Margaret of Città di Castello led a simple and hidden life, divided between her domestic cell and the church, a life made up only of penance and prayer, of attention to the unfortunate and of hard-working but humble daily charity. But his Legenda, precisely in the etymological sense of “something to read”, brings us back, in all its essentiality and clarity, to an original truth of Christianity, to that ancient blessing (Mt 18, 1-10) which, by reversing the roles, delivers the divine lesson to the poor, the little ones, and not to the great of the world (Lk 1, 51-53).
Ubertino da Casale understood this: the great Franciscan spiritual was a man of great learning, but he wrote that Margaret had been more of a teacher to him than many learned theologians and speculatives. At a time of serious spiritual crisis, the little virgin of Città di Castello had enlightened and sustained him, giving him the strength to continue his work. It was she, in fact, who had taught him the way to truly know, love and imitate the life of Jesus, to follow in his footsteps.
But Margaret’s spiritual greatness was also well understood by the inhabitants of Città di Castello, who immediately after her death asked that she be buried in the church: they considered her a saint even before any official recognition. As was customary in such circumstances at the time, her body was prepared for embalming, and it was then that three small stones were found in her heart, with three faces depicted: the icons of Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus, the members of the Holy Family. At that moment, the secret of the supernatural joy that Margaret had never lost in the face of the hardest trials of her life was revealed: blindness, illness and repudiation. The poor orphan of Metola had not really been such, because the Lord had never abandoned her, and she had known how to fill the emptiness of the absence of her earthly family with the little crib that had always inhabited her heart.
It is precisely a three-lobed heart that would have permanently accompanied the image of the beata from Tifernate, an iconographic attribute that would have made her immediately recognisable even in the long processions of Dominican saints and blesseds, all dressed in black and white, all holding the lily in their hands.
The small crib, almost a testamentary bequest, was the message delivered by Margaret: her spiritual eyes had been able to see in her own condition of abandonment and marginalisation – almost a “remnant” of society – the very face of a God who for love of man had renounced power and glory and had lowered himself to enter into contingency, temporality and finiteness. The crib and the cross were the places that God, in his Son, had chosen to reveal himself to the world; before the glory of the Resurrection Jesus had had to really experience, in his own flesh, vulnerability, humiliation and suffering. For this reason Margaret welcomed her own pain as the sign of a special election, and lived in a beatitude of love that is the very life of God in his Trinitarian relationship. In the long wording of her Legenda, the key word is paupertas, which is not only deprivation of goods, but also social marginalisation, precariousness, uncertainty. This was not a condition that Margaret had freely chosen, but just as she accepted illness, abandonment and the betrayal of men with joyful detachment, so she welcomed poverty as a gift that allowed her to be fully assimilated into Christ.
Thus, the initial condition of the poor and marginalised girl is reversed. As in the Magnificat, the gift of wisdom corresponds in the blessed girl to the annihilation of all human power and good, the clarity of doctrine corresponds to bodily blindness, the luminous grace of the word corresponds to ignorance, and the power to perform miracles corresponds to the lack of means and instruments. For this reason, the poor and illiterate girl who knows nothing about books, but has received everything from God, becomes an appreciated spiritual teacher, she exercises a charisma of doctoring, and sometimes of prophecy, even if her testimony remains more domestic, private, linked to the circle of her friends and spiritual daughters.
Margaret was a great mystic, along the lines of those extraordinary female figures who in the fourteenth century, in a period of terrible crisis in the history of the Church and Europe, knew how to be “true priests of their cities”, in the sacrifice and total offering of themselves, repeating, with a disarming literalism, the evangelical figure of substitution. If, as Thomas Aquinas had taught, Christ is the man “for others”, who came into the world for the redemption of mankind, these women of penance took on the same role as Christ to obtain the salvation of souls. Theirs was a work limited to humble gestures, but extremely significant in terms of the meaning of Christian commitment in history, an action that does not rely on power and money, but is carried out in helping those who suffer in body and spirit; women who knew how to love and preserve their spiritual freedom and the hope of the Gospel even in the face of the most difficult trials and oppression. This is the mark that Margaret left, and for this reason she has never been forgotten.