St. Margaret



Like St. Catherine, St Margaret of Antioch was another early virgin-martyr, reputedly martyred in 304. She was declared to be apocryphal as long ago as 491, but the legend has stuck. Even the Golden Legend, for once, isn't entirely convinced by the fabulous story of the exploding dragon, though Margarito had no problems with it - in his picture Margaret is swallowed and exploded from the dragon's belly at one and the same time.
  Margaret appears occasionally in groups of saints; she was a popular choice for a church dedication.  Perhaps the best known image is this one by Zurbaran in the National Gallery, a few rooms away from Margarito's panel. Her cowboy hat is particularly fetching, and the dragon is good too, if a little too friendly.


From The Golden Legend.
The next day the prefect sent for her.

  
‘Vain girl,’ he said. ‘Worship our Gods and all will be well!’
   ‘I worship the God before whom the Earth shakes, the sea rages, and whom all creatures fear’ Margaret replied.
   'Unless you agree to my demands, your body will be ripped to pieces!’ raged the prefect.
  ‘Christ died for me, therefore I want to die for him,’ said the virgin.

  The prefect gave his orders, and she was now hung on a rack, beaten with rods and lacerated with iron rakes. The punishment was so cruel that her bones were laid bare and blood gushed from her body like water from a spring.
   The onlookers wept. ‘Margaret, how we grieve for you! How cruelly your body has been torn! You have lost your beauty by not believing in the gods! Believe in them and remain alive!’
  ‘Go away, you bad counsellors!’ replied Margaret. ‘This torment of the flesh is the soul’s salvation!'

   ‘Shameless dog!’ she said to the prefect. ‘Hungry lion! You may have power over my flesh, but my soul belongs to Christ!’
  
The prefect could not bear to see such bloodletting. He pulled his hood over his eyes.

  Margaret was now taken down and returned to jail. Here, a wonderful light shone about her. She prayed to God to let her see her enemy. A hideous dragon appeared, but when it approached her to devour her, she made the sign of the cross and it disappeared. Others have said that the dragon opened its mouth over her head, put its tongue under her feet, and swallowed her.
  As it was trying to digest her, she protected herself with the sign of the cross. The power of the cross caused the dragon to burst open, and Margaret emerged unharmed. What is said here about the beast swallowing Margaret then bursting open is regarded as apocryphal and not to be considered the truth. 


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