Margaret the Virgin, also known as Margaret of Antioch , virgin and martyr, is celebrated by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on July 20. Her historical existence is dubious; she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494, but devotion to her revived in the West with the Crusades. She was reputed to have promised very powerful indulgences to those who wrote or read her life, or invoked her intercession; these no doubt helped the spread of her cult.
According to the Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. She was scorned by her father for her Christian faith, and lived in the country with a foster-mother keeping sheep. Olybrius, the praeses orientis, offered her marriage at the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical moment of scepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously” (trans. Ryan, 1.369). She was put to death in A.D. 304.
An attempt has been made, but without success, to prove that the group of legends with which that of Saint Margaret is connected is derived from a transformation of the pagan divinity Aphrodite into a Christian saint. The problem of her identity is a purely literary question.
The cult of Saint Margaret became very widespread in England, where more than 250 churches are dedicated to her. Some consider her a patron saint of pregnancy. In art, she is usually pictured escaping from the dragon.