York was the ancient capital of the
North of England. It retains many old buildings which speak of its long history - winding
streets which converge on the Minster - the large church at the heart of York.
One famous street is particularly attractive to tourists - the Shambles. But, amidst the bustle and crowded shops, there is one building which is a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics.
It is the former home of St Margaret Clitherow who was martyred for her faith in 1586.
She was a very ordinary woman who married a York butcher and, to all intents and purposes, could have expected a quiet-ish life. This was not to be because, soon after her marriage, she became a Catholic at a time when the state was trying to suppress Catholicism. She also brought her children up to be Catholic - although her husband remained part of the state religion all his life.
Even this might not have caused problems - but Margaret also allowed Mass to be said in her home and stored the vestments and chalices needed there. At this time, this was considered to be treason.
When her home was searched, these were found and she was arrested. She was brought to trial - but the trial could not proceed because she would not plead.
On the one hand, to have a trial would have required her family to bear witness - something she was very anxious to avoid since they could end up implicating themselves. On the other hand, as she maintained, "Having made no offence, I need no trial".
Her decision was made even knowing that the consequence would be a particularly barbaric death - designed to ensure that it would deter people from refusing to plead.
No doubt she was filled with fear - but, somehow, her faith sustained her. She must have tried to find a way out which did not involve compromising her faith and her family - but found none.
So, on 25th March 1586, aged thirty, she was pressed to death. This involved being laid on the floor with a stone under her back and a door placed on her - upon which more and more weight was added until finally the condemned person was crushed to death. Her last words were "Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me"
She was canonised in 1970, one of 40 people honoured for their witness in the face of martyrdom.
Her home is now a shrine - a place of quiet reflection in the midst of the bustle of tourists. Mass is celebrated there still... an echo of a time when to do so would have been to court death.
The photographs are from the site linked below
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