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The saint who promoted charity, culture and religious reform

Dunfermline was once an important pilgrimage centre for devotees of St Margaret of Scotland

Margaret had grown up in a turbulent period for England. Her father, Edward the Exile, was sent away in 1016 after his father, Edmund Ironside, was killed and the country fell under the rule of the Danes (although, in this case, Christian). Edward grew up in Sweden and in Hungary. He married Agatha (of whom little is known), and his children, Margaret, Cristina and Edgar the Atheling, were raised in the pious environment of the Hungarian court, where King Andrew “the Catholic” had a big influence on her.

Her father returned to England in 1057 where he died almost immediately, thereby changing the course of history. Had he survived, William the Conqueror would not have had any claim to invade, while his son Edgar was too young. After escaping the Conqueror’s clutches Edgar, along with his sisters and mother Agatha, fled to Northumbria.

While attempting to flee back to the continent a storm sent them to Scotland, where Malcolm III gave them protection. Malcolm, a widower who already had three sons and is best remembered as Macbeth’s killer, had another eight children with Margaret after they married.

The pious Hungarian-born Anglo-Saxon had a cultivating influence on the northern kingdom, introducing religious reform. She also promoted charity, serving orphans before every meal and washing the feet of the poor. In addition, she establishing a monastery in Dunfermline and restored one at Iona.

She seems to have had a cultivating influence on her husband, who was illiterate, reading him stories from the Bible. He was so admiring of her devotion that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. Her pocket Gospel with images of the Evangelists is kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Although not devout, the king was happy to let his wife reform the country.

Sadly, her husband and their eldest son Edward were killed in battle against the Anglo-Normans in 1093, while she was not even 50, and she died just three days later. She was canonised in 1250 and her remains were moved to Dunfermline Abbey. Numerous churches are named after her, including an Anglican church
in Budapest.