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Martinmas

Submitted by Ludwig von Rege... on November 11, 2014 - 12:00am
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Today is Martinmas.

Martinmas was one of the most important days in the medieval calendar, effectively being the start of Advent. 

St Martin was born in Pannonia in 316.  Following family tradition he joined the army, which sent him to Gaul.  There he performed his most famous act: seeing a beggar freezing in the street, Martin sliced his own cloak in two, giving one half to the beggar.  Whilst some laughed to see Martin in his ruined cloak, others were shamed by their own failure to act.  That night, in a dream, Martin saw Jesus wearing the half
cloak, explaining to the assembled angels:  "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe."  Martin became a contientious objector, which got him out of the army.  Later, kings would carry his cloak as a relic into battle.  C'est la apres-vie.  (BTW: if you don't know the story of the word "chapel" look it up - it's a good one.)

After a period as a disciple and setting up Gaul's first monastery, Martin was made Bishop of Tours.  As a soldier, Martin had refused to kill pagans, but as Bishop he was sure into wrecking their stuff.  Martin destroyed pagan shrines, in one case even controlling the fire so that only the buildings he chose were
destroyed.  His second most famous act came from chopping down a sacred tree.  When the locals found him at it they dared him to stand where the tree would fall; he stood where he was asked and, indeed, the tree did not hit him.  The logic of empirical religiosity is clear: this crazy old man vandalises our property with impunity; his god is better than ours.  (Less sophisticated thinkers might resort to the "proof denies faith" gambit, but these people weren't silly.)

As you can well imagine, when Martin died (397) there was great demand for the body of so holy a man.  The people of Tours and Poitiers gathered in Candes, where he died, and fought over his body.  The Poitivans claimed he was originally theirs and they'd only lent him to Tours, the Tourainians countered
that he'd raised two Poitevans from the dead, but only one Tourainian, and so he owed them.  The argument went into the night only to be resolved when the last Poitevan fell asleep, leaving the Tourainians to push Martin's body out a window and run off with it.

In death, Martin was a great healer.  One Vulfilaic, covered in pimples, was cured by oil blessed in St Martin's tomb.  Gregory Bishop of Tours, St Martin's sixth century successor, was often relieved of his ailments by drinking a suspension of plaster scraped off St Martin's tomb; and at least once by licking the rail around the tomb (yes, even in the sixth century they had tourists).

Soldier, pacifist, monk, bishop, healer, vandal:  St Martin was one of the most important saints of the middle ages.

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