Saint Margaret of Cortona is the patron Saint of my town, Cortona, Italy. Santa Margherita is what we call her in Italian. Are you curious about her story and how she became a saint?
A difficult Childhood and one Love
Margaret was born from farming parents, in Laviano (between Trasimeno lake and Montepulciano). She had an unfortunate childhood during which her mother died when she was seven, and her father remarried to a woman who never liked her. At the age of 17, she fell in love and ran away with a rich aristocrat who never would commit to marrying her because of her poor origin. For ten years, she lived with him as his mistress near Montepulciano and bore him a son.
One day a terrible turning point marked her life. Her love failed to return home from a journey and his hound dog led Margaret into the forest, where she found him murdered. The crime shocked Margaret so much that she decided to renounce her lifestyle and gave up all her wealth. With her child, she returned to her father’s house, but her stepmother would never let her in, and she found herself alone.
Saint Margaret of Cortona: from Sinner to Saint
Margaret, together with her son and her dog (she is often portrayed with a dog), walked to Cortona. She entered into town from the old south gate (Porta Berarda LINK) and found a shelter at the Franciscan Friars. In Cortona, she started a life of prayer and penance and she dedicated herself to the sick and poor people of the town.
In 1277, she officially joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. Following the example of St. Francis of Assisi (who had recently died – in 1226 – and also been to Cortona), she chose to live in poverty, begging for sustenance and bread.
Saint Margaret of Cortona and the Old Town Hospital
In Cortona, Margaret founded a hospital for the sick, homeless, and poor people. To secure nurses for the hospital, she also established a congregation of Tertiary Sisters, known as “le poverelle” (meaning “the little poor ones”).
Margaret became an example of God’s forgiveness and she was graced few times with visions from Christ. One day, while in prayer, Margaret heard the words, “What is your wish, poverella?” (“little poor one?”), and she replied, “I neither seek nor wish for anything but You, my Lord Jesus.”
Santa Margherita Church in Cortona
She moved to the ruined church of St Basil, on the top of the hill, and spent her remaining years there. She died on February 22, 1297. The Church was later rebuilt in her honor (now Santa Margherita) and her body was preserved there in a silver casket. She officially became a saint in 1728 and she has been venerated as the patron saint of Cortona ever since.
Read my article about her festivity in February here