Image: St. Martin Cathedral (detail of the façade), Lucca, Italy
Source: public domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Martin_-_Duomo_Lucca_Italia.jpg
Martin of Tours was born in 316 in Sabaria (today Szombathely, Hungary), in the Roman province of Pannonia, during the reign of Constantine I the Great (274-337 AD).
Martin was the son of a cavalry military tribune of the Roman army. His education was permeated by the martial values, and the name "Martin" was given to him in honor of Mars, the Roman god of war.
Being a teenager, he moved with his family to Pavia, Northern Italy. He soon came into contact with the Christians, participating in their assemblies secretly from the family. When he was twelve years old, he became a catechumen, getting the status preceding the baptism, against the wish of his pagan parents.
In 331 Martin entered the Roman army, as it was required by law for the children of an officer. He was assigned to the cavalry in Gaul. Despite his military education, Martin had a peaceful, quiet and humble mood. According to some sources, Martin was sympathetic towards his subordinates such as subjected soldiers, and he helped the poor. In that time the most famous legend about him is set: when he cut his own cloak to cover a beggar shivering with cold. According to the chronicles, the following night Martin had a vision in the dream, in which Jesus praised him for his charity. Martin was impressed so much by the vision that he decided to change radically his life.
Baptized at the age of eighteen, he stayed two years more in the army, but without enthusiasm.
Then he asked to leave the military service, with the words: «I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot make war!». And so he was released by the Emperor Julian.
Martin chose the religious life and became monk, near the city of Tours (central France). There he was appreciated by Bishop Hilary of Poitiers (later St. Hilary), who gave him several appointments, made him a priest exorcist and wanted him to become a bishop. With the new task and the possibility to administer the sacraments, Martin was actively engaged in preaching in the countryside, by taking many trips throughout Gaul in order to spread Christianity among the rural population, still mainly pagan.
He was determinate in his activity by destroying temples, altars of stone and trees worshipped by the pagans, and by founding the monasteries like those of Ligugé and Mamontier. The latter became his residence. While being so rough to pagan symbols, Martin showed indeed great charity towards the common people, becoming their defender against the arrogance of the aristocracy and the heavy taxes of the local corrupted governors.
After France, he also travelled to Germany and Italy for evangelization, where he had to suffer the persecutions of the Arians, a Christian heresy widespread in the Late Empire among the barbarians. As consequence, he had to live as a hermit in Milan, and then moved to the island Gallinaria in front of Albenga, on the Ligurian coast.
In 371 Martin was elected bishop of Tours by the clear will of the people, although he had always refused: Sulpicius Severus reports that Martin was made to go to Tours by trick, with the pretest of having to assist a very ill woman, and there he was obliged to be nominated bishop. The popular local tradition, anyway, relates to the legend of the geese, described further in the article. With his new power Martin was able to fight with more authority against the Arian heresy, giving a great contribution to its defeat.
Martin died in Candes (the modern commune of Candes-Saint-Martin, central France) on 8th November 397. The inhabitants of the surroundings, already warned of his coming death, came to claim the body as a relic, so the cities of Candes, Tours and Poitiers challenged for Martin's body. Finally, several inhabitants of Tours robbed the body in the night and managed to take it to Tours by boat along the rivers Vienne and Loire. There the funeral was celebrated on November 11, with the participation of more than 2,000 people. The body was buried in the local cathedral.
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