The history of St Margaret's Chapel Guild

07 January 2016
imports_CESC_copyright-michael-chadwick-45510_81947.jpg The history of St Margaret's Chapel Guild
St Margaret's Chapel Guild has a seventy-year tradition of caring for St Margaret's Chapel, the Edinburgh Castle chapel named after St Margaret, queen of Scotland, writes Margaret Lindsell. ...

St Margaret's Chapel Guild has a seventy-year tradition of caring for St Margaret's Chapel, the Edinburgh Castle chapel named after St Margaret, queen of Scotland, writes Margaret Lindsell.

In 1942 the Very Reverend Dr Ronald Selby Wright, the then Minister of Canongate Kirk , thought that some flowers in St Margaret’s Chapel would be of benefit during the dark years of the Second World War. He advertised in the local newspaper for volunteers named Margaret to put flowers in the Chapel. Such was the enthusiastic response that he felt the practice should be continued on a regular basis.

Dr Selby Wright persuaded Lady Russell, whose husband, Sir David Russell had been instrumental in the restoration of the Chapel as a place of worship, to be the Convenor of St Margaret’s Chapel Guild. Canongate Kirk lies within the parish of the Castle so Dr Selby Wright became the first President. Now, over seventy years later, the practice continues, the Minister of Canongate Kirk is the President and members of the Guild continue to place fresh flowers in the Chapel twice a week.

Dr Selby Wright also wrote to the late Queen Mother to ask if Princess Margaret could be appointed as the Guild’s Patron. This was agreed and Princess Margaret continued as Patron until her death. Upon the death of Princess Margaret the Guild did not know who would be appointed as their new Patron, as there is not a ‘Royal’ Margaret. However, the Queen allocated all her Patronages and HRH The Princess Royal was appointed as Patron to the Guild. Princess Anne takes a very keen interest in the Guild and has visited us on St Margaret’s Day, 16 November, every three years since her appointment.
Membership of the Guild is open to anyone with the name Margaret and organisations such as Churches and Schools named after St Margaret are also eligible for membership. The members meet once a year, in the Castle, on St Margaret’s Day, 16 November, for a service in the Chapel and their AGM. 16 November is the anniversary of St Margaret’s death.
In 1993 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the death of St Margaret, the Guild undertook a major refurbishment of the Chapel. We had special benches made with a Roundal appropriate to St Margaret on each bench, and an exquisite altar frontal was commissioned and sewn by Hannah Frew Paterson MBE. The altar frontal remains in use today, alternating with a new altar frontal which was designed and sewn by a post graduate student of Queen Margaret University last year. A candlestick was also commissioned together with a holder for a copy of St Margaret’s prayer book. History tells us that Margaret’s original prayer book, given to her by her husband King Malcolm and encrusted with jewels, fell into a river and was retrieved unharmed.
All sort of celebrations took place in 1993 – Songs of Praise from the Chapel, a visit from the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret.
The first objective of the Guild is to follow the example and to practice the principles of St Margaret whenever and wherever possible.

In the 1950s Dr Selby Wright produced a little booklet which tells the story of St Margaret and her charitable life. It was made available in the Chapel and visitors to the Castle were invited to take a copy and leave a small donation for the Guild. This proved so popular that well over two million copies have now been printed and the donations received enable the Guild to give away a considerable sum of money to charities every year. Priority is given to charities within the shadow of the Castle and also those who are named after St Margaret.
The amounts given are individually quite modest and the Guild has a tradition of giving to charities that are just starting up when a small sum is of more benefit and in several cases, the Guild’s contribution has been the first or one of the first to be received. From time to time, larger sums are sent where there is an urgent need following a national disaster such as an earthquake or a famine, the money usually being channelled through Save the Children, given Queen Margaret’s concern for children.
Where practical, members will get involved with a charity and for many years now have taken a group of children who are visiting Edinburgh through the Chernobyl Childrens' Lifeline, on a visit to the castle, on every occasion they have visited Edinburgh.
There is also a St Margaret’s Chapel Fellowship for those named Margaret who want to follow in the footsteps of St Margaret and to be associated with the Guild but live too far away to be involved in a practical way. They are encouraged to say the St Margaret prayer ‘Let me live in the light of St Margaret’ and perhaps to put flowers in their churches on St Margaret’s Day if this is possible.
The Guild has a website which gives details on how to join the Guild and also details about the Chapel. 
Read about other places associated with the life of St Margaret.

(Image copyright Michael Chadwick)

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