If there is one saint that has captured the Catholic imagination, it is St. Martin of Tours. He is celebrated in so many various countries in the greatest variety of ways that it is hard not to get excited about this saint! His feast is even given a special name: Martinmas.
In Europe, people eat roasted goose and taste new wine. In Germany, a special cake of St. Martin on horseback is made along with a parade of paper lanterns in honor of the saint. In Holland, chestnuts are roasted. In Italy, a coffee-cake called Pizza di San Martino is baked with trinkets inside. In Malta, children are given St. Martin’s Bags – bags full of treats that have symbolic meaning about the life of St. Martin.
How did a man born as a pagan in the region of Pannonia (modern-day Hungary) become the Bishop of Tours, France with the devotion of an entire continent? This man of Tours made such an impression with his witness to the faith that he once had five feast days in the church year!
St. Martin was born around 316 A.D., just a few years after Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, permitting Christianity to be practiced and proclaimed openly in the Roman Empire. A solider at 15, Martin began studying the Catholic faith. At 18, he was riding his horse through France on a day so cold that the rain froze and became ice. When the soldiers reached the gate of the city, his horse refused to move. Outside the city walls sat a poor beggar, shivering in the cold. Without hesitation, St. Martin cut his own cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. He was mocked by his fellow soldiers, but that night he awoke to a shining figure wearing his cloak.
“It was me you helped,” said Jesus before He disappeared.
St. Martin was never the same. His Christian conscience would no longer allow him to join in combat, making him the first conscientious objector on record. He increased his study of the Faith, led countless souls to Christ, and even built a monastery. He became one of the most honored saints of all time, known for his holiness and devotion to the poor. His shrine in Tours, France, became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
St. Martin of Tours, pray for us!