Margaret of Cortona

(c. 1247—1297)

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Franciscan penitent. Born at Lavinio (Tuscany), the daughter of a small farmer, she lost her mother in childhood and suffered from an unsympathetic stepmother. She was seduced by a knight of Montepulciano, lived openly as his mistress for nine years, and bore him a son. But her lover was murdered by persons unknown; Margaret gave up all her goods and returned home with her young son to her father's house, asking for forgiveness. He, however, at his wife's instigation refused. Margaret asked the Franciscan friars for help. Two ladies took her and her son into their home; she led a life of public penance, somewhat dramatically manifested and, in abhorrence for her former life, tried to undertake bizarre mortifications which included self-mutilation, and even some ill-treatment of her son. In spite of these excesses and after several years probation, she was admitted to the Third Order of St Francis; from that time onwards and with the departure of her son, first to school in Arezzo and later to the Franciscan novitiate, she advanced steadily in prayer and holiness. Margaret devoted herself to nursing the sick poor, first in her own house and later in a community which she founded at the Spedale di Santa Maria della Misericordia at Cortona. Her personal austerities were extreme: a starvation diet and little sleep, the wearing of haircloth in expiation; to these sufferings were added those of calumny, misrepresentation, and contempt. But in obedience to a revelation she undertook to call others to repentance: by attacking vice, she converted sinners from Cortona; her reputation, fostered by cures believed miraculous, attracted visitors from other parts of Italy and even further afield. She died at the age of fifty, after spending twenty-nine years in penance. She was formally canonized in 1728, but from 1515 her feast on 22 February had been approved for the diocese of Cortona. Her incorrupt body rests in the church at Cortona.

AA.SS. Feb. III (1658), 298–357;Fr. Cuthbert, A Tuscan Penitent (1907);F. Mauriac, Margaret of Cortona (1948);Bibl. SS., viii. 759–73.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — Christianity.

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