Martin (of Tours), Saint (ca. 316400)
One of the most venerated Christian saints in Europe during
the Middle Ages. Most of the Christian luminaries were
credited with working miracles, and indeed the great majority
of them maintained that if the people were to be won for Christ,
the one sure way was to show them extraordinary marvels. Even
Columba, most engaging of saints, was not averse to practicing
deception with a view to making converts, and it has often been
suggested, not without considerable reason, that some of these
early thaumaturgists brought science to their aid. Perhaps St.
Martin was among those who tried this practice, and certainly
the list of miracles attributed to him is formidable, for he is traditionally
credited with more than 200.
Martin was born about the year 316 at Sabaria, in Pannonia.
His parents were heathen, yet he very soon came into contact
with Christians, and their teaching impressed him greatly. As
a young man he entered the army, and it was soon after this
step that, while stationed with his regiment at Amiens, he performed
his famous act of charity, dividing his cloak with a beggar
who was shivering with cold. The night after this act he had
a vision of Christ appearing to him and giving him his blessing.
Thereupon Martin espoused the Christian faith formally, was
baptized, and renounced soldiering.
Going to Poitiers, he then made the acquaintance of Hilary,
who wished to make him a deacon, but at his own request ordained
him to the humbler office of an exorcist. A little later,
during a visit to his home, Martin experienced the joy of winning
his mother to the new faith. However, his open zeal in opposing
the Arians (heterodox Christians) raised persecution
against him, and for some time he found it advisable to live at
the island of Gallinaria, near Genoa, where he engaged in scientific
research and theological studies.
By the year 365 he was back with Hilary at Poitiers, when he
founded the Monasterium Locociagense. In 371 the people of
Tours chose him as their bishop, and for some time he was active
trying to extirpate idolatry in his diocese and extending
the monastic system.
Nevertheless, he was no fierce proseletyzer. At Trèves in
385, he entreated that the lives of the Priscillianist heretics
should be spared, and afterward he refused to have anything
to do with those bishops who had sanctioned their execution.
Meanwhile, being anxious for a period of quiet study, Martin
established the monastery of Marmontier les Tours on the
banks of the Loire, and here much of his remaining life was
spent, although it was at Candes that his death occurred about
the year 400.
Martin left no writings behind him, the Confessio with which
he is sometimes credited being undoubtedly spurious. His life
was written by his ardent disciple, Sulpicius Severus, and it is
more a hagiography than a biography, filled with accounts of
the miracles and marvels worked by the quondam bishop. Martin
was canonized a saint by the church. He is commemorated
on November 11, but the feast of Martinmas, which occurs on
that date, and which of course derives its name from him, is,
nevertheless, a survival of an old pagan festival. It inherited
certain pagan usages, which accounts for the fact that Martin
is regarded as the patron saint of drinking, joviality, and reformed
Certain miracles and other incidents in his life were depicted
by noted painters. Perhaps the finest picture of him is one
by the Flemish master Hugo van der Goes, which is now in the
Municipal Museum at Glasgow.
It should be said that the term martinet, signifying a severe
and punctilious person, is not derived from the saints
name, but from one Jean Martinet, a French soldier who, during
the reign of Louis XIV, won fame by his ardor in promoting
discipline in his regiment.
Martin (of Tours), Saint (ca. 316400)