Margherita da CORTONA (1247 – 1297)

Saint Margherita di Cortona with the painting’s sponsor, by Bartolomeo di Tommaso, XV century

She belongs to the Secular Franciscan Third Order, in whose expansion some say she had a role. Her story could also be that of a beguine who sought in the Third Order an institutional shelter in harmony with her choices of penitent and poor life, considering the impossibility of having another religious and secular status at the same time.
Of humble origins, she was soon an orphan of her mother and from the age of seventeen she lives “more uxorio” with a rich merchant of Montepulciano, Arsenio (identified with Raniero del Pecora, of the lords of Valiano), from whom she also had a son. The couple spent a lot of time in a hunting lodge, belonging to the Pecora family, in the hills on the border between Umbria and Tuscany. In 1273, during a hunting expedition, Arsenio is attacked and murdered because of the Guelph-Ghibelline feuds of the time. According to legend, Margherita finds the lover’s body following his dog on foot. Rejected with her child by the family of the lover and also by her father and his new wife, she approaches the Franciscans of Cortona, in particular the friars Giovanni da Castiglione and Giunta Bevegnati, her spiritual directors and then biographers. She entrustes the care of her son to the minor friars of Arezzo and in 1277 becomes a Tertiary Franciscan, dedicating herself exclusively to prayer and charitable works.
Her spirituality pays special attention to the Passion of Christ, in line with what Francis of Assisi and Angela da Foligno. Margherita experienced numerous mystical crises and visions. She gives birth to a tertiary congregation, called the Poverelle, founds in 1278 a hospital at the church of San Basilio and forms the Confraternity of Santa Maria della Misericordia, for the ladies who wanted to assist the poor and the sick.
She is a mystical woman, but also of action and courage, sought after for her advice, she is attentive to public life and, in the disputes between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, she acts as peace maker. The biography written by her confessor Frà Giunta Bevegnati, with the stories of the many ecstasies and visions of Margherita, has contributed to making her one of the most popular saints of central Italy. Her body is kept in Cortona, in the church dedicated to her, in an urn located above the high altar. Honoured as a Blessed since death, Innocent X approved her cult on March 17, 1653, but was canonized only May 16, 1728 by Benedict XIII with the nickname of Nova Magdalena.
Source: Wikipedia.

Mario Sensi remembers that Margherita wanted simply to be called “mulier devota(pious women) precisely bizzoca, taking with this the distances from the mendicant orders.  This name “Sancta Margarita devota mulier“appears on the front of the sarcophagus in the altarpiece of the Cathedral of Cortona, work commissioned by her devotees a few years after her death. (Sensi Mario, Storie di bizzoche tra Umbria e Marche, prefazione di Romana Guarnieri, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, Roma, 1995)

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