The Catholic Defender: St. Martin of Tours


Martin of Tours, (born 316, Sabaria, Pannonia [now Szombathely, Hungary]—died November 8, 397, Candes, Gaul [France]; feast day, November 11; The Church celebrates the memorial of St. Martin of Tours, bishop.


The saint's biographer, Sulpicius Severus, compared Martin to the Apostles, and attributed to him amazing miracles that included healings, exorcisms, visions of angels, and temptations by devils. In 397, as he saw death approaching, he donned sackcloth and ashes.


St. Martin is the first bishop and confessor honored by the Church in the West. He was a principal apostle of Gaul, where his feast was celebrated as a holyday of obligation with an octave and popular celebrations.

According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, November 11 is also the commemoration of St. Mennas, an Egyptian soldier and martyr, put to death during Diocletian's reign (c. 295).


Veterans Day (USA) On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year 1918, an armistice was signed, ending the "war to end all wars." November 11 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during the war in order to ensure a lasting peace. In 1938 Congress voted Armistice Day as a legal holiday, but World War II began the following year. Armistice Day was still observed after the end of the Second World War. In 1953 townspeople in Emporia, Kansas called the holiday Veterans Day in gratitude to the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill renaming the national holiday to Veterans Day. Today, we remember those who have served for our country in the armed forces in our prayers.

St. Martin of Tours St. Martin was born (c. 316) at Sabaria, a town in Pannonia near the famous Benedictine monastery dedicated to his name. Against the wishes of his parents he associated with Christians and became a catechumen at the age of ten. At fifteen he entered the army and served under the Emperors Constantius and Julian. While in the service he met a poor, naked beggar at the gates of Amiens who asked alms in Christ's Name. Martin had nothing with him except his weapons and soldier's mantle; but he took his sword, cut the latter in two, and gave half to the poor man. During the following night Christ appeared to him clothed with half a mantle and said, "Martin, the catechumen, has clothed Me with this mantle!"

Martin was eighteen years old when he received the sacrament of holy baptism. At the pleading of his superior officer, he remained two years longer in the army. Then, upon requesting dismissal, Julian accused him of cowardice. "With the sign of the Cross," Martin answered, "I shall more certainly break through the ranks of the enemy than if armed with shield and sword." When released he sought out St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, and was ordained. Later he was made bishop of Tours. Close to the city he built a monastery (Marmoutier), where with eighty monks he led a most holy life. On one of his numerous visits to the imperial court at Trier, a certain man besought him to help his daughter, "I firmly believe in the Lord that my daughter will be healed through your prayer." Martin healed the girl with consecrated oil. Tetradius, who witnessed this extraordinary manifestation of divine power, asked for baptism.

In one town, when he tried to convince the locals to cut down a pine tree they venerated, they agreed -- but only if Martin would sit where the tree was going to fall! Martin seated himself directly under the path of the leaning tree and the townspeople began to cut from the other side. However, just as the tree began to topple, Martin made the sign of the cross and the tree fell in the opposite direction -- slowly enough to miss the fleeing townspeople. Martin won many converts that day.

Martin tore down many non-Christian temples and always built a Christian church in their place to make a point about true worship and give people a genuine replacement for their false idols. In once case when a huge tower was not torn down under his orders, a bolt of lightning came to destroy it after his prayers.


Martin also possessed the gift of discerning spirits. At one point the devil appeared to him dressed in magnificent robes, encrusted with gold and gems, and announced he was Jesus and that Martin was to adore him. Martin immediately saw the mistake the devil had made (and had to make) and asked, "Where are the marks of the nails? Where the piercing of the spear? Where the crown of thorns? When I see the marks of the Passion I shall adore my Lord." Jesus would not come in riches but with the signs of his suffering and poverty. "The Lord Jesus Christ never prophesied that He would come in purple robes and royal crown." The apparition immediately vanished. Martin, recognizing the deceit, replied,

At one point the devil appeared to him dressed in magnificent robes, encrusted with gold and gems, and announced he was Jesus and that Martin was to adore him. Martin immediately saw the mistake the devil had made (and had to make) and asked, "Where are the marks of the nails? Where the piercing of the spear? Where the crown of thorns? When I see the marks of the Passion I shall adore my Lord." Jesus would not come in riches but with the signs of his suffering and poverty. "The Lord Jesus Christ never prophesied that He would come in purple robes and royal crown." The apparition immediately vanished.

Three dead persons he raised to life. While celebrating holy Mass a luminous sphere appeared over his head. He was far advanced in age when he fell into a grievous fever during a visitation at Candes, an outlying parish of his diocese. Unceasingly he begged God to release him from this mortal prison. His disciples, however, implored him with tears, "Father, why are you leaving us? To whom will you entrust the care of your disconsolate children?" Deeply moved, Martin turned to God: "Lord, if I am still necessary for Your people, I will not refuse the labor. Your will be done!"

When the bystanders saw that despite his great fever he remained lying on his back, they besought him to change position to alleviate somewhat the pain. But Martin answered, "Brothers, rather let me look toward heaven than to earth so that my soul in its journey home may take a direct flight to the Lord." Shortly before death he saw the evil spirit. "What do you want, horrible beast? You will find nothing in me that's yours!" With those words the aged saint breathed forth his soul on November 11, 397, at the age of eighty-one.


St. Martin's feast, also known as "Martinmas" in Europe arrives in autumn, the beginning of the wine harvest. This was also the time of slaughter of the stock for winter meat. His images are usually depicted with a goose, symbolizing that Martinmas was the last festive meal before Advent, because in France in the Middle Ages, the strict 40 day Advent fast (called Quadragesima Sancti Martini or Forty Days' Fast of Saint Martin's) began the next day. So in past centuries November 11 was celebrated as a thanksgiving day. Thus it was the custom to have "St. Martin's goose" and taste the new wine ("Saint Martin's Wine") on his feast day. A quick spell of warm weather around his feast day (usually termed "Indian Summer" in the US) is known as "St. Martin's Little Summer" in Europe.

St. Martin is certainly best known for having cut in two pieces his lambswool-lined cavalryman’s cloak to give half to a nearly naked beggar outside the gates of Amiens where Martin was stationed. He would probably have given the man his whole cloak but for the fact that Martin, too, was nearly naked, having already given away much of his own clothing to those in need.

Patron: Against impoverishment; against poverty; alcoholism; beggars; Burgenland; cavalry; equestrians; France; geese; horse men; horses; hotel-keepers; innkeepers; Mainz, Germany; quartermasters; reformed alcoholics; riders; soldiers; tailors; vintners; wine growers; wine makers.

Symbols: Horse; sword and coat cut in halves; goose; scourge; hare; broken images; chair in flames; demon at his feet; globe of fire; Often Portrayed As: Man on horseback sharing his cloak with beggar; man cutting cloak in half.