November 11th, Feast of St. Martin
“Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.”
Thus, in a vision, spoke our Savior before his angels attesting to the divine election of the Roman soldier Martin. St. Martin of Tours is one of the most beloved saints of the early Church. He was one of the first post-Apostolic era saints venerated without being crowned a martyr, since he died of sickness. Thus, the Church praises him saying that he received a martyrs crown without suffering a martyr’s death.
There are three details about St. Martin that will help us to appreciate the great significance this saintly Bishop has for the Church and the world today.
Martinmas and Advent
The season of Advent developed in various ways throughout the early years of the history of the Church. It was always conceived as a period of fasting, though not necessarily in as strict a fashion as the Lenten fast before Easter.
However, the public and common observation of Advent as a preparatory period for Christmas seems to have come only in the second half of the sixth century. An early witness to this tradition is found in the synod of Macon in Gaul in the year 581. This synod decreed that the period of preparation should extend from the eleventh of November to the Nativity, with greater fasting and penitence on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
This practice of beginning what we now call Advent on November 11th, while not universal, was certainly widespread. And thus, the season of Advent has (from its birth) been associated with the feast of St. Martin.
The tradition of Martinmas (a festival on the Feast of St. Martin) is analogous to the practice of Mardi gras on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. November 11th, may be kept as a sort of final great festive night before the beginning of the quasi-penitential season of Advent.
While Advent no longer extends for so great a duration, it is still common in many places to celebrate the feast of St. Martin with a nice cooked goose (since there is a tradition that a goose indicated where St. Martin was hiding when he was trying to avoid being carried off and made a bishop). Further, in the evening, children will go out to the streets with lanterns singing hymns.
St. Martin is very much an Advent saint, insofar as he prepares us to meet Christ wherever he be found – in the humble condition of the Child, or in the person of the poor beggar whom Martin clothed on a cold day.
Dr. Taylor Marshall has an excellent post in which he details the relation of Veterans Day to the feast of St. Martin. Check it out [here].
Because St. Martin was a Roman soldier who laid down his arms for Christ, there was a tradition in Europe of signing peace treatise on the feast of this Bishop.
In Europe, this day is celebrated as Armistice Day. For, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, on the feast of the true Christian soldier who prefers Christ’s peace to war, in the year 1918, the First World War came to a halt with the signing of the Armistice.
The “chapel” of St. Martin
The story of St. Martin’s conversion, to which we have made reference above, is as follows:
When Martin was still a Roman soldier, he was riding upon his horse at a quick pace. Fighting through wind and snow, he came upon a poor, naked beggar. Martin, yet unbaptized and a pagan, cut his robe into two pieces and, giving one half to the poor man, rode on.
That night, while he was sleeping, Martin received a vision in which Christ our Lord stood before him and spoke to the angels saying, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.” When Martin awoke, he sought out instruction in the Christian faith and was then baptized. He served as the bishop of Tours, where his relics have been venerated for centuries.
St. Martin is honored as one of the most beloved saints of the Church.
The cloak or robe which St. Martin cut and of which he gave half to the beggar who was truly Christ, has been an object of veneration in the Church. Indeed, this cloak was preserved in a French sanctuary where it was visited by many pilgrims and devout souls.
Now, the Latin for “cape” is cappa. However, since this was not the whole cape of St. Martin, but only the half which he had kept, it was not called a “cape” but a “little cape” or cappella. In French, this becomes chapelle which gives us the English word “chapel”.
Thus, from the popularity of St. Martin and of his little cape (cappella), the sanctuary or church building in which his relics were venerated began to be called a “chapel” (in recognition of the story of his conversion). And, from the popularity of this little “chapel”, all such small churches and sanctuaries began to be called “chapels”.
Thus, in St. Martin, we have a saint for Advent and for peace, as well as the inspiration for our word “chapel”.
St. Martin of Tours, Pray for us!