11th November: Saint Martin’s Day

Martin of Tours (Latin: Sanctus Martinus Turonensis; 316 – 8 November 397) was the third bishop of Tours. He has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in France, heralded as the patron saint of the Third Republic, and is patron saint of many communities and organizations across Europe. A native of Pannonia (in modern central Europe), he converted to Christianity at a young age. He served in the Roman cavalry in Gaul, but left military service at some point prior to 361, when he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, establishing the monastery at Ligugé. He was consecrated as Bishop of Caesarodunum (Tours) in 371. As bishop, he was active in the suppression of the remnants of Gallo-Roman religion, but he opposed the violent persecution of the Priscillianist sect of ascetics.

The tradition of cutting the cloak
San Martino shares his precious cloak with a poor man, detail of the facade of the Cathedral of Lucca dedicated to the saint

As a circitor, his job was the night patrol and the inspection of the guard posts, as well as the night surveillance of the garrisons. During one of these patrols, the episode took place that changed his life (and which is still today the one most remembered and most used by iconography). In the harsh winter of 335 Martino met a half-naked beggar. Seeing him in pain, he cut his military cloak (the white chlamys of the imperial guard) in two and shared it with the beggar.

The following night he saw in a dream Jesus dressed in half of his military cloak. He heard Jesus say to his angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized, he has clothed me.” When Martin woke up his cloak was intact. The miraculous cloak was kept as a relic and became part of the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks. The medieval Latin term for “short mantle”, chapel, was extended to the people in charge of keeping the mantle of St. Martin, the chaplains, and from these it was applied to the royal oratory, which was not a church, called a chapel.

In Italy the cult of the saint is linked to the so-called summer of San Martino which manifests itself, in a meteorological sense, at the beginning of November and gives rise to some traditional popular festivals. In the Abruzzo municipality of Scanno, for example, large fires called “glories of San Martino” are lit in honor of San Martino and the districts compete against each other who makes the highest and most durable fire

4 thoughts on “11th November: Saint Martin’s Day

  1. The Pannonia at the beginning of the writing, which is really in Central Europe, it is called Hungary in the modern times. St. Martin’s birthplace is Savaria, today’s Szombathely.

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