The Other St Margaret

Gabriel Ronay looks at how Scottish sainthood got tangled up in Hungarian politics.

The year-long celebrations for the 900th anniversary of the death of St Margaret have reawakened interest in the life and legacy of Scotland's saintly queen. The reverent commemorative events across Scotland have provided ample proof – if further proof was needed – of the staying power of old myths and ancient legends.

Because a multitude of interest and pressure groups have found the festive events a god-sent vehicle to put over their own message, the traditional view of St Margaret has not been challenged. Yet one has not got to dig very deeply to realise that Margaret's image was painstakingly built up after her death by the Roman Catholic Church to suit its own militant medieval agenda. It is an image well suited to hagiolatry in which details of her saintly portrait were filled in with vague monastic hearsay, dubious testimonies and fine Edinburgh haar. Nevertheless, many of those involved with the current Scottish celebrations have embraced this icon-like image, with hardly a dissenting voice.

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