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Saint Margaret of Cortona, T.O.S.F., (1247 – 22 February 1297) was an Italian penitent of the Third Order of St. Francis ("T.O.S.F."). She was born in Laviano, near Perugia, and died in Cortona. She was canonized in 1728.
She is the patron saint of the falsely accused, hoboes, homeless, insane, orphaned, mentally ill, midwives, penitents, single mothers, reformed prostitutes, stepchildren, and tramps.
Margaret was born of farming parents, in Laviano, a little town in the diocese of Chiusi. At the age of seven, Margaret's mother died and her father remarried. Little love was shared between stepmother and stepdaughter. As she grew older, Margaret became more willful and reckless, and her reputation in the town was one not to be envied. At the age of 17 she met a young man, according to some accounts, the son of Gugliemo di Pecora, lord of Valiano, and she ran away with him. Soon Margaret found herself installed in the castle, not as her master's wife, for convention would never allow that, but as his mistress, which was more easily condoned. For ten years, she lived with him near Montepulciano and bore him a son. Some day, he had promised her, they would be married, but the day never came.
When her lover failed to return home from a journey one day, Margaret became concerned. The unaccompanied return of his favorite hound alarmed Margaret, and the hound led her into the forest to his murdered body. That crime shocked Margaret into a life of prayer and penance. Margaret returned to his family all the gifts he had given her and left his home. With her child, she returned to her father's house, but her stepmother would not have her. Margaret and her son then went to the Franciscan friars at Cortona, where her son eventually became a friar. She fasted, avoided meat, and subsisted on bread and vegetables.
In 1277, after three years of probation, Saint Margaret joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and chose to live in poverty. Following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, she begged for sustenance and bread. She pursued a life of prayer and penance at Cortona, and there established a hospital for the sick, homeless and impoverished. To secure nurses for the hospital, she instituted a congregation of Tertiary Sisters, known as "le poverelle" (Italian for "the little poor ones").
While in prayer, Margaret heard the words, "What is your wish, poverella ("little poor one?"), and she replied, "I neither seek nor wish for anything but You, my Lord Jesus." She also established an order devoted to Our Lady of Mercy and the members bound themselves to support the hospital and to help the needy.
On several occasions, St. Margaret participated in public affairs. Twice, following Divine command, she challenged the Bishop of Arezzo, Guglielmo Ubertini Pazzi, in whose diocese Cortona lay, because he lived and warred like a prince. She moved to the ruined Church of St Basil, now Santa Margherita, and spent her remaining years there; she died on 22 February 1297.
After her death, the Church of Santa Margherita in Cortona was rebuilt in her honor. Her body is preserved in a silver casket inside the church. Saint Margaret was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 16 May 1728.
An oil on canvas painting of "Saint Margaret of Cortona" (circa 1758) by Garpare Traversi, hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.