05 October 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Wednesday 5 October 2022

The supposed house of Saint Margaret Clitherow is on the right in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Jewish Calendar, today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, marked with an emphasis on atonement and repentance and observed with full fasting and intensive prayer confessions. I joined in the Kol Nidre prayers and commemorations last night in Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week, I am continuing last week’s theme of reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 11: 1-4 (NRSVA):

1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

Inside the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow, The Shambles, York:

One of the most unusual religious sites among the mediaeval churches and shrines in York must be the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in a small house on the Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was executed on the bridge in York after harbouring a priest and refusing to reveal his whereabout or to abjure her faith.

However, the shrine is not actually in Margaret Clitherow’s house. She probably lived at 11-12 The Shambles, but her shrine is in a similar Tudor house across the street at 35-36 The Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was born in 1553, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York in 1564, a churchwarden of Saint Martin’s Church, Colney Street, and a member of a respectable, prosperous, Church of England family.

At the age of 15, she married a prosperous meat merchant, John Clitherow (or Clitheroe), a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city. She moved into his house in The Shambles, where the butchers of York traded, and they were the parents of three children.

Margaret became a Roman Catholic in 1574 through the influence of the wife of Dr Thomas Vavasour, a prominent Catholic in York. This was a problem for John Clitherow, who was responsible for reporting suspected Catholics to the authorities. But it seems that for the most part, her husband. His brother William was a Catholic priest, and John was happy to look the other way and tolerate her religious activities and her insistence on educating their children as Catholics.

Around the same time, Canon Henry Comberford, former Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, was in prison in York. From his prison cell in the Upper Sheriff’s Kidcote on Ouse Bridge, he spread his beliefs among his fellow prisoners. As his fame grew, people outside the prison walls sought audiences with him. The confessions of at least two York prisoners, William Tessimond and John Fletcher, suggest the influence of Comberford’s teaching.

The historian John Aveling points out the importance of Henry Comberford in the development of recusancy in York. He attributes to him no small part in the growth in number of recusants in the city from only 15 in 1568, to 67 in 1576.

However, in 1577, Margaret was cast into prison, not for worshipping as a Catholic, but for failing to attend Anglican services. Two further prison sentences followed, the longest lasting 20 months. While she was in prison, she learned to read Latin so she could follow the Catholic liturgy.

An Act of Parliament in 1581 made it an offence to worship at a Catholic service or to offer a hiding place to Catholic priests. Harbouring a priest was an offence punishable by death. The method of execution involved being pressed to death under a heavy weight, an extreme sentence that was rarely carried out.

Margaret Clitherow built a secret chamber inside her house in The Shambles, where priests could hide. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in the north of England. Local tradition also says she housed her clerical guests in The Black Swan at Peasholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were lodged too.

She made a secret cupboard, where she hid vestments, as well as bread and wine for the Mass.

Her house in the Shambles was raided in March 1586. A priest who was sheltering in the house managed to escape, but a frightened boy revealed the location of the secret chamber.

Margaret Clitherow was arrested and tried at the Guildhall in York. She refused a trial by jury, saying, ‘I know of no offence whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offence, I need no trial.’

The judges tried in vain to persuade her to avoid the death sentence by renouncing her Catholic faith or reveal the hiding place of priests and so, but Margaret refused. She found little sympathy, even among her family, and her stepfather, Henry May, then Lord Mayor of York, said that she had committed suicide.

Margaret Clitherow was taken to the Toll Booth on the Ouse Bridge on 25 March 1586, the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day) and that year also Good Friday. There she was crushed to death by door of her own house, weighing 7-8 cwt, or about 800-900 lb. She died within 15 minutes, although her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed.

Queen Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York, expressing her horror at the execution, and saying that Margaret should have been spared because of her gender.

The English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote an unfinished poem honouring ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitheroe.’ She was canonised on 25 October 1970 as one of 40 English martyrs by Pope Paul VI, who called her ‘the Pearl of York.’

Saint Margaret’s Shrine is at 35-36 The Shambles. John Clitherow had his butcher's shop at 35. However, the street was re-numbered in the 18th century, so it is thought their house was actually opposite.

Her supposed house is now a shrine served by the Fathers of the Oratory in York and is open to all. One room open to the public is used as a small chapel with a plaque telling the story of Margaret Clitherow’s life. Mass is celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. A relic said to be her hand is housed in the Bar Convent, York, which I described in my reflections yesterday. A plaque at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge in York marks the site of her martyrdom.

Looking out on the city … a window in the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in The Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Wednesday 5 October 2022):

The Collect:

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with our whole heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Mission in a Crisis.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Father Rasika Abeysinghe, Priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala, Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (5 October 2022, World Teachers’ Day) in these words:

Let us give thanks for teachers across the world. May we recognise the value in what they do, and be inspired by the example they set for the youth of today.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Ouse Bridge in York, where Margaret Clitherow was martyred on 25 March 1586 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A plaque at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge marks the site of the martyrdom of Margaret Clitherow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

No comments: