A Garner of Saints – Saint Martin

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Martin of Tours and the Beggar, Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, England; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Brother Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

Born at Sabaria in Hungary. His father was a military tribune and desired that his son should be brought up to the profession of arms. Martin himself much preferred a life of religion, and at the age of ten he was admitted to the number of catechumens. However, when he was fifteen an edict of the emperor declared that all sons of veterans must serve under the flag, and Martin being denounced to the authorities by his father, became a soldier of the empire. In his new profession Martin displayed the Christian virtues and refrained from temptation to serve idols. One day, in the midst of a rigorous winter, he met at the gates of Amiens a poor beggar almost naked, who was asking alms of the passers by. The others heeded him not, but Martin took his cloak and cutting it in two gave half to the beggar. That night the Lord appeared to him in a dream, covered by the half of the mantle, and said to the angels standing by: “Martin, who is only a catechumen, has given me this garment.” Some time after he received baptism, but at the request of an ofiicer he promised to remain two more years in the army. The Germans having invaded the empire, Martin asked permission to leave the service, and on being taunted with cowardice offered to expose himself unarmed in the front of the legions. The next day the barbarians came and sued for peace, so that Martin was enabled to take his departure without reproach. Martin’s first act in his new character was to proceed to Rome, after which he spent sometime with Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers. While going on a visit to Sabaria he was attacked on the Alps by robbers who menaced him with death. Struck by the fearlessness which he displayed they began to question him, and when Martin explained that no Christian need ever fear they were overcome by admiration and became converted. Passing through Illyria, Martin came to Milan, where he founded a monastery in which he lived until his expulsion by the Arian bishop of Auxerre. Learning that Hilary had returned to Poitiers from exile, Martin went thither to greet him, and he founded a monastery near that city. His fame spread far and wide, and the people of Tours resolved to make him their bishop, though one of them objected that his appearance was too mean. Carried off by force, Martin was brought to his see and consecrated on 4th July 374. One of his earliest acts was to found the abbey of Marmoutier, where he lived with eighty monks in great abstinence. The people of the neighbourhood being much addicted to idolatry, Martin displayed great energy in the destruction of the heathen temples. Not far from Amboise was a temple containing an idol of extraordinary size. Martin recommended one of his disciples named Marsel to destroy it, but he was unable to do so. Accordingly Martin returned to Amboise and spent the night in prayer. The next morning there arose a furious storm which overthrew the temple and broke the idol. At another place in his diocese he found a very popular temple, and as he was preparing to destroy it the natives came together and drove him away. But after fasting for three days, two angels appeared armed with pikes and bucklers, who assisted him to carry out his purpose. Another time, after he had set fire to a famous temple, the flames were carried by the wind towards a neighbouring house. Perceiving the danger, Martin climbed on to the roof of the house and forbad the fire to spread. While he was occupied in a similar mission at another place a man rushed at him armed with a knife, but when he approached Martin the knife suddenly disappeared. After he had destroyed one very ancient temple Martin was anxious to cut down a sacred tree. The peasants resisted, till at length one of them proposed that they should cut down the tree so that it should fall on him, and if God was with him he would escape. Martin agreed and was bound to a spot where the tree was to fall. But as it descended towards him he made the sign of the cross, so that it fell on the other side almost crushing the peasants there, who when they saw this marvel were converted. About this time Martin had occasion to go to Treves to make some important requests of the Emperor Valentinian. The latter being prejudiced against the bishop by the influence of his Arian wife Justina, refused to allow him to enter the palace. After seven days and seven nights of constant fasting and prayer an angel appeared to Martin commanding him to go to the palace, and as no one hindered him he entered the emperor’s presence. On seeing his command thus disobeyed Valentinian was furious and refused to rise, until his throne opened and flames burst out, compelling him to do so. He then rose in a passion, but being suddenly influenced by divine “grace he came down and embraced Martin, granting him everything that he required before he had even made the demand. At Autun Martin encountered the Druid priests, and entering their temple threw down the idol of Saron. The pagans instantly rushed upon him, and one of them drew his sword to kill him. Martin bared his breast for the‘ stroke, when suddenly the man fell at his feet trembling with fear and besought his pardon. Many wonders were wrought by him, even to raising the dead. He restored to life the servant of a nobleman who had hanged himself, and on another occasion on meeting a young man being borne to burial, his mother and a multitude of people weeping over him, Martin took compassion on the mother and raised the youth, whereby a multitude of pagans were converted. While he was staying with Hilary at Poitiers Martin had raised to life a catechumen who died without having received baptism. He also had power over devils, and cast one out of a servant of the proconsul of his district. One day as he was entering Paris the people came out in crowds to meet him. At the gates of the town there was a leper, so horrible that everyone avoided him. Martin however approached him, kissed him and gave him his blessing; at that same moment the man was healed, to the amazement of all the bystanders. Martin continued throughout his life to practise the utmost austerity. One night, during his journeying through his diocese, his clerks prepared a bed of straw for him. Troubled by the unaccustomed ease, he rose and throwing the straw away, lay down again on the bare ground. In the middle of the night the straw caught fire, and soon Martin was surrounded by the flames. Making the sign of the cross he stood calm while the flames roared about him, and when the monks came to find “him he was untouched. His charity towards the poor was always extraordinary. One winter time as he was about to perform mass a half naked beggar came to ask him for a garment. Calling the archdeacon, Martin left the man to his charge and went into a cell to pray. To this place the beggar penetrated complaining that he had not received anything from the archdeacon. Then Martin withdrew into a corner and taking off his tunic gave it to the man, telling him to go away quietly. Presently the archdeacon came to tell him that the people were waiting for the mass. The poor must first be clothed replied the bishop. The archdeacon did not understand his meaning, but on the repetition of the words he went out and bought for five sous a miserable garment, entered soon after and throwing it at the feet of the saint, said “Here is the garment, but as for the poor, thereare none here.” Martin picked up the garment and put it on under the episcopal vestments, but it left his arms bare and hardly covered his shoulders. He then proceeded to the church, and as he was celebrating mass the people saw a globe of fire on his head, while emeralds sparkled on his bare arms. Worn out by his labours Martin was taken ill as he was about to re-enter Tours. As he lay on his death bed the devil appeared to him, but finding no fault in him he retired confused. On the day of Martin’s death, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, fell asleep as he was celebrating mass; the attendants did not dare to rouse him, but after two or three hours they felt they could wait no longer. And he arose and told them of the death of Martin, adding that he had been present at his funeral. Then arose a great dispute between the men of Poitiers and of Tours for the body of the saint. But one night asthe Poitievns were sleeping, the Tourainers entered and lowered the body out by the window into a boat. They then sailed to Tours where they were received with great rejoicings. 11 November.

Attributes

  • The cloak, which he divides. Sometimes a goose at his side, presumably because he is said to have been betrayed by the cries of that bird when the men of Tours were seeking him to make him their bishop.

MLA Citation

  • Allen Banks Hinds, M.A. “Saint Martin”. A Garner of Saints, 1900. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2017. Web. 26 May 2017. <>