Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The original "Pearl of Tyburn"......

was a lady of gentle exterior and tough backbone. When I first read about her, I couldn't help being impressed by the way she put her faith into action at her own risk, determined to right wrongs as she saw them and in an age of persecution. I was so impressed, in fact, that I took her name at Confirmation, and have since used her title as my online username. The person I am referring to is St. Margaret Ward, whose feast we celebrate on August 30th.
Margaret was born in Congleton, Cheshire, England during the 16th century. She came from a middle-to-upper-class family, and for a time she lived with a lady of distinction who resided in London. Some accounts say she served there as a governess. Tantalizingly little is known about Margaret's personal life, except that she was a devout Catholic recusant who refused to recant her faith under the pressure of the Elizabethan persecution.

    Meanwhile, Fr. William Watson, a Catholic priest who had previously conformed to the Anglican Church had a change of heart after the brutal martyrdom of St. Margaret Clitherow and reaffirmed his priestly identity. Thereupon, he was imprisoned at Bridewell Prison in London, where neither threats nor bribes could shake him from his conviction.

    It is unknown how Margaret came to know about Fr. Watson's predicament, but some believe that he had ministered to her prior to his temporary lapse of faith. Drawn by pity at the miserable conditions of the jail and knowing that he would undoubtedly be executed, she determined to help his escape his captivity. Obviously, she was no shrinking violet.

    Margaret befriended the wife of the prison warden and gradually gained the couples' confidence. She was allowed to visit Fr. Watson regularly and bring him baskets of food. After a while, the warden did not even bother to have her searched. Using this to her advantage, Margaret smuggled a rope inside a basket of food so that the priest could climb out the window, which was not well-barred because no one believed that any escapee would risk the long drop into the river below.

    But Margaret had already thought of that and arranged for a boatman to wait below the window to row the priest to safety. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the boatman pulled out on the deal, leaving her in a lurch. In desperation, she recruited John Roache, her Irish Catholic servant, to take the boatman's place and rescue the priest.

    As two o'clock in the morning, Fr. Watson climbed out of the window to meet the waiting boatman. Midway down, he made a startling discovery. Margaret had miscalculated; the rope was too short! With no other choice available to him, he let go of the rope and fell with a crash into the boat below. He broke his leg in the process, and the noise awakened the prison guards. In a rush, John Roache switched clothes with the priest so that Fr. Watson could escape.

   That night, the Queen's soldiers arrested both Roache and Margaret Ward for conspiring to assist an "enemy of the state". Both refused to reveal the priest's whereabouts. Margaret was tortured brutally, hung up by her thin wrist in irons and scourged. Still, she would not speak a word. She was offered her freedom if she would attend an Anglican service and thus recant her Catholic Faith. She bluntly refused.

   Margaret Ward was hanged at Tyburn on August 30th, 1588, and John Roache was also executed. Their examples as steadfast witnesses of Jesus Christ lead to canonization, and they will always be remembered as two outstanding Catholic martyrs of the British Isles.

Also this month, we celebrat two great Marion Feasts.....

The Assumption of Our Lady on August 15th, and the Coronation of Our Lady on August 22nd.

We also celebrate the Feast of St. Philomena, the Little Wonder-Worker, who my family has a special devotion to, on August 11th. She was a Christian Grecian Princess who refused to submit to the lustful desires of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, and was tortured and killed. Her bones rest in Mugnano, Italy.

St. Philomena, Powerful with God, ora pro nobis!

St. Margaret Ward, "Pearl of Tyburn"


  1. Thank you for posting this! I have wanted to know more about St. Margaret for some time now. God bless!

    -Ian K.

  2. Thank you, Mack and Ian! I'm glad I was able to bring the story of St. Margaret Ward to light. She really was an amazing lady, as was St. Philomena, and the Blessed Virgin was the Queen Mother of both! This really was a female-dominated post, ha, ha!