Wednesday, November 11, 2009

St Martin of Tours

St Martin was born in what is now Hungary, in 316. His father was a cavalry officer who was posted to Pavia in Italy and this is where Martin grew up.

His parents were pagans but Martin defied their wishes and became a catechumen. When Martin was 15, he joined the cavalry himself and, around 334, was sent to what is now Amiens in France.

While still at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the part of his life that he is most known for. In a vision, Martin saw himself with his soldiers meeting a beggar at the gates of Amiens. Feeling sorry for the beggar, Martin cut his own cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me."

Around two years later, just before a battle at Worms in 336, Martin decided that his faith prohibited him from fighting saying, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." As a result, he was charged with cowardice and jailed, but to prove the charge of cowardice false, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but battle never took place and Martin was released from military service.

After a time with Hilary of Poitiers in Tours, a period back in Italy, and subsequently as a hermit on Gallinara, Martin returned to Tours in 361, joining again with Hilary.

In 371 Martin was acclaimed bishop of Tours. He is especially known for standing up against the pagans and attacking Arianism. Moreover, he founded the Abbey of Marmoutier, just outside Tours, and introduced a rudimentary parish system to his diocese.

His memorial is celebrated today 11 November.