St. Martin of Tours was born in the Roman Empire in about the year 316, just after Christianity had been legalized, but before it was widely practiced. His parents were not Christian, but worshiped the Roman gods instead. Martin began attending the local Christian church when he was about twelve years old, and began the process of entering the Church, even though his parents did not approve.
Martin’s father was an officer in the Roman army. That meant that Martin had to serve in the army, too. He became a Roman soldier at the age of fifteen.
Perhaps the most famous story about St. Martin of Tours is how he once clothed Jesus with his own cloak.
One cold winter day, as Martin was riding on his horse toward town, he noticed a poor man clad in thin garments, visibly shaking with cold. Martin wanted to help the man, but he didn’t have any extra clothes to give him. But then he had a great idea: he would take off his own cloak and cut it in half with his sword. He did this, giving one half to the man and keeping the other for himself. Some people laughed at him for his foolish appearance (because he was only wearing half a coat), but later, Jesus appeared to Martin in all his glory, wearing the cloak. Jesus said to Martin: “Martin clothed me with this robe.” Jesus was telling Martin that by caring for the poor man, he was really caring for Jesus in disguise.
Not many years later, Martin decided he could no longer be a soldier. He said to the emperor, “Up to now, I have served you as a soldier; allow me henceforth to serve Christ. … I am a soldier of Christ, and it is not lawful for me to fight.”
This angered the emperor, who threw Martin in jail. Fortunately, he was quickly released, and went forth to become a monk, living a life of severe penance and humility.
Recognizing his great holiness, the people of Tours demanded that he be made bishop.
Perhaps because he grew up with the paganism of his parents, Martin worked hard to convert pagans. He destroyed temples and cut down trees considered to be sacred. Through his zealous preaching, he converted many pagans, including his own mother.
Martin died with his hands outstretched, saying, “Allow me to look towards Heaven rather than to earth, that my soul may be ready to take its flight to the Lord.”
Martin of Tours facts
Patron of: France, horses, geese, tailors, soldiers, wine-makers
Emblems: Man on horseback cutting his cloak in half, or a globe of fire
People typically celebrate St. Martin’s Day (or Martinmas) by eating goose (or duck), drinking wine, and lighting colored paper lanterns.