Saint Margaret was born in the third century at Antioch of Pisidia in southern Asia Minor. Her mother died while she was an infant, and she was instructed in the Christian faith by a virtuous nurse. When her father, a pagan priest named Aedesius, learned she was a Christian, he drove her out of the house. She became a shepherdess to earn her living.
When a Roman prefect arrived in the region to persecute the Christians, Margaret was imprisoned. The prefect, fascinated by her beauty, desired to save her life and add her to the already considerable number of his wives and concubines. He decided to attempt to overcome her resistance by questioning her before an assembly consisting of virtually the entire city. Her reply to his ultimatum, offering her a choice between joy and torments, was recorded and became renowned.
She said: The true life and true joy, thanks be to God, I have already found, and have placed them in the stronghold of my heart that they may never be removed. I mean that I adore and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, that I venerate Him with confidence and will never cease to honor Him with my whole soul. Know that no human power, no torture will be able to extract from my heart so great a treasure.
When the prefect replied that someone had certainly put such ideas into her very young and inexperienced head, a long dialogue ensued, Margaret striving to make him understand the reason for her confidence, and that God Himself gives replies to those who believe in Him when they are questioned, according to His own promise.
Hearing her say that her Lord was not merely a man, but very genuinely God and Man at one same time, whose power was far above that of emperors, he became furious and sent her to be scourged, suspended in the air by her hands.
Many spectators wept and begged her to have pity on herself. She replied: Illustrious gentlemen and noble ladies, do not weaken my courage, for as the Apostle said, bad conversation corrupts good habits. But I forgive you, because you act this way out of sympathy, and do not possess the true light…
Cast into prison still alive, she was visited by a demon whom she put to flight by a sign of the cross; there followed a vision of the cross of salvation, accompanied by a voice exhorting her to persevere.
When on the following day she was subjected to the torment of burning torches, she felt no pain. She continued under other ineffectual torments to exhort the spectators to understand who it was she adored, and finally was beheaded with a large number of those whom her words had caused to believe as she did.
(SOURCE: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 8)