Background Information

Origin: Roman Empire in Antioch
Dragons Slain: The Dragon/Demon as a Dragon

Background: In the early history of the Church, persecution and martyrdom became quite common. Some of the most popular stories were of Christian women who refused to reject Christ or to marry the oppressive Roman leaders. The story of Saint Margaret is one of the most popular in this particular theme. Her story is a symbol of chastity and fortitude, her strength leading her into heaven.

The Catholic Church celebrated the Feast Day of Saint Margaret annually on 20 July as late as 1969, when the practice became suppressed. [4] As a Saint, she is petitioned for protection of women during and directly after childbirth, as well as for the health of the newborn and prevention of demon-possession. Sometimes, she is petitioned for the preservation of chastity. [1] The Lives of St. Margaret, in a set of scenes, is painted on the walls of some Churches, illustrating her story as a woman-become-martyr-become-saint. [1] Having varying levels of popularity in the early centuries, she is depicted in stained glass, statues of limestone, in manuscripts, paintings, and in many media throughout the Catholic Church. [4]

Titled Saint Margaret and the Dragon features St. Margaret in the Mouth of the Dragon, Agnolo Gaddi - provided by the Met

Figure 2. 'St. Margaret and the Dragon' painted by Agnolo Gaddi with tempera on wood, gold ground. Italian, Florentine. Photograph of painting and information provided by the MET Museum at

Saint Margaret of Antioch, the Dragon Slayer

St. Margaret and the Dragon, featured at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Click to Enlarge.

Figure 2. 'St. Margaret and the Dragon,' exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum March 2010. About 1530-40, Limestone originally from the Church of St. Germain in France, Troyres.
Click to see larger image. Photograph by Kylie 'drago' McCormick.

Saint Margaret lived in Antioch, the daughter of Theodosius, born around the year A.D. 291. Some sources say her father's name is Aedesius. [3] Her father was a priest for Pagan gods, and he gave her to a nurse to be kept. In time Margaret became baptized a Christian, much to the distain of her father. [2]

It happened that Margaret was just as beautiful as she was humble, just as pleasant to sight as she was chaste. She is remembered, even today, as a white gem, a rare and virtuous virgin saint. [2] Unfortunately, her pleasant countenance and her beauty, at the age of fifteen, attracted a provost (a type of police governor in the area) named Olybrius. He ordered his servants to bring the fair maiden before him, that he may claim her either as his wife of concubine, if she be free or slave. [2]

When asked, Margaret reported her lineage as noble, her name as Margaret, and her religion as Christian. Olybrius approved of the first two, but he would not accept Margaret as a Christian. When she would not relent her Faith, Olybrius ordered her to prison. [2]

The next day, Olybrius ordered Margaret before him again. Again, she refused to reject Christ, and the provost warned her that she should pay homage to his gods on pain of having her beautiful flesh torn asunder. Still, Margaret would not abandon her Faith. Cruelly, she was hanged in an instrument and beaten with iron rods. They then used iron combs to tear her flesh down to the bone, causing her blood to run as if water from a spring. Still, the weary and beaten Margaret refused to pay homage to any of the other gods, so Olybrius ordered her back to prison. [2]

There, Margaret the Virgin, at the age of fifteen, prayed, bleeding in the tiny prison cell allotted to her. She asked the Lord to reveal the fiend that fought with her, and then appeared a terrible dragon that attacked her. In some stories, the dragon swallows the maiden whole, and inside the belly of the beast, she makes the sign of the cross, which caused the dragon to explode, expelling her. In other versions, the dragon seeks to devour her, but before he can swallow her, he is slain by the sign of the cross. [2] In either case, Margaret bests the dragon with a symbol that frees her body.

In the morning, still unrelenting in her faith, the provost ordered her to be thrown into the fire and her body to be burned with brands. Thereafter, the tormenters moved her body to a large vessel filled with water, in order to extend the pain and suffering. [2] In a moment, however, Margaret rose out of the water without injury, crying out to the Lord that this water might be the water that baptizes her into everlasting life. [2]

Thunder cracked across the air as a dove, from high in the sky, placed a golden crown on Margaret's head. Five thousand people, having seen such a sight, had Faith kindled within them, and in a very short time, for Christ's love, all five thousand of them died by beheading by order of the same provost, Olybrius. Margaret, too, received the same sentence, in order to prevent her Faith from spreading further. [2]

In her final prayers, Margaret asked forgiveness for her persecutors for her blood, as Jesus asked forgiveness for those who tormented Him. For those that remembered her passion (suffering as a martyr), she asked the Lord plainly to forgive their sins, and for those women who petition her name when with child, that the child be delivered safely from the mother's womb. As her prayer finished before her execution, a great voice from heaven echoed, telling her that her prayers were heard and granted. Thus, Margaret was beheaded. [2] Her death is recorded as A.D. 306. [3]

Quick Facts

  • Saint Margaret was of noble birth and chose to be baptized Christian, which her father hated. [2]
  • At the age of fifteen, her beauty attracted the attention of a local leader named Olybrius. [2]
  • Olybrius approved of her lineage, but not her relgion, and ordered her to pay homage to the pagan gods. When she refused, he threw her in prison. [2]
  • Saint Margaret suffered many torments and tortures but refused to relent on her faith. [2]
  • At night, a dragon came to her cell, and either swallowed her or tried to swallow her. She slew the beast with the sign of the cross. [2]


  1. Reames, Sherry L, 'Margaret of Antioch: Introduction'
  2. Voragine, Jacobus, 'The Golden Legend: St. Margaret' Translated by William Caxton
  3. Catholic Saints Index: Saint Margaret of Antioch
  4. Stracke, J.R., St. Margaret of Antioch in Iconography

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.