Archive for March 25

25 March 1586 – St Margaret

Posted in Death penalty, Pressed with tags , , , , on March 25 by Old Sparky

St MargaretTo be hailed as a martyr, that would have surely have been Margaret Clitherow’s dearest wish. And she achieved her place in the sun on this day in 1556, when she was pressed to death for her Roman Catholic beliefs in York.

Fittingly, she could not have hoped for a better day. For Clitherow shared her day of death with the Catholic Church’s feast of the Annunciation – which marks the day that Mary was told she would immaculately conceive and give birth to Christ.


Yorkshire was a Catholic stronghold. So it was no surprise that, at the height of the Reformation during Elizabeth I’s reign, Clitherow had formed an underground Catholic supporters group, with the hub of it in her own house in the Shambles – York’s oldest road.
There she would give sanctuary to priests – which had been deemed a criminal offence just one year before she was busted. But it was Clitherow’s desire to have her son schooled in a Catholic country that got her caught.

Secret will out

She had successfully sent him over to Douai in France where he was being educated. However the authorities started asking questions as to where he was and searched her house. Luckily the priest had legged it, but there was a class of school children innocently being taught. Among them, was a small Flemish boy who got scared and shopped her – Clitherow was captured and her plans exposed.

Then the secrets came tumbling out – the hidden cupboards that concealed priests and allowed people to celebrate Mass inconspicuously, as well as evidence of Catholic services in the shape of books and items used for Mass.

Pressing matters

Clitherow refused to plea, as this would mean her family would have been forced to testify against her. So she kept mum and stood accused of harbouring priests, which was seen as treason. The penalty was death and she was sentenced to be pressed to death.

The death is normally a slow one, which can take up to three days where the life is agonisingly crushed out of you. But Clitherow was placed on top of a sharp pointed stone at the tollbooth on the Ouse Bridge, then a door was laid on her and she was heaped with heavy stones. Her death took a mere 15 minutes and her last prayer was said to have been ‘Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy upon me’. She died aged just 30

Clitherow became known as the ‘Pearl of York’ and, on 25 October 1970, Pope Paul VI declared her a saint.

Also on this day

25 March 1981 – Hoyt Franklin Clines, James William Holmes and Darryl Richley
25 March 1995 – Hernando Williams
25 March 1997 – Pedro Medina

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