good of you to remind us that we have a strong, female historical role model.

  6. Excellent piece. Andrew has the advantage of being associated with the saltire (it’s his cross after all) and being a friend of Jesus.

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