A saint of this church
Margaret Clitherow was born in about 1553, the daughter of Jane and Thomas Middleton, a wax chandler and later sheriff of York. The family lived in Davygate, and her father was churchwarden of St Martin's in 1555-8, so she will have been baptised here. The church register records her marriage on 1 July 1571 to 'John Clitherowe, butcher'. They lived in the Shambles, where there is a shrine to her. Within two or three years she had converted to Roman Catholicism, and with other York women gave active support to the cause, hiding Roman Catholic priests operating illegally and welcoming the celebration of the mass in her home. Her Protestant husband was clearly sympathetic, and his own brother was a Roman Catholic priest. It was the sending of their son to a catholic school abroad that began a chain of events that led ultimately to her being charged with harbouring and maintaining Jesuits and priests, 'enemies to her majesty'. She refused to plead, and was pressed to death on Lady Day 1586 proclaiming her adherence to her faith. She was canonised in 1970.
The persecution and execution of Roman Catholics at this period seems horrific to us now. Politics and religion were intricately bound together in Europe at this period, and loyalty to Rome, rather than to the national church, inevitably raised concerns about loyalty to the monarchy and government. We do not know how far Margaret's early experiences at St Martin's may have shaped her faith – by 1559 the church was again officially Protestant, but St Martin's was slow to remove the outward symbols of the old practice and the vicar Thomas Grayson was reported to still have catholic books in his possession in 1567. St Martin's today is proud to call itself both catholic and reformed, and welcomes all Christians. We are pleased to remember Margaret Clitherow for her piety and devotion.