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St. Martin of Tours cuts a piece of his cloak to give to a beggarjorisvo/Shutterstock

(LifeSiteNews) — Three thousand six hundred and sixty churches dedicated to St. Martin in France alone, (St Martin, LeCoy de la Marche) and well nigh as many in the rest of the world, bear witness to the immense popularity of the great thaumaturgus (miracle worker).

In the country, on the mountains, and in the depth of forests, trees, rocks, and fountains, objects of superstitious worship to our pagan ancestors, received, and in many places still retain, the name of him who snatched them from the dominion of the powers of darkness to restore them to the true God. For the vanquished idols, Roman, Celtic, or German, Christ substituted their conqueror, the humble soldier, in the grateful memory of the people. Martin’s mission was to complete the destruction of paganism, which had been driven from the towns by the martyrs, but remained up to his time master of the vast territories removed from the influence of the cities.

While on the one hand he was honored with God’s favors, on the other he was pursued by hell with implacable hatred. At the very outset he had to encounter Satan, who said to him: “I will beset thy path at every turn;” (Sulpit. Sever. Vita. 6) and he kept his word. He has kept it to this very day: century after century, he has been working ruin around the glorious tomb, which once attracted the whole world to Tours; in the sixteenth, he delivered to the flames, by the hands of the Huguenots, the venerable remains of the protector of France: by the nineteenth, he had brought men to such a height of folly, as themselves to destroy, in time of peace, the splendid basilica which was the pride and the riches of their city. The gratitude of Christ, and the rage of Satan, made known by such signs, reveal sufficiently the incomparable labors of the pontiff, apostle, and monk, St. Martin.

A monk indeed he was, both in desire and in reality, to the last day of his life. In a homily on the occasion of the restoration of the Benedictine Abbey at Ligugé Cardinal Pie said of Martin:

From earliest infancy he sighed after the service of God. He became a catechumen at the age of ten, and at twelve he wished to retire to the desert; all his thoughts were engaged on monasteries and churches. A soldier at fifteen years of age, he so lived as even then to be taken for a monk. (Sulpit. Sever. Vita. 2)

After a first trial of religious life in Italy, he was brought by St. Hilary to this solitude of Ligugé, which, thanks to him, became the cradle of monastic life in Gaul. To say the truth, Martin, during the whole course of his life, felt like a stranger everywhere else, except at Ligugé. A monk by attraction, he had been forced to be a soldier, and it needed violence to make him a bishop: and even then he never relinquished his monastic habits. He responded to the dignity of a bishop, says his historian, without declining from the rule and life of a monk. (Sulpit. Sever. Vita. 10) At first he constructed for himself a cell near his church of Tours; and soon afterwards built, at a little distance from the town, a second Ligugé, under the name of Marmoutier or the great monastery. (Cardinal Pie, Nov 25, 1853)

The holy liturgy refers to St. Hilary the honor of the wonderful virtues displayed by Martin. (In festo  St Hilarii, Noct II, Lect 2) What were the holy bishop’s reasons for leading his heaven-sent disciple by ways then so little known in the West, he has left us to learn from the most legitimate heir of his doctrine as well as of his eloquence. Says Cardinal Pie:

It has ever been the ruling idea of all the saints, that, side by side with the ordinary ministry of the pastors, obliged by their functions to live in the midst of the world, the Church has need of a militia, separated from the world and enrolled under the standard of evangelical perfection, living in self-renunciation and obedience, and carrying on day and night the noble and incomparable function of public prayer. The most illustrious pontiffs and the greatest doctors have thought that the secular clergy themselves could never be better fitted for spreading and making popular the pure doctrines of the Gospel, than if they could be prepared for their pastoral office by living either a monastic life, or one as nearly as possible resembling it. Read the lives of the greatest bishops both in East and West, in the times immediately preceding or following the peace of the Church, as well as in the middle ages: they have all, either themselves at some time professed the monastic life, or lived in continual contact with those who professed it. Hilary, the great Hilary, had, with his experienced and unerring glance, perceived the need; he had seen the place that should be occupied by the monastic order in Christendom, and by the regular clergy in the Church. In the midst of his struggles, his combats, his exile, when he witnessed with his own eyes the importance of the monasteries in the East, he earnestly desired the time when, returning to Gaul, he might at length lay the foundations of the religious life at home. Providence was not long in sending him what was needful for such an enterprise: a disciple worthy of the master, a monk worthy of the bishop. (Cardinal Pie, ubi supra.)

Elsewhere, comparing together St. Martin, his predecessors, and St. Hilary himself in their common apostolate of Gaul, the illustrious cardinal says:

Far be it from me to undervalue all the vitality and power already possessed by the religion of Jesus Christ in our diverse provinces, thanks to the preaching of the first apostles, martyrs, and bishops, who may be counted back in a long line almost to the day of Calvary. Still I fear not to say it: the popular apostle of Gaul, who converted the country parts, until then almost entirely pagan, the founder of national Christianity, was principally St. Martin. And how is it that he, above so many other great bishops and servants of God, holds so much preeminence in the apostolate? Are we to place Martin above his master Hilary? With regard to doctrine, certainly not; and as to zeal, courage, holiness, it is not for me to say which was greater, the master’s or the disciple’s. But what I can say is that Hilary was chiefly a teacher, and Martin was chiefly a thaumaturgus. Now, for the conversion of the people, the thaumaturgus is more powerful than the teacher; and consequently, in the memory and worship of the people, the teacher is eclipsed and effaced by the thaumaturgus.

Nowadays there is much talk about the necessity of reasoning in order to persuade men as to the reality of divine things: but that is forgetting Scripture and history; nay more, it is degenerating. God has not deemed it consistent with His majesty to reason with us. He has spoken; He has said what is and what is not; and as He exacts faith in His word, He has sanctioned His word. But how has He sanctioned it? After the manner of God, not of man; by works, not by reasons: non in sermone, sed in virtute, not by the arguments of a humanly persuasive philosophy: non in persuasibilibus humanæ sapientiæ verbis, but by displaying a power altogether divine: sed in ostensione spiritus et virtutis. And wherefore? For this profound reason: Ut fides non sit in sapientia hominum, sed in virtute Dei: that faith may not rest upon the wisdom of man, but upon the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4)

But now men will not have it so: they tell us that in Jesus Christ the theurgist wrongs the moralist; that miracles are a blemish in so sublime an idea. But they cannot reverse this order; they cannot abolish the Gospel, nor history. Begging the pardon of the learned men of our age and their obsequious followers: not only did Christ work miracles, but He established the faith upon the foundation of miracles. And the same Christ – not to confirm His own miracles, which are the support of all others, but out of compassion for us, who are so prone to forgetfulness, and who are more impressed by what we see than by what we hear – the same Jesus Christ has placed in His Church, and that for all time, the power of working miracles. Our age has seen some, and will see yet more. The fourth century witnessed in particular those of St. Martin.

The working of wonders seemed mere play to him; all nature obeyed him; the animals were subject to him. ‘Alas!’ cried the saint one day: ‘the very serpents listen to me, and men refuse to hear me.’ Men, however, often did hear him. The whole of Gaul heard him; not only Aquitaine, but also Celtic and Belgic Gaul. Who could resist words enforced by so many prodigies? In all these provinces he overthrew the idols one after another, reduced the statues to powder, burnt or demolished all the temples, destroyed the sacred groves and all the haunts of idolatry. Was it lawful? you may ask. If I study the legislation of Constantine and Constantius, perhaps it was. But this I know: Martin, eaten up with zeal for the house of the Lord, was obeying none but the Spirit of God. And I must add that against the fury of the pagan population Martin’s only arms were the miracles he wrought, the visible assistance of angels sometimes granted him and, above all, the prayers and tears he poured out before God, when the hard-heartedness of the people resisted the power of his words and of his wonders.

With these means Martin changed the face of the country. Where he found scarcely a Christian on his arrival, he left scarcely an infidel at his departure. The temples of the idols were immediately replaced by temples of the true God; for, says Sulpicius Severus, as soon as he had destroyed the homes of superstition, he built churches and monasteries. It is thus that all Europe is covered with sanctuaries bearing the name of St. Martin. (Cardinal Pie, Nov 14, 1858)

His beneficial actions did not cease with his death; they alone explain the uninterrupted concourse of people to his holy tomb. His numerous feasts in the year, the deposition or natalis, the ordination, subvention and reversion, did not weary the piety of the faithful. Kept everywhere as a holiday of obligation, (Council Mogunt., an. 813, Canon 36) and bringing with it the brief return of bright weather known as St. Martin’s summer, the eleventh of November rivaled with St. John’s day in the rejoicings it occasioned in Latin Christendom. Martin was the joy of all, and the helper of all.

St. Gregory of Tours does not hesitate to call his blessed predecessor the special patron of the whole world; (Gregory of Tours, De miraculis, S. Martini, IV in prolog) while monks the clerics, soldiers, knights, travellers, and inn-keepers on account of his long journeys, charitable associations of every kind in memory of the cloak of Amiens, have never ceased to claim their peculiar right to the great pontiff’s benevolence. Hungary, the generous land which gave him to us, without exhausting its own provision for the future, rightly reckons him among its most powerful protectors. But to France he was a father: in the same manner as he labored for the unity of the faith in that land, he presided also over the formation of national unity; and he watches over its continuance.

As the pilgrimage of Tours preceded that of Compostella in the Church, the cloak of St. Martin (the word: chape/chapelle/chapel, now in common usage) led the Frankish armies to battle even before the oriflamme of St. Denis. “How,” said Clovis, “can we hope for victory, if we offend blessed Martin?” (Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, II 37)

Let us read the account given by holy Church, who lingers lovingly over the last moments of her illustrious son, worthy as they are of all admiration.

Martin was born at Sabaria in Pannonia. When ten years old he fled to the church, against his parents’ will, and had himself enrolled among the catechumens. At the age of fifteen he became a soldier, and served in the army first at Constantius and afterwards of Julian. On one occasion, when a poor naked man at Amiens begged an alms of him in the name of Christ, having nothing but his armor and clothing, he gave him half of his military cloak. The following night Christ appeared to him clad in that half-cloak, and said: ‘Martin, while yet a catechumen, has clothed me with this garment.’

At eighteen years of age, he was baptized; and abandoning his military career, betook himself to Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, by whom he was made acolyte. Later on, having become bishop of Tours, he built a monastery, where he lived for some time in a most holy manner, in company with eighty monks. He was seized with a violent fever at Cande, a village in his diocese; and he earnestly besought God to free him from the prison of the body. His disciples hearing, asked him: ‘Father, why dost thou abandon us? Or to whom dost thou leave us in our desolation?’ Martin, touched by their words, prayed to God in this manner: ‘O Lord, if I am still necessary to thy people, I do not refuse to labor.’

When his disciples saw him praying in the height of his fever, lying on his back, they besought him to turn over for a little while, that he might get some rest and relief. But Martin answered: ‘Suffer me to gaze on heaven rather than earth, that my spirit, which is about to depart, may be directed on its way to Our Lord.’ As death drew nigh, he saw the enemy of mankind, and exclaimed: ‘What art thou doing here, thou cruel beast? Thou wilt find no evil in me.’ While uttering these words he gave up his soul to God, at the age of eighty-one. He was received by a choir of angels, whom many, and in particular St. Severinus, Bishop of Cologne, heard singing the praises of God.

We here give the beautiful Antiphons of Vespers. The first five are composed of passages from the letter of Sulpicius Severus to Bassula, in which he relates the saint’s death, thus completing the book he had written on the Life of St. Martin, while the holy bishop was still on earth.


The disciples said to blessed Martin: Why father, dost thou abandon us? or to whom dost thou leave us in our desolation? For ravening, wolves will rush upon thy flock.

Lord, if I am still necessary to thy people, I do not refuse the labor: may thy will be done.

O man beyond all praise! neither conquered by labor, nor conquerable by death; who neither feared to die, nor refused to live.

Ever intent with eyes and hands raised to heaven, he never relaxed from prayer his invincible spirit. Alleluia.

Martin is received with joy in Abraham’s bosom: Martin here poor and humble, enters heaven rich, and is honored with celestial hymns.

O blessed man, whose soul is now in possession of Paradise! Wherefore the Angels exult, the Archangels rejoice, the choir of the Saints proclaims his glory, the Virgins crowd around him saying: Remain with us forever.

O blessed Pontiff, who, with his whole inmost being loved Christ the King, and feared not the power of the mighty! O most holy soul, which, though not snatched away by the sword of the persecutor, did not forego the palm of martyrdom!

St. Odo of Cluny, one of the most illustrious and devout clients of St. Martin, composed the following hymn in his honor. The faithful will find in their Vesper books, in the common of the saints, the more ancient hymn, Iste Confessor; it is somewhat altered from the original, which was intended to celebrate the miracles wrought at the tomb of this the first saint not a martyr to be honored by the whole Church.


O Christ our King, Martin’s glory, he is thy praise, and thou art his: suffer us to honor thee in him, yea and him in thee.

Thou who causest the jewel of Pontiffs to shine throughout the world; grant that through his exceeding great merit, he may deliver us who are oppressed by the weight of our sins.

Poor and humble here on earth, lo! now he enters heaven abounding in riches; the celestial hosts come forth to meet him, and all tongues, tribes, and nations celebrate his triumph!

His death, like his life, was resplendent with light, a glory to earth and to heaven; to rejoice thereat is the duty of all; may this day be to all a day of salvation.

O Martin, equal to the Apostles, succor us who keep thy feast; look upon us, O thou who wast willing alike to live for thy disciples or to die.

Do now what thou didst heretofore: make Pontiffs illustrious in virtue, increase the glory of the Church, and frustrate the wiles of Satan.

Thrice didst thou despoil the abyss of its prey: raise up now those that are buried in sin. As once thou didst share thy mantle with another, clothe us with the garb of holiness.

Remembering what was once thy special glory, succor the monastic Order now well-nigh extinct.

Glory be to the holy Trinity, whom Martin confessed by his life; may he obtain that our faith in that mystery be confirmed by works. Amen.


Rejoice, O Sion, celebrating the day whereon Martin, equal to the Apostles, conquering the world, is crowned among the heavenly citizens.

This is Martin, poor and humble, the prudent servant, the faithful steward; now rich, he is throned on high in heaven, a fellow-citizen of the Angels.

This is Martin, who, yet a catechumen, clothes the naked, and straightway the next night the Lord himself is covered with that garment.

This is Martin, who, despising the army, is ready to go unarmed and face the foe; for now he has obtained the grace of baptism.

This is Martin, who, while he offers the holy Victim, is all on fire within, through the grace of God, and lo! a fiery globe appears resting above his head.

This is Martin, who opens heaven, gives orders to the sea, commands the earth, heals diseases, and vanquishes monsters: incomparable man!

This is Martin, who neither feared to die, nor refused to live and labor, thus abandoning himself entirely to the will of God.

This is Martin, who never injured any; this is Martin, who was good and kind to all; this is Martin, who was well-pleasing to the majestic Trinity.

This is Martin, who destroys the pagan temples, who initiates the nations to the faith, and what he teaches them does first himself.

This is Martin, who by his singular merits raises three dead men to life; he now beholds God forever without intermission.

O Martin, illustrious pastor, O soldier in the heavenly ranks, defend us from the fury of the ravening wolf.

O Martin, act once more as thou didst of old; offer to God thy prayers for us; be mindful of thine own nation and forsake it never. Amen.

O holy Martin, have compassion on our depth of misery! A winter more severe than that which caused thee to divide thy cloak now rages over the world; many perish in the icy night brought on by the extinction of faith and the cooling of charity. Come to the aid of those unfortunates, whose torpor prevents them from asking assistance. Wait not for them to pray; but forestall them for the love of Christ in whose name the poor man of Amiens implored thee, whereas they scarcely know how to utter it. And yet their nakedness is worse than the beggar’s, stripped as they are of the garment of grace, which their fathers received from thee and handed down to posterity.

How lamentable, above all, has become the destitution of France, which thou didst once enrich with the blessings of heaven, and where thy benefits have been requited with such injuries! Deign to consider, however, that our days have seen the beginning of reparation, close by thy holy tomb restored to our filial veneration. Look upon the piety of those grand Christians, whose hearts were able, like the generosity of the multitude, to rise to the height of the greatest projects; see the pilgrims, however reduced their numbers, now taking once more the road to Tours, traversed so often by people and kings in better days of our history.

Has that history of the brightest days of the Church, of the reign of Christ as King, come to an end, O Martin? Let the enemy imagine he has already sealed our tomb. But the story of thy miracles tells us that thou canst raise up even the dead. Was not the catechumen of Ligugé snatched from the land of the living, when thou didst call him back to life and baptism? Supposing that, like him, we were already among those whom the Lord remembereth no more, the man or the country that has Martin for protector and father need never yield to despair. If thou deign to bear us in mind, the angels will come and say again to the supreme Judge: “This is the man, this is the nation for whom Martin prays;” and they will be commanded to draw us out of the dark regions where dwell the people without glory, and to restore us to Martin, and to our noble destinies. (Sulpit. Sever. Vita. 7)

Thy zeal, however, for the advancement of God’s kingdom knew no limits. Inspire, then, strengthen and multiply the apostles all over the world, who, like thee, are driving out the remnants of infidelity. Restore Christian Europe, which still honors thy name, to the unity so unhappily dissolved by schism and heresy. In spite of the many efforts to the contrary, maintain thy noble fatherland in its post of honor, and in its traditions of brave fidelity. May thy devout clients in all lands experience that thy right arm still suffices to protect those who implore thee.

In heaven today, as the Church sings, (Ant. ad Magnificat, in I Vesp.) the angels are full of joy, the saints proclaim thy glory, the virgins surround thee saying: “Remain with us forever.” Is not this the continuation of what thy life was here on earth, when thou and the virgins vied with each other in showing mutual veneration; when Mary their Queen, accompanied by Thecla and Agnes, loved to spend long hours with thee in thy cell at Marmoutier, which thus became, says thy historian, like the dwellings of the angels? (Sulpit. Sever. Dialog 1) Imitating their brothers and sisters in heaven, virgins and monks, clergy and pontiffs turn to thee, never fearing that their numbers will cause any one of them to receive less; knowing that thy life is a light sufficient to enlighten all; and that one glance from Martin will secure to them the blessings of the Lord.

The soldier Mennas was a native of Egypt, and after his martyrdom became the protector of Alexandria. It is not a rare thing to find, even at this date, phials formerly brought by pilgrims to be filled with oil from the lamp burning before his tomb. Let us say with the Church:


Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who celebrate the festival of blessed Mennas thy martyr, may by his intercession be strengthened in the love of thy name. Through our Lord.

This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Guéranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.