Outside St Margaret’s Church

Pink or red stone church building with four towers. Two are on outside at 10m and then two more are forming a tower of 30m. Gable end with entrance door in the centre.

Fiona: Yes! but not all of them! In the church there are two really interesting things to see however.  

Fiona: Remember I mentioned about the marriage stone, which people rubbed for good luck?  Margaret’s large family inspired later generations to associate her with bringing luck in childbirth.  When they went into labour, royal mothers-to-be through history would pay the Church to borrow an undershirt of Margaret’s that had been kept by the monks.  It’s even documented that Mary, Queen of Scots asked for Margaret’s embalmed head to be brought to her at Edinburgh Castle during the birth of James VI.  At some point, her head had been separated from the body and put in a special head-shaped jewelled case. A replica of this, designed from descriptions written over the centuries, is inside St Margaret’s Church, so you can definitely go and see that when the Church is open.

Fiona: Over the years, the Protestant religion replaced the Catholic church in Scotland and St Margaret’s remains are hidden for safety but somehow the head gets separated from the rest.  The bones end up in Spain as part of King Philip the Second’s collection of relics but the head, in its fancy case, takes a different route.   That ends up in a monastery in France for safekeeping which we know because a historian called James Carruthers wrote about seeing it with his own eyes in 1785.  He’s clearly amazed by what he sees because he describes it as hardly decomposed and still with St Margaret’s “auburn hair” attached.  

Thomas:  That seems a bit far-fetched.

Fiona: It probably seemed so to the people of the time too, but they grabbed the opportunity to record it as another of Margaret’s miracles. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution happens, it disappears for good. But the rest of the relics stayed in Madrid, or so it was thought. By the mid-1800s, a bishop in Edinburgh was determined that a convent in the name of St Margaret should be re-established there. He convinced the Pope that the relics must come back to Scotland but when he travels to Spain to retrieve them, he finds that almost all have been lost and only a piece of her shoulder is left.  The disappointment he must have felt!

Thomas: Oh no, after all that.

Fiona: Anyway, the bishop finally gets permission from everyone to saw a piece off the remaining shoulder bone fragment and take it back to the nuns in Edinburgh and this brings me almost to the end of the story.  That convent closed in the 1980s but the relic was kept in the same place until 2008 when it was finally brought back home to Dunfermline. So, if you go into that church, you can see a real piece of Scotland’s Patroness, Saint Margaret.  In fact, at different times over the years, people have come from all over to join an annual pilgrimage.  As recently as the 1960s, thousands would arrive. Then it fell out of favour for a bit, but they re-started it in 2015 and every June, people gather at those big Carnegie gates at Pittencrieff Park to join the procession up the High Street to this church.

Thomas: I’m beginning to see why you wanted to tell me all about this woman.

Fiona: To me, Queen Margaret, was an incredible force for good.  She ended up in a situation that she didn’t choose for herself yet she managed to shape in a positive way, using her wealth and influence to achieve the things she was passionate about and help the people around her.  

She could have lived a life of extravagance and ease and in some ways, she did, with her fine clothes and jewels but, if the evidence is to be believed, she did it in order to lead people to God.  She was determined to bring education and modernisation to a place that seemed left behind by the rest of Europe. I like to think about what she would be doing if she were still around today.

Music: Contemporary, up-lifting theme

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