Feast Day: November 11
According to the biography written by Sulpicius Severus, Martin was born in Hungary to a Roman official and was educated at Pavia in Italy. He enlisted in the imperial guard and one of the most famous episodes in Christian history is told of Martin on a cold winter day, cutting his own cloak in two and giving half to a shivering beggar. Later Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the selfsame cloak saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with this garment.”
It was said that he lived more like a monk than a soldier. At twenty-three he refused a war bonus and told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After great difficulties, he was discharged and went to be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers.
Martin was baptized a Christian in 337 after spending six years as a catechumen. He was ordained an exorcist and worked with great zeal against the Arians, but after Hilary of Poitiers was exiled, Martin returned to Hungary, where he converted his mother. When Hilary returned to Poitiers, Martin also went there and took up the life of a hermit at a place that later became the site of the monastery of Liguge, the first monastery in France, revived in 1852 by the Benedictines of Solesmes. The monastery attracted many vocations. From this monastery were sent forth priests and monks and for a long time was the center of all monastic life in France.
After Martin brought back life to a catechumen, he had the reputation of a miracle worker and was elected bishop of Tours in 371, dedicating his efforts to evangelization. Martin was a pioneer in spreading Christianity to rural areas, where he established a rudimentary parish system. He was unsparing of himself, travelling all over his diocese on foot, by donkey, or by boat. Sometimes the methods he used to spread Christianity were harsh and even illegal, as when he destroyed pagan temples and built chapels in their ruins.
Sulpicius, who visited Martin frequently during the last four years of his life, evidently saw him as an embodiment of the ideal Christian. As death approached, Martin’s followers begged him not to leave them. He prayed, “Lord, if your people still need me, I do not refuse the work. Your will be done.”
Martin became one of the best loved and most popular saints. He was a bishop who fought paganism as well as pleaded for mercy to heretics and was one of the first not to be a martyr. The period in late autumn is called St. Martin’s summer in popular tradition because when the leaves are falling from the trees, the people enjoy the new wine, which is a symbol of the fruit of Christian virtue.
Burns, Paul. “Butler’s Saint for the Day.” Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.