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St. Martin of Tours

St Martin of Tours (316 – 397) was a Bishop of Tours, whose shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. As he was born in Hungary, spent his childhood in Pavia, Italy, and lived most of his adult life in France, he is considered a spiritual bridge across Europe. He is patron saint of reformed alcoholics, impoverishment, equestrians and soldiers.

His life was recorded by a contemporary, the hagiographer Sulpicius Severus. Some of the accounts of his travels may have been interpolated into his vita to validate early sites of his cult.


Early life

Martin was born in 316 AD in Savaria in the Diocese of Pannonia (now Szombathely, Hungary). His father was a senior officer (tribune) in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army. He was later stationed at Ticinum (now Pavia), in northern Italy, where Martin grew up.

At the age of ten, he went to the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen or candidate for baptism. At this time, Christianity had been made a legal religion (in 313) in the Roman Empire, but it was not dominant. It had many more adherents in the Eastern Empire, whence it had sprung, and was concentrated in cities, brought along the trade routes by converted Jews and Greeks (the term 'pagan' literally means 'country-dweller'). Christianity was far from accepted amongst the higher echelons of society. Among the army members, the cult of Mithras would have been stronger. Although the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, and the subsequent programme of church-building, gave a greater impetus to the spread of the religion, it was still a minority faith.

As the son of a veteran officer, Martin at fifteen was required to join a cavalry ala. Around 334, he was stationed at Ambianensium civitas or Samarobriva in Gaul (now Amiens, France). It is likely that he joined the Equites catafractarii Ambianenses, a heavy cavalry unit listed in the Notitia Dignitatum.

Episode of the cloak

While Martin was a soldier in the Roman army and deployed in Gaul (modern day France), he experienced a vision, which became the most-repeated story about his life. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me." (Sulpicius, ch 2). In another story, when Martin woke, he found his cloak restored to wholeness.

The dream confirmed Martin in his piety, and he was baptized at the age of 18. He served in the military for another two years. Just before a battle with the Gauls at Borbetomagus (now Worms, Germany) in 336, Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.

Martin declared his vocation, and made his way to the city of Caesarodunum (now Tours), where he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a chief proponent of Trinitarian Christianity. He opposed the Arianism of the Imperial Court. When Hilary was forced into exile from Pictavium (now Poitiers), Martin returned to Italy. According to his biographer Sulpicius Severus, he converted an Alpine brigand on the way, and confronted the Devil himself. Returning from Illyria, he was confronted by the Arian archbishop of Milan Auxentius, who expelled him from the city. According to the early sources, Martin decided to seek shelter on the island then called Gallinaria, now Isola d'Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit.

Attacking pagans and Arianism

With the return of Hilary to his see in 361, Martin joined him and established a monastery nearby. This site was developed into the Benedictine Liguge Abbey, the first in Gaul; it became a center for the evangelization of the country districts. He traveled and preached through western Gaul: "The memory of these apostolic journeyings survives to our day in the numerous local legends of which Martin is the hero and which indicate roughly the routes that he followed." (Catholic Encyclopedia).

In 371, Martin was acclaimed bishop of Tours, where he impressed the city with his demeanor. He enthusiastically ordered the destruction of pagan temples, altars and sculptures. Scholars suggest the following account may indicate the depth of the Druidic folk religion in relation to the veneer of Roman classical culture in the area:

� "hen in a certain village he had demolished a very ancient temple, and had set about cutting down a pine-tree, which stood close to the temple, the chief priest of that place, and a crowd of other heathens began to oppose him; and these people, though, under the influence of the Lord, they had been quiet while the temple was being overthrown, could not patiently allow the tree to be cut down".

Sulpicius affirms that Martin withdrew from the city to live in Marmoutier (Majus Monasterium), the monastery he founded, which faces Tours from the opposite shore of the Loire . Martin introduced a rudimentary parish system.

Martin's order at Marmoutier

The Abbey of Marmoutier was a monastery just outside today's city of Tours in Indre-et-Loire, France. It was founded by St. Martin around 372, after he had been made Bishop of Tours the previous year. The saint founded the monastery to escape attention and live a life of monasticism. Martin's status as bishop aided the abbey; in addition, he drafted the blueprint for Marmoutier's institutional inviolability by appointing the abbot, Walbert. Thus, while Martin was Bishop of Tours, Marmoutier possessed its own abbot. This meant that it could remain "outside the dominion of every bishop except as it is necessary for the ordaining of canons." The best way to protect the abbey's autonomy was to appoint an abbot for it.

Mercy to the Priscillianists

The First Council of Saragossa had condemned Priscillian and his supporters as heretics. Priscillian and his supporters had fled, and some bishops of Hispania, led by Bishop Ithacius, brought charges before Emperor Magnus Maximus. Although greatly opposed to the Priscillianists, Martin hurried to the Imperial court of Trier to remove them from the secular jurisdiction of the emperor. At first, Maximus acceded to his entreaty, but, when Martin had departed, yielded to Ithacius and ordered Priscillian and his followers to be beheaded (385). They were the first Christians executed for heresy. Deeply grieved, Martin refused to communicate with Ithacius, until pressured by the Emperor.


Martin died at in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul (central France) in 397.


The early life of Saint Martin was written by Sulpicius Severus, who knew him personally. It expresses the intimate closeness the 4th-century Christian felt with the Devil in all his disguises, and has many accounts of miracles. Some follow familiar conventions— casting out devils, raising the paralytic and the dead. Others are more unusual: turning back the flames from a house while Martin was burning down the Roman temple it adjoined; deflecting the path of a felled sacred pine; the healing power of a letter written from Martin, and "threads from Martin's garment, or such as had been plucked from the sackcloth which he wore, wrought frequent miracles upon those who were sick."

The first occasion on which Martin restored the dead to life was that of the catechumen who lived with him in his cell near Poitiers. He returned from a three-day absence to find

� "The body being laid out in public was being honored by the last sad offices on the part of the mourning brethren, when Martin hurries up to them with tears and lamentations. But then laying hold; as it were, of the Holy Spirit, with the whole powers of his mind, he orders the others to quit the cell in which the body was lying; and bolting the door, he stretches himself at full length on the dead limbs of the departed brother. Having given himself for some time to earnest prayer, and perceiving by means of the Spirit of God that power was present, he then rose up for a little, and gazing on the countenance of the deceased, he waited without misgiving for the result of his prayer and of the mercy of the Lord. And scarcely had the space of two hours elapsed, when he saw the dead man begin to move a little in all his members, and to tremble with his eyes opened for the practice of sight. Then indeed, turning to the Lord with a loud voice and giving thanks, he filled the cell with his ejaculations." (Sulpicius Severus, Vita).

In one instance, the pagans agreed to fell their sacred fir tree, if Martin would stand directly in its path. He did so, and it miraculously missed him. Sulpicius, a classically educated aristocrat, related this anecdote with dramatic details, as a set piece. Sulpicius could not have failed to know the incident the Roman poet Horace recalls in several Odes, of his narrow escape from a falling tree.

The shrine and the devotion

The veneration of Martin was widely popular in the Middle Ages, above all in the region between the Loire and the Marne, where Le Roy Ladurie and Zysberg noted the densest accretion of hagiotoponyms. commemorating Martin, Fortunat had earlier declared, "Partout ou le Christ est connu, Martin est honore."

When Bishop Perpetuus took office at Tours in 461, the little chapel over Martin's grave, built in the previous century by Martin's immediate successor, Bricius, was no longer sufficient for the crowd of pilgrims it was already drawing. Perpetuus built a larger basilica, 38 m long and 18 m wide, with 120 columns. Martin's body was taken from the simple chapel at his hermitage at Candes-St-Martin to Tours and his sarcophagus was reburied behind the high altar of the new basilica. A large block of marble above the tomb, the gift of bishop Euphronius of Autun (472-475), rendered it visible to the faithful gathered behind the high altar. Werner Jacobsen suggests it may also have been visible to also to pilgrims encamped in the atrium of the basilica. Contrary to the usual arrangement, the atrium was sited behind' the church, close to the tomb in the apse, which may have been visible through a fenestrella in the apse wall.

During the Middle Ages, the supposed relic of St. Martin's miraculous cloak, (cappa Sancti Martini) was conserved among the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks at the Marmoutier Abbey near Tours. One of the Frankish kings' most sacred relics, it was carried by the king even into battle, and was used as a holy relic upon which oaths were sworn.

The cloak is first attested in the royal treasury in 679, when it was conserved at the palatium of Luzarches, a royal villa that was later ceded to the monks of Saint-Denis by Charlemagne, in 798/99.

The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived. One of the many services a chaplain can provide is spiritual and pastoral support for military service personnel by performing religious services at sea or in the battlefield.

A similar linguistic development took place for the term referring to the small temporary churches built for the relic. People called them "capella", the word for a little cloak. Eventually, such small churches lost their association with the cloak, and all small churches began to be referred to as "chapels".

St. Martin's popularity can be partially attributed to his adoption by successive royal houses of France. Clovis (Cholodovech), King of the Salian Franks, one of many warring tribes in sixth-century France, promised his Christian wife Clotilda that he would be baptised if he was victorious over the Alemanni. He credited the intervention of St Martin with his success, and with several following triumphs, including the defeat of Alaric II. As a result, Clovis moved his capital to Paris, and he is considered to be the 'Founder of France'. The popular devotion to St Martin continued to be closely identified with the Merovingian monarchy: in the early seventh century Dagobert I commissioned the goldsmith Saint Eligius to make a work in gold and gems for the tomb-shrine. The bishop Gregory of Tours wrote and distributed an influential Life filled with miraculous events of St. Martin's career. Martin's cultus survived the passage of power to their successors, the Carolingian dynasty.

The Abbey

The Abbey of Saint-Martin at Tours was one of the most prominent and influential establishments in medieval France. Charlemagne awarded the position of Abbot to his friend and adviser Alcuin, the great English scholar and educator. At this time the Abbot could travel between Tours and the court at Trier in Germany and always stay overnight at one of his own properties. It was at Tours that Alcuin's scriptorium (a room in monasteries devoted to the copying of manuscripts by monastic scribes) developed Caroline minuscule, the clear round hand which made manuscripts far more legible.

In later times the abbey suffered from disasters both accidental and manmade. It was destroyed by fire on several occasions. It was destroyed and ransacked by Norman Vikings in 853 and again in 996.

Rebuilt beginning in 1014, by Herve de Buzancais, treasurer of Saint Martin, to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims and to attract them, the shrine of St. Martin of Tours became a major stopping-point on pilgrimages. Gothic vaults replaced the Romanesque ones. It continued to grow and in 1096, Pope Urban II consecrated a new chapel. In 1162, Pope Alexander III consecrated the Chapel of Saint Benoit. In 1453 the remains of Saint Martin were transferred to a magnificent new reliquary commissioned and donated by Charles VII of France and Agnes Sorel.

During the French Wars of Religion, the basilica was sacked by the Protestant Huguenots in 1562. The abbey recovered for a time. More than two centuries later, it was disestablished during the French Revolution. It was deconsecrated, used as a stable, then utterly demolished. Its dressed stones were sold in 1802 after two streets were built across the site, to ensure the abbey would not be reconstructed.

Revival of the popular devotion to St. Martin in the Third Republic

Excavations and rediscovery of the tomb

In 1860, excavations of Leo Dupont (1797–1876) established the dimensions of the former abbey and recovered some fragments of architecture. The tomb of St. Martin was rediscovered on December 14, 1860, which aided in the nineteenth-century revival of the popular devotion to St. Martin.

New Basilica

After the radical Paris Commune of 1871 (see following section), there was a resurgence of conservative Catholic piety, and the church decided to build a basilica to St. Martin. They selected Victor Laloux as architect. He eschewed Gothic for a mix of Romanesque and Byzantine, sometimes defined as neo-Byzantine.

The new Basilique Saint-Martin was erected on a portion of its former site, which was purchased from the owners. Started in 1886, the church was consecrated 4 July 1925.

Franco-Prussian War

Scholars believe that Martin's renewed popularity was related to his association as a military saint during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. During the military and political crisis of the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III's Second Empire collapsed. After the surrender of Napoleon to the Prussians after the Battle of Sedan in September 1870, a provisional government of national defense was established, and France's Third Republic was proclaimed. Paris was evacuated due to the advancing enemy and for a brief time, Tours (September–December 1870) became the effective capital of France.

St Martin was promoted by the clerical right as the protector of the nation against the German threat. Conservatives associated the dramatic collapse of Napoleon III's regime as a sign of divine retribution on the irreligious emperor. Priests interpreted it as punishment for a nation led astray due to years of anti-clericalism. They preached repentance and a return to religion for political stability. The ruined towers of the royal basilica of St. Martin at Tours came to symbolize the decline of traditional Catholic France.

With the government's relocation to Tours during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870, numerous pilgrims were attracted to St. Martin's tomb. It was covered by a temporary chapel built by Monsignor Guibert (archbishop of Tours, 1857-1871). The popular devotion to St. Martin was also associated with the nationalistic devotion to the Sacred Heart. The flag of Sacre-Coeur, borne by Ultramontane Catholic Pontifical Zouaves who fought at Patay, had been placed overnight in St. Martin's tomb before being taken into battle on October 9, 1870. The banner read "Heart of Jesus Save France" and on the reverse side Carmelite Nuns of Tours embroidered "Saint Martin Protect France". As the French army was victorious in Patay, many among the faithful took the victory to be the result of divine favor. Popular hymns of the 1870s developed the theme of national protection under the cover of Martin's cloak, the "first flag of France".

The popularity of devotion to St Martin among men is significant because historical evidence shows that "feminization" had affected French Catholicism in the nineteenth century. During the nineteenth-century Frenchmen, influenced by secularism, agnosticism, and anti-clericalism, deserted the church in great numbers. As Martin was a man's saint, the devotion to him was an exception to this trend. For men serving in the military, Martin of Tours was presented by the Catholic Right as the masculine model of principled behavior. He was a brave fighter, knew his obligation to the poor, shared his goods, performed his required military service, followed legitimate orders, and respected secular authority. The story of his refusing to bear arms was conveniently forgotten.

Opposition from Anticlericals

During the 1870s, the procession to St. Martin's tomb at Tours became a display of ecclesiastical and military cooperation. Army officers in full uniform acted as military escorts, symbolically protecting the clergy and clearing the path for them. Anti-clerics viewed the staging of public religious processions as a violation of civic space. In 1878, M. Riviere, the provisional mayor of Tours, with anticlerical support banned the November procession in honor of St. Martin. To anti-clerics, religion was supposed to be a private matter, and religious devotions were to be practiced at home or church.

Following the resignation of President Patrice de Mac-Mahon, the first president of the Third Republic, he was succeeded by the Republican Jules Grevy, who created a new national anticlerical offensive. Bishop Louis-Edouard-Francois-Desire Pie of Poitiers united conservatives and devised a massive demonstration for the November 1879 procession. Pie's ultimate hope was that St Martin would stop the "chariot" of modern society, and lead to the creation of a France where the religious and secular sectors merged.

The struggle between the two men was reflective of that between conservatives and anti-clerics over the church's power in the army. From 1874, military chaplains were allowed in the army in times of peace, but anti-clerics viewed the chaplains as sinister monarchists and counter-revolutionaries. Conservatives responded by creating the short-lived Legion de Saint Maurice in 1878 and the society, Notre Dame de Soldats, to provide unpaid voluntary chaplains with financial support. The legislature passed the anticlerical Duvaux Bill of 1880, which reduced the number of chaplains in the French army. Anticlerical legislators wanted commanders, not chaplains, to provide troops with moral support and to supervise their formation in the established faith of "patriotic Republicanism."

St. Martin as a French Republican patron

St. Martin has long been associated with France's royal heritage. Monsignor Rene Francois Renou (Archbishop of Tours, 1896–1913) worked to associate St. Martin as a specifically "republican" patron. Renou had served as a chaplain to the 88e Regiment des mobils d'Indre-et-Loire during the Franco-Prussian war and was known as the "army bishop." Renou was a strong supporter of St. Martin and believed that the national destiny of France and all its victories were attributed to him. He linked the military to the cloak of St. Martin, which was the "first flag of France" to the French tricolor, "the symbol of the union of the old and new." This flag symbolism connected the devotion to St. Martin with the Third Republic. But, the tensions of the Dreyfus Affair renewed anti-clericalism in France and drove a wedge between the Church and the Republic. By 1905, the influence of Rene Waldeck-Rousseau and Emile Combes, combined with deteriorating relations with the Vatican, led to the separation of church and state.

St. Martin's popularity was renewed during the First World War. Anticlericalism declined, and priests served in the French forces as chaplains. More than 5,000 of them died in the war. In 1916, Assumptionists organized a national pilgrimage to Tours that attracted people from all of France. The devotion to St. Martin was amplified in the dioceses of France, where special prayers were offered to the patron saint. When the armistice fell on the Saint Martin's Day, 11 November 1918, the French people saw it was a sign of his intercession in the affairs of France.

Associated European folk traditions

From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages, much of Western Europe, including Great Britain, engaged in a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin's Day, November 11. This fast period lasted 40 days, and was, therefore, called Quadragesima Sancti Martini, which means in Latin "the forty days of St. Martin." At St. Martin's eve and on the feast day, people ate and drank very heartily for a last time before they started to fast. This fasting time was later called "Advent" by the Church and was considered a time for spiritual preparation for Christmas.

On St. Martin's Day, children in Flanders, the southern and north-western parts of the Netherlands, and the Catholic areas of Germany and Austria still participate in paper lantern processions. Often, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession. The children sing songs about St. Martin and about their lanterns. The food traditionally eaten on the day is goose, a rich bird. According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become bishop, which is why he hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location to the people who were looking for him.

In Malta, children are sometimes given a bag full of nuts, hazelnuts, oranges and tangerines. In old days, nuts were used by the children in their games. The parish of Baħrija is dedicated to Saint Martin, and on his feast, a fair with agricultural produce and animals is organized. It is the end of the harvest period.

In the east part of the Belgian province of East-Flanders (Aalst) and the west part of West Flanders (Ypres), traditionally children receive presents from St. Martin on November 11, instead of from Saint Nicholas on December 6 or Santa Claus on December 25. They also have lantern processions, for which children make lanterns out of beets. In recent years, the lantern processions have become widespread as a popular ritual, even in Protestant areas of Germany and the Netherlands. Most Protestant churches no longer officially recognize Saints as a distinct class of believers from the laity.

In Portugal, where the saint's day is celebrated across the country, it is common for families and friends to gather around the fire in reunions called magustos, where they typically eat roasted chestnuts and drink wine, jeropiga (drink made of grape must and firewater) and aguape (a sort of weak and watered-down wine). According to the most widespread variation of the cloak story, Saint Martin cut off half of his cloak in order to offer it to a beggar and along the way, he gave the remaining part to a second beggar. As he faced a long ride in a freezing weather, the dark clouds cleared away and the sun shone so intensely that the frost melted away. Such weather was rare for early November, so was credited to God's intervention. The phenomenon of a sunny break to the chilly weather on Saint Martin's Day (11 November) is called Verao de Sao Martinho (Saint Martin's Summer, veranillo de san Martin in Spanish) in honor of the cloak legend.

Many churches in Europe are named after Saint Martin of Tours. The church of St Martin-in-the-fields at Trafalgar Square in the centre of London and Saint Martin's Cathedral, in Ypres are dedicated to him. St. Martin is the patron saint of Szombathely, Hungary, with a church dedicated to him, and also the patron saint of Buenos Aires. In the Netherlands, he is the patron of the cathedral and city of Utrecht. He is the patron of the city of Groningen; its Martini tower and Martinikerk (Groningen) (Martin's Church) were named for him. He is also the patron of the church and town of Bocaue.

St. Martin is the patron saint of the Polish towns of Bydgoszcz and Opatow. His day is celebrated with a procession and festivities in the city of Poznań, where the main street (Święty Marcin is named for him, after a 13th-century church in his honor . A special type of crescent cake (rogal świętomarciński) is baked for the occasion. As November 11 is also Polish Independence Day, it is a public holiday.

In Latin America, St. Martin has a strong popular following and is frequently referred to as San Martin Caballero, in reference to his common depiction on horseback. Mexican folklore believes him to be a particularly helpful saint toward business owners.

San Martin de Loba is the name of a municipality in the Bolivar Department of Colombia. Saint Martin, as San Martin de Loba, is the patron saint of Vasquez, a small village in Colombia.

Though no mention of St. Martin's connection with viticulture is made by Gregory of Tours or other early hagiographers, he is now credited with a prominent role in spreading wine-making throughout the Touraine region and the planting of many vines. The Greek myth that Aristaeus first discovered the concept of pruning the vines, after watching a goat eat some of the foliage, has been adopted for Martin. He is also credited with introducing the Chenin Blanc grape varietal, from which most of the white wine of western Touraine and Anjou is made.

Martin Luther was named after St. Martin, as he was baptized on November 11 (St. Martin's Day), 1483. Many older Lutheran congregations are named after St. Martin, which is unusual (for Lutherans) because he is a saint who does not appear in the Bible. (Lutherans regularly name congregations after the evangelists and other saints who appear in the Bible but are hesitant to name congregations after post-Biblical saints.)

Martin of Tours is the patron saint of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, which has a medal in his name. The Church Lads' and Church Girls' Brigade, a 5-7 age group, was renamed 'Martins' in his honour in 1998.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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