St Margherita (1247-1297)
Born in Laviano, near Castiglione del Lago, in 1247, into a family of poor farmers, Santa Margherita is known as St Margherita of Cortona because this is where she spent the second part of her life until she died. After losing her mother at a tender age, Margherita was brought up by a jealous step-mother, who ill-treated her. At 18 she eloped with a young man from Montepulciano, with whom she lived for nine years and from whom she had a son. His premature death, however, forced Margherita to move elsewhere and earn her living as a midwife. She worked in Cortona, where – as everywhere else – midwives were regarded as operating on the fringes of legality and considerably frowned upon.
Alone with her son, Margherita soon began offering help to the poor and opened her own humble dwelling to those in need. At the same time she embarked on a rigid discipline of penance, under the supervision of the Franciscan friars of the nearby convent. In 1277 Margherita was ordained part of the Ordine della Penitenza in the same convent, thereby taking the first step in a long and complex mystical development that would lead her eventually to her cutting herself off completely from the distractions of the world.
Margherita offered spiritual and physical solace to the poor in a set of rooms that the Signore Moscari had offered her. Initially her help was directed at women in childbirth, but Margherita soon began helping all those in need. A number of influential people were stricken by the woman’s tenderness and decided to help her found the hospital known today as Ospedale di S. Maria della Misericordia. A noblewoman named Diabella offered Margherita her palazzo, while the Capitano del Popolo Uguccio Casali (whom Margherita was to call “cavaliere santo”) financed the works to render the building suitable along with a number of other benefactors. In 1278 the hospital that still functions as the hospital of Cortona was built, and the statutes approved in 1286 by the Bishop of Arezzo, Monsignor Guglielmino degli Ubertini.
When her son grew up and became a Franciscan monk, Margherita decided to retire to a cell in the castle of Cortona, where she lived in silence, cared for only by a friend and the sporadic attentions of Ser Badia, the rector of the little church of San Basilio.
Margherita died on February 22nd 1297 and was admitted to the Franciscan Order following the hagiography of her confessor, Brother Giunta Bevignati.
[fonti: Anna Benvenuti, Redenta dalla preghiera, in Pagine Cattoliche (http://www.paginecattoliche.it); Samuele Duranti, L'attenzione verso i poveri e i sofferenti genera pensieri e gesti di pace, in: Pagine Cattoliche (http://www.paginecattoliche.it)]