Saint Martin of Tours

[Saint Martin of Tours]Also known as

  • Martin the Merciful
  • Martinus Turonensis
  • The Glory of Gaul

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Born to pagan parents; his father was a Roman military officer and tribune. Martin was raised in Pavia, Italy. Discovered Christianity, and became a catechumen in his early teens. Joined the Roman imperial army at age 15, serving in a ceremonial unit that acted as the emperor’s bodyguard, rarely exposed to combat. Cavalry officer, and assigned to garrison duty in Gaul.

Baptised into the Church at age 18. Trying to live his faith, he refused to let his servant to wait on him. Once, while on horseback in Amiens in Gaul (modern France), he encountered a beggar. Having nothing to give but the clothes on his back, Martin cut his heavy officer‘s cloak in half, and gave it to the beggar. Later he had a vision of Christ wearing the cloak. This incident became iconographic of Martin.

Just before a battle, Martin announced that his faith prohibited him from fighting. He was charged with cowardice, was jailed, and his superiors planned to put him in the front of the battle. However, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service at Worms, Germany. Spiritual student of Saint Hilary at Poitiers, France.

On a visit to Lombardy to see his parents, Martin was robbed in the mountains – but managed to convert one of the thieves. At home he found that his mother had converted, but his father had not. The area was strongly Arian, and openly hostile to Catholics. Martin was badly abused by the heretics, at one point even by the order of an Arian bishop. Learning that the Arians had gained the upper hand in Gaul and exiled Saint Hilary, Martin fled to the island of Gallinaria (modern Isola d’Albenga).

Learning that the emperor had authorized the return of Hilary, Martin ran to him in 361, then became a hermit for ten years in the area now known as Ligugé. A reputation for holiness attracted other monks, and they formed what would become the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé. Preached and evangelized through the Gallic countryside. Many locals held strongly to the old beliefs, and tried to intimidate Martin by dressing as the old Roman gods and appearing to him at night; Martin destroyed old temples, built churches on the same land, and continued to win converts. Friend of Saint Liborius, bishop of Le Mans, France.

When the bishop of Tours, France died in 371, Martin was the immediate choice to replace him. Martin declined, citing unworthiness. Rusticus, a wealthy citizen of Tours, claimed that his wife was ill and asking for Martin; tricked by this ruse, Martin went to the city where he was declared bishop by popular acclamation, and then consecrated on 4 July 372.

As bishop, he lived in a hermit‘s cell near Tours. Other monks joined him, and a new house, Marmoutier, soon formed. He rarely left his monastery or see city, but sometimes went to Trier, Germany to plead with the emperor for his city, his church, or his parishioners. Once when he went to ask for lenience for a condemned prisoner, an angel woke the emperor to tell him that Martin was waiting to see him; the prisoner was reprieved.

Martin himself was given to visions, but even his contemporaries sometimes ascribed them to his habit of lengthy fasts. An extensive biography of Martin was written by Sulpicius Severus. He was the first non-martyr to receive the cultus of a saint.

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Martin knew long in advance the time of his death and he told his brethren that it was near. Meanwhile, he found himself obliged to make a visitation of the parish of Candes. The clergy of that church were quarreling, and he wished to reconcile them.

Although he knew that his days on earth were few, he did not refuse to undertake the journey for such a purpose, for he believed that he would bring his virtuous life to a good end if by his efforts peace was restored in the church.

He spent some time in Candes, or rather in its church, where he stayed. Peace was restored, and he was planning to return to his monastery when suddenly he began to lose his strength. He summoned his brethren and told them he was dying. All who heard this were overcome with grief. In their sorrow they cried to him with one voice: “Father, why are you deserting us? Who will care for us when you are gone? Savage wolves will attack your flock, and who will save us from their bite when our shepherd is struck down? We know you long to be with Christ, but your reward is certain and will not be any less for being delayed. You will do better to show pity for us, rather than forsake us.”

Thereupon he broke into tears, for he was a man in whom the compassion of our Lord was continually revealed. Turning to our Lord, he made this reply to their pleading: “Lord, if your people still need me, I am ready for the task; your will be done.”

Here was a man words cannot describe. Death could not defeat him nor toil dismay him. He was quite without a preference of his own; he neither feared to die nor refused to live. With eyes and hands always raised to heaven he never withdrew his unconquered spirit from prayer. It happened that some priests who had gathered at his bedside suggested that he should give his poor body some relief by lying on his other side. He answered: “Allow me, brothers, to look toward heaven rather than at the earth, so that my spirit may set on the right course when the time comes for me to go on my journey to the Lord.”

- from a letter by Sulpicius Severus

MLA Citation

  • “Saint Martin of Tours“. Saints.SQPN.com. 25 November 2014. Web. 20 December 2014. <>