Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine, North Yorkshire

A sacred site in York that might be easily missed is the Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, located in a small medieval house on The Shambles. St. Margaret met a rather gruesome martyrdom in 1586 for being a Catholic in a newly Protestant England.


History of Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine

The life story of Margaret Clitherow, which can be read on the wall of the shrine, is at once ordinary and extraordinary. She was born towards the end of the rule of "Bloody Mary" Tudor and raised as a Protestant under Queen Elizabeth. She married, by arrangement, a Protestant named John Clitherow who owned his own meat business on The Shambles.

Shortly after her marriage, Margaret converted to Catholicism. Her husband remained a Protestant, but was not hostile to his wife's religion. He paid her fines for not attending Protestant church services and looked the other way when she sheltered priests in their home and educated their children in Catholicism.

The Clitherow home soon became one of the main places of refuge for fugitive priests in England. Margaret had a secret cupboard with vestments, wine and bread for Mass, as well as a "priest's hole" to hide the cleric himself.

In 1586, there was a crackdown on remnants of Catholicism in the North. John Clitherow was summoned and asked about the whereabouts of his son, who was studying abroad to become a Catholic priest. He angrily refused to give any information. The Clitherow home was searched, but, as usual, the priest had left through a window and the authorities found only a small group of children at ordinary lessons.

Unfortunately, however, among the group was a Flemish child whose fear of the authorities showed on his face. They seized him and threatened him with a flogging; he immediately told them everything he knew about Mrs. Clitherow's Catholic activities and even showed them the secret cupboard.

Margaret was imprisoned (not for the first time), and shared a cell with a friend who had been arrested for hearing Mass. Her children were taken to live with a Protestant family and she did not see them again. Her husband was allowed to visit her once, in the presence of a jailer.

On March 14, 1586, Margaret Clitherow's case came before the court. As a large crowd gathered outside, she was asked for her plea. She replied, "I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial." The penalty for refusing to plea was extremely harsh and many begged her to change her mind, but she refused to allow a trial at which her children would be forced to testify against her.

The judge pronounced Margaret guilty of having "harbored and maintained Jesuits and seminary priests, traitors to the Queen's majesty and her laws." Because she refused to stand trial, the penalty was death by crushing. She was told,

Ten days later, the sentence was carried out. A board was placed on her and huge stones were laid on top. She was dead within 15 minutes.

In 1970, Margaret was made a saint by Pope Paul VI, who called her "the Pearl of York." She was one of 40 new saints of England and Wales canonized in that year. St. Margaret is the patron saint of the Catholic Women's League, who provided the plaque that tells her life story in the shrine.

What to See at Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine

Margaret Clitherow's shrine is open to all and there is no admission fee. However, a donation is requested and you can buy copies of the Margaret Clitherow Story for under £1.

The shrine consists of a single, small room in a house off the famous medieval street known as The Shambles. A plaque on the wall explains Margaret's story and there is a statue of her and a priest behind an altar at the front.

The Margaret Clitherow Shrine is an important site for Catholic pilgrims. For other visitors, it is a good chance to look inside a medieval house and learn the story of a rather remarkable English housewife.

The story of St. Margaret's martyrdom can also be seen in stained glass at the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge. The elaborate memorial of Sir John Clenche, the judge who sentenced Margaret to death, is in the Church of All Saints in Holbrook, Suffolk.

Quick Facts on Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine

Site Information
Names:Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine
Status: museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:53.959254° N, 1.080093° W
Address:North Yorkshire, England
Lodging:View hotels near Margaret Clitherow House and Shrine
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

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© Holly Hayes

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