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Saint Martin of Tours

Saint Martin of Tours
  • Century: 4th Century
  • Patronage: Soldiers, Tailors, Poverty, Alcoholism, Beggars, Calvary, Hotel Keepers, Pontifical Swiss Guards
  • Feast Day: November 11th

St. Martin was born in 316, in Hungary.  His father was a senior officer in the Roman army and was stationed in northern Italy, where Martin grew up.  At the age of ten, he went to the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen, a candidate for baptism.  At this time, Christianity was considered a legal religion, but it was by no means the dominant religion in the Roman Empire.  Christianity was still not accepted among the higher echelons of society or the army.  When Martin was fifteen, he was required to join a cavalry himself, because he was the son of a veteran officer.  He was stationed in Amiens, France.   

While Martin was still a soldier in the Roman army and deployed in France, he experienced a vision that became the most repeated story about his life.  One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar.  He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half, and shared it with the beggar.  That night Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half cloak he had given away.  He heard Jesus say to the angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized, he has clad me”.  When Martin woke up, his cloak was restored.   

The dream confirmed Martin in his piety, and he was baptized at the age of 18.  He served the military for another two years until he determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, “I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight”.  He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops.  His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders settled for peace, and Martin was released from his military service.  

Martin declared his vocation and made his way to the city of Tours, where he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a proponent of Christianity.  When Hilary was forced into exile from Poitiers, Martin returned to Italy, converting an Alpine brigand on the way, and confronted the devil himself along the way.  The Arian Archbishop of Milan who expelled him from the city confronted him.  According to the early sources, he decided to seek shelter on the island called Isola d’ Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit.  

With the return of Hilary to the see in 361, Martin joined him and established a monastery nearby, the first in France.  It became a center for the evangelization of the country districts.  He traveled and preached through western France.  In 371, he was acclaimed Bishop of Tours, where he impressed the city with his demeanor, and by the enthusiasm with which he had pagan temples, altars, and sculptures destroyed.  St. Martin was the first to introduce a rudimentary “parish” system.  Martin died after a long life of service to the Church, at Candes-Saint-Martin, central France, in 397.  To this day, many parishes are named after him, especially in the United States.   

Practical Take Away 

St. Martin of Tours was born into a military family.  He was expected to join the military at a young age, in which he did.  He however, was drawn to Christianity, and eventually left the military and served the church as a hermit, and then went on to be the Bishop of Tours.  His life was in service in bringing the saving grace of Christ to others, and that is what he did.  He served a long life in the Church, and is the patron saint of many things, Soldiers being one of them.