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Our Patron Saint

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Fast Facts

  • Popularly known in Spanish-speaking nations as "San Martín Caballero" for his association with horses.

  • Feast Day is November 11th (some churches celebrate it on November 12th).

  • Credited with Saint Patrick’s conversion to the faith and served as one of Patrick’s spiritual fathers, before Patrick went to Ireland (aka. Saint Patrick's Uncle).

  • Patron Saint of horses, equestrians, calvary soldiers, tailors, conscientious objectors, beggars, geese, poor people (and those who help them), alcoholics (and those who help them), people who run hotels, and people who make wine.

Saint Martin of Tours

Biography

Early Years

Son of pagan parents and a senior Roman military officer, Saint Martin of Tours was born in a region now known as Western Hungary. While the date of Martin’s birth is debated, it occurred somewhere between 316-336 A.D. The timing of Martin’s birth (within the context of Christianity) is significant because it was during this time that Roman Emperor Constantine ruled most of Europe. Constantine was the first emperor to not condemn and/or persecute Christians and converted to Christianity.

Saint Martin’s father received military orders to relocate to Northern Italy when Saint Martin was a young boy. It was in Italy that Martin gravitated to Christianity. By the age of ten, Martin was actively seeking out religious instruction and became a catechumen to the Christian faith, to his father’s horror. As a Roman soldier’s son, Martin was predestined to join the Roman Army. At age 15, Martin was summoned, but adamantly resisted, and was held in chains until surrendering to taking his military oath. 
 

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Conversion to Christianity

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While serving as a cavalryman, he knew his heart's calling was elsewhere. There was something more. One bitter-cold evening, while patrolling on horseback, Martin came upon a shivering man clutching just a few rags wrapped around his body. Martin was overcome with compassion. He removed his heavy wool cavalry cloak and cut it in two with his sword to share half with the naked man who surely who have died from exposure.

Later that night, Martin had a vision of angels coming to him with a visitation from Jesus, who was wearing the bright red half-cloak. Jesus told the Angels that Martin chose to give Him the cloak. (Matthew 25:40 - “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”) Martin’s vision of Jesus prompted him to be baptized immediately and to refuse further military service.

This landed Martin in prison, but he was eventually released and discharged back to civilian life. With fervor, Martin committed his life to Christianity and studied under sacred scholars and teachers of his time, including Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a Doctor of the Church. He was eventually consecrated with Minor Orders as a monk. Saint Hilary and Saint Martin, with others, formed a monastery, which, later, became the Benedictine Abbey of Liguge, France. Even now, this Abbey remains the oldest in France. 
 

Monastic Life

For a time, Saint Martin lived as a missionary, helping the poor and the sick. Saint Martin evangelized, taught, and preached the Good News throughout central France and was considered one of France’s holiest persons during his time. This attracted others to the Liguge monastery.

 

Many conversions to Christianity during the fourth century are attributed to Saint Martin, including his own pagan mother, who converted prior to her death. And who would have thought?

 

Saint Martin was said to be the uncle of another famous saint: Saint Patrick! Yes, the same Saint Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland. A young Saint Patrick was not feeling particularly “religious,” and Saint Martin is credited with Saint Patrick’s conversion to the faith and served as one of Patrick’s spiritual fathers, before Patrick headed on to Ireland.

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“O Lord, if I can be of any further use to your people, I do not refuse
the work. Thy will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough.” ~Saint Martin of Tours

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It was customary in the Early Church for bishops to be elected by the people. It was not unusual for bishop-elects to be chosen from the ranks of the people. Bishops were not necessarily clergy. But the people of Tours (central France) needed a bishop and wanted Martin. Their bishop died and the people pleaded with Martin to accept his calling as their new bishop. Martin, in his humble nature, believed that becoming a bishop went against everything he stood for. He believed he was called as a monk, not a priest or bishop, and declined the people’s request. He decided to go into hiding, hoping the people of Tours would come to their senses and select someone else.

 

However, the people of Tours were relentlessly persistent. They went looking for Martin, who was given up by a group of cackling geese in the barn where he was hiding. He finally acquiesced that this must be God’s will and became the Bishop of Tours in 371 A.D. Martin prayed: “O Lord, if I can be of any further use to your people, I do not refuse the work. Thy will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough.”

 

Martin was familiar with the extravagance enjoyed by bishops of his time. In agreeing to become Bishop of Tours, he refused the indulgence of a bishop’s house and other amenities. Instead, he chose to live in a small, hermitage-like cell that adjoined the Tours’ church. The people of Tours would constantly seek out Martin to minister to them and he found he had no time to pray. From time to time, he would retreat to undisclosed location, a distance away from the church, for solitude and prayer and where other monks would join him.

Later Life

During Saint Martin’s time as bishop, he opened a number of new monastic communities, hundreds of churches, all of which he made an intentional effort to visit each year, and even more importantly, hundreds and hundreds of hearts. Saint Martin of Tours passed into eternal life in 397 A.D.

Saint Martin is celebrated by most sacramental churches on November 11th for his significant contributions to 4th century Christianity (i.e.: his miracles, humility, compassion for the poor and sick, and overall selflessness). His feast day is celebrated worldwide, but with grand celebrations in France and Great Britain. Particularly in France, Saint Martin’s feast day consists of a full 24 hours, beginning with the vigil, “Martinmas,” or Saint Martin’s Eve, in which the people gather for Mass, followed by a large bonfire and lots of food and wine, which includes a specially prepared goose or roasted pig.

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Saint Martin & the Pruning Donkey

It is no surprise that Saint Martin of Tours’ patronage extends to tailors (cutting of his military cloak), soldiers, conscientious objectors, and even, winemakers*, given his life’s story.

 

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*A folklore story developed about Saint Martin and the Pruning Donkey, which is attributed to his many miracles: While traveling through central France on a donkey, Saint Martin rested one evening at a monastery. The monastery brothers had a vineyard in which Martin tethered his donkey for the night. Hungry, the poor donkey resorted to munching on vines and leaves. The following morning the monks found that the donkey had destroyed the vineyard. To their later delight, however, the following spring, the entire vineyard was back in full bloom, better than before, as if the donkey had just pruned the vineyard for winter.