Like St Catherine, St Margaret of Antioch was
another early virgin-martyr, reputedly martyred in 304. She
was declared to be apocryphal as long ago as 491, but the legend has
stuck. Even the Golden Legend, for once, isn't entirely convinced by the
fabulous story of the exploding dragon, though Margarito had no problems
with it - in his picture Margaret is swallowed and exploded from the
dragon's belly at one and the same time.
Margaret appears occasionally in groups of saints; she was a popular choice for a church dedication. Perhaps the best known image is this one by Zurbaran in the National Gallery, a few rooms away from Margarito's panel. Her cowboy hat is particularly fetching, and the dragon is good too, if a little too friendly.
The prefect gave his orders, and
she was now hung on a rack, beaten with rods and lacerated with iron
rakes. The punishment was so cruel that her bones were laid bare and blood
gushed from her body like water from a spring.
‘Shameless dog!’ she said to
the prefect. ‘Hungry lion! You may have power over my flesh, but my soul
belongs to Christ!’
Margaret was now taken down and
returned to jail. Here, a wonderful light shone about her. She prayed to
God to let her see her enemy. A hideous dragon appeared, but when it
approached her to devour her, she made the sign of the cross and it
disappeared. Others have said that the dragon opened its mouth over her
head, put its tongue under her feet, and swallowed her.