The Cult of St. Margaret of Città di Castello in Italy

After her death on 13 April 1320, Margaret’s remains were transferred to the Church of Charity, officiated by the Preachers, with a great crowd. The girl was well known for her exemplary conduct and charismas, and already in life the inhabitants of Città di Castello had venerated her as a saint. For this reason, the citizens spontaneously requested that she be buried in the church. A particularly intense moment of collective participation occurred when the body, as is customary in such cases, was prepared for embalming with perfumed aromas. The friars then decided to place the heart in a small golden tabernacle in the sacristy so that it would remain exposed to public veneration. It was then that, while carving a vein, three small stones were found in which were engraved the images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the members of the Holy Family, who had never abandoned the little orphan girl.

Even before official recognition by the Church, Margaret was acclaimed a saint by the people. The hagiographic case of the beata from Tifernata is part of a wider phenomenon that affected many cities in central Italy at the end of the Middle Ages, where there was a massive expansion of the catalogue of saints, both men and women, often from the lay world and also from the popular classes of urban society. Margaret was a city patron saint also in the oldest and deepest sense of this term. In this light, one can also read the reassumption of classic values and contents of the sacred function, such as the thaumaturgic power, the incorruptibility of the body, the immediate and spontaneous flourishing of miracles around the tomb. Like other civic cults at the end of the Middle Ages, in the case of the Dominican Virgin, spontaneous popular devotion was supported by the municipal magistrates, who provided public funds for the embalming of the body and the celebration of the funeral. At a later stage, the cult of the Virgin was stabilised and the city ordinances stipulated the regular participation of the authorities and the offering of gifts on her feast day. Some documents show that at the end of the fourteenth century devotion to Margaret had not waned, and thanks also to the conspicuous donations made to her, the Preaching Friars were able to build the great basilica of St. Dominic, the church to which the mortal remains of the Blessed were transferred in 1424.

The first official recognition of the cult by the Apostolic See took place at the beginning of the 17th century. On 19 October 1609 Pope Paul V granted Città di Castello the right to celebrate the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary with an office and mass. This measure was taken on the basis of the results of the investigation of a commission chaired by Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino. The following month the Pontiff, with the favourable opinion of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, authorised the Order of Preachers to use three lessons, already signed by the Cardinal, in the liturgical office on the day of the Blessed Virgin’s death. In 1675 Pope Clement X, adhering to the request of the Master General Fr.

He authorised Mass and the Office in all the Order’s churches. Three years later, his successor Clement XI extended this concession to the dioceses of Urbania and S. Angelo in Vado.

On 19 January 1987, to coincide with the seventh centenary of her birth, the request was forwarded by the heads of the Umbrian Bishops’ Conference, while the following year the bishops of Città di Castello and Urbino-Urbania-Sant’Angelo in Vado asked the Congregation for Divine Worship to confirm Margaret’s title as ‘Patroness of the Blind and Marginalised’. But an important fact must be stressed. These initiatives, started in the places that had traditionally been involved in the cult, were now also supported by a new great devotional pole, the United States, where a crusade for Margaret’s canonisation was launched. This movement of Catholics linked to Dominican spirituality found an authoritative foothold in the American bishops, who addressed postulatory letters to Pope John Paul II for the opening of the cause. Finally in the year 2018, after the conclusion of the Diocesan Inquest (25 September 2004 which produced six authenticated and sealed volumes of the enquiry into the cult, miracles and reputation for holiness of Blessed Margaret of Città di Castello) the Holy Father Pope Francis, at the request of the Master of the Order, Br Gerard F. Timoner III, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti and Bishops Domenico Cancian, Giovanni Tani and Renato Boccardo, granted the equivalent canonisation.

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