Monday, July 17, 2017

How Saint Marina (Margaret) Became a Patron Saint of Pregnant Women and Childbirth

Saint Marina is known as Saint Margaret in the West. Whereas Saint Marina has always been highly esteemed and enjoyed wide popularity among Orthodox Christians of the East, in the West it was not always so. Her Acts were declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. Margaret is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and thus one of the saints who is said to have spoken to Joan of Arc, thus increasing her veneration among the people. According to the Roman Martyrology she is celebrated on July 20, as opposed to July 17 in the East. Pope Paul VI in 1969 removed her from the list of saints because of what was considered the entirely fabulous character of the stories told of her and thus disputing her historical existence.

One of these disputed legends involved Marina being swallowed by Satan who appeared to her in her jail cell in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon's innards. The 13th century Golden Legend describes this incident as "apocryphal and not to be taken seriously". Greek tradition does not mention this incident of Saint Marina emerging from the stomach of the dragon, but instead through the cross she transforms the dragon into a dog which she strikes with a hammer.

Saint Margaret bursting forth unharmed from the belly of the dragon was deemed in late Medieval Western Europe to be analogous to the pains and perils of childbirth. Furthermore, Margaret's mother is said to have died a few days after her birth, and before her death, Margaret intercedes for her executioner and encourages devotees to call upon her in various needs, promising to be especially attentive to the needs of pregnant women. These promises largely account for her widespread popularity. Thus it became common practice to place the life of St. Margaret on the stomach of a woman as she was delivering her child; in France there were at least four famous belts of St. Margaret used in childbirth (two in Paris, one in Amiens, and one in Dol). The veneration of St. Margaret became very widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her, most famously, St. Margaret's, Westminster, the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. In western art, she is usually pictured escaping from the stomach of, or standing above, a dragon.