The Shrivelled Hands of Margaret Clitherow

I like a saint with a good honest name.  I don't care for any of that soft southern Latin nonsense, like Inviolata Assumpta or Incontinentius Maximus.  No, I like a saint with a good honest Northern name.  There can't be many better, therefore, than York's own St Margaret Clitherow, beatified in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

St Margaret Clitherow, as depicted on Wikipedia.

As is usual for Catholic saints, well-named or otherwise, St Margaret Clitherow lives on in a pretty dubious way.  If you go to the Bar Convert Museum, at the crossroads of Ploxwangate and Baggergate, you can admire her shrivelled hand, on display in a glass case.  My dearly beloved did so recently.

It is her right hand (Mrs Clitherow's, not my dearly beloved's), reputedly cut from her corpse by supporters after she'd been executed* in 1586.  As you'd expect for such grisly relics, it is also reputed to have produced miracles**.

All of which meant I was rather confused to discover during an online search that there is a rival shrivelled hand of Margaret Clitherow, housed at Ladyewell Shrine in Preston, Lancs.  I am well aware that Mrs Clitherow would have originally been in possession of two hands, but only one was reported to have been cut off and saved.  So at least one of the hands is an impostor; possibly both.

Shrine to Margaret Clitherow, Ladyewell House, Preston (Copyright Humphrey Bolton, geograph.org.uk)

As is self-evident, I'm no theologian, but this uncertainty worries me.  It makes the attribution of miracles to the hand of St Margaret problematical.  What if the miraculous hand (or hands) actually belonged to someone else?  The Catholic church could be overlooking a chance to beatify another saint!  Given their recent rate of saintings, they'd be most annoyed to miss out.

God knows whose hands they are, obviously, but we don't, and we need to find out.  The veracity of the competing claimants should be examined: a DNA analysis could be carried out, or perhaps an arm-wrestling contest.  St Margaret Clitherow is all well and good, but I don't want to discover that the church has failed to honour someone with an even better name.

All hail the Blessed Colin Picklethwaite!  Please stand for the Most Highly Magnificent Mavis Butterpot!  Hallelujah!

Here endeth this sermon (subject to divine intervention).

Memorial plaque to Margaret Clitherow on the Ouse Bridge, York.


*Even by the exactingly bloodthirsty standards of mediaeval religious vengeance, this was brutal.  Margaret was laid out on the middle of the Ouse Bridge, tied down with a rock beneath her spine, and had a door placed upon her (her own front door, according to some sources), which was weighed down with boulders till her back was broken.

**I should point out that my aforementioned beloved and I named our pub quiz team in Mrs Clitherow's honour last week, and we won a comprehensive (and some would say miraculous) victory.  I expect Pope Benedict's henchmen to come calling any minute.

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