St. Margaret's RC Memorial Church

Dunfermline, Fife

Excitement had been mounting for many months in the build-up to the return of the precious relic of St. Margaret of Scotland to Dunfermline on her Feast Day, the 16th of November 2008.  The Solemn Celebration of Mass by Cardinal Keith O’Brien took place in St Margaret’s National Memorial Church.  An hour before the appointed time parishioners were already gathering.  Guests of honour were the devoted Ursuline Sisters to whose care Bishop Gillis had entrusted the relic of the saint 145 years ago and from whose careful hands Father David Barr and his parishioners were to receive the reliquary with its shoulder bone of the saint.

Resplendent in a white, blue and gold, hand-decorated chasuble, a gift from the Ursuline Sisters, which he was wearing for the first time to honour the occasion, the Cardinal officiated with his usual warm spirituality.  The concelebrated mass was joyous.  Full-throated singing in praise of our beloved “Saint and Queen, Margaret, the pearl of our land!” rang through the vaulted neo-Romanesque Church, so closely modelled on Margaret’s own “Holy Trinity” church and the later Dunfermline Abbey, built in her memory by her son, David.  The Scripture readings focussed on Margaret’s virtues: the “perfect wife”, the embodiment of Christian love and the example to all of us, in these material times, of compassion for the poor.

Cardinal O’Brien, in his homily, recalled the important celebrations in 1996 of the ninth centenary of St Margaret’s death at which he himself had been present.  Father Barr had been the moving spirit then, and the eventual scale of the event had surprised everyone, with guests ranging from the late Princess Margaret, to Bishops from Hungary, the land of Margaret’s childhood, and the Papal Nuncio.  (For more information on the 900th Anniversary, click here).

The Cardinal reminded the congregation of the pilgrimages to Dunfermline, only  discontinued relatively recently, in which the reliquary, brought from Edinburgh, would be carried in procession through the streets of the city to the football ground for mass, so many were the pilgrims who came to pay her homage.  Now pilgrims might return to her final resting place, the beautiful new shrine prepared for her in the Lady Chapel of her own Memorial Church.  The gothic-style reliquary is complemented in the Chapel by an exquisitely modelled bronze of St Margaret, specially commissioned from the sculptor, Anne Davidson DA ARBS (see right).   In keeping with the medieval mood of the existing stained glass and the carved wooden altarpiece by Steven Foster, it depicts Margaret in thoughtful mood holding in one hand her book of scripture, the book which was so miraculously preserved and which is the only other extant relic of the Saint.  With the other she holds the hand of a little girl, symbolising her motherhood and her compassion for the poor.  Her gaze is inwards towards the things of the spirit from where her great charity sprang.

Both Father Barr and Cardinal O’Brien thanked the nuns warmly for their long and loving curator-ship of the precious relic.  As the incense rose in sweet token of our fervent  prayers, the day’s occasion seemed to me the culmination of centuries of progress through reform, war and accident towards the reinstatement of St Margaret’s royal and saintly presence in her beloved Dunfermline.   

A Homecoming Fit for a Saint and Queen

(A Parishioner’s Account:- Teresa Little)

Copyright © St. Margaret's RC Memorial Church, Dunfermline 2009. All rights reserved.

Ursuline Sisters from Gillis College, Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Fr. David Barr with the reliquary containing the Relic of St.Margaret

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Dedication of the Relic of St. Margaret