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News article

History students’ detective work sheds new light on Margaret Clitherow: The Pearl of York  

Published: 08 March 2023

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A close up of a woman's face looking at an antique engraving

Jessica Diamond with c17th engraving of Saint Margaret Clitherow's death. Copyright: The Bar Convent Heritage Centre.

Three second year History students from York St John University have uncovered new clues about the relic of Saint Margaret Clitherow and how it came to be in York. The students have been given access to the archives at the Bar Convent in York - the UK’s oldest living convent- to look into the mystery behind how the convent became custodians of her relic. 

Their research forms part of a new display at the Bar Convent Heritage Centre, alongside archive material that has never been on display before. This includes a letter that casts new light as to how and why the relic, thought to be her hand, might have been given to the convent, as well as a rare pocket-sized engraving produced shortly after her death.  

The display offers new interpretation on the significance of Saint Margaret Clitherow to York, Catholicism and women’s history. It marks the anniversary of her Martyrdom on March 25, 1586, as well as International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.   

Special Collections Manager, Dr Hannah Thomas, said “Saint Margaret Clitherow, also known as ‘The Pearl of York’, is one of the most significant martyrs, particularly in terms of the nature of her execution. Her death was seen as so brutal by her contemporaries that Queen Elizabeth I is said to have written to the city officials to condemn their actions, and a sentence of this nature was never passed again as punishment for Catholics in this country.  

“We receive many questions from visitors about why Saint Margaret Clitherow’s relic is housed at the convent, and how it came to be here.   

“York St John University students Jessica Diamond, Benjamin Stringer and Mia Skinner, who are second year History students, were given access to our archives and have carried out research into these questions for the first time.  

“They have been working with material that has never been made public before, including a pocket-sized engraving depicting her execution; several books about martyrs compiled by the English Catholic community and probably read by the earliest members of the Bar Convent community, and a very rare handwritten biography of Margaret Clitherow. All were made in the 17th century, and designed for covert circulation amongst the hidden Catholic community in York, and will go on public display for the first time in the Bar Convent exhibition.”  

New interpretation will also explore Saint Margaret Clitherow’s fellow women of the Catholic underground and other influential women who have contributed to the Bar Convent story. 

For more information on visiting the display, see the Bar Convent website.

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