of Tours -- "The Glory of Gaul" -- was born around A.D. 316 in Szombathely,
Hungary (known then as Sabaria, Pannonia) and grew up the son of a Roman
military officer in Pavia, Italy. He joined the Roman army and was sent to
Amiens, where, on horseback, he met a starving man begging alms at the city
gates. Moved by deep compassion, he tore his red, woolen his cloak in two
with his sword and gave half to the beggar. The next night, he had a dream
in which he saw Jesus wearing the half of the cloak he'd given away, surrounded
by angels. In the dream, Our Lord asked him to look at it and to see if he
recognized it. He did, of course, and realized that he must convert and devote
his life to Christ. (St. Martin's remaining piece of cloak became a very
revered relic. In fact, the building where his cloak -- "cappa" in Latin
-- was preserved was known as the "cappella," the root of our words "chapel"
When he was around 20 years of age, some Teutons invaded Gaul and were repelled.
When he went before Emperor Julian to receive his reward, he was moved to
refuse the bounty, saying ""Up to now, I have served you as a soldier; allow
me henceforth to serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others who are going
out to battle. I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight."
Julian accused him of cowardice and had him imprisoned, but he was released
after a truce was called.
He got out of the army in Worms and, after spending time at Isola d'Albenga
(then Gallinaria), met up with St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers and became
his disciple, living a solitary life until others gathered around him, forming
the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé. After a decade of this life, he went
on journeys around the area to preach the Gospel, and his popularity grew
to such an extent that when St. Hilary of Poitier's successor died, the people
of the town elected St. Martin to succeed him as Bishop, in spite of St.
Martin's protests. Indeed, St. Martin was rather "tricked" into the position.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia
When St. Lidorius,
second Bishop of Tours, died in 371 or 372, the clergy of that city desired
to replace him by the famous hermit of Ligugé [St. Martin]. But, as
Martin remained deaf to the prayers of the deputies who brought him this
message, it was necessary to resort to a ruse to overcome his resistance.
A certain Rusticius, a rich citizen of Tours, went and begged him to come
to his wife, who was in the last extremity, and to prepare her for death.
Without any suspicions, Martin followed him in all haste, but hardly had
he entered the city when, in spite of the opposition of a few ecclesiastical
dignitaries, popular acclamation constrained him to become Bishop of the
Church of Tours.
As Bishop, he led
an exemplary simple life, a life that inspired the formation of yet another
monastery, one called Marmoutier. He fought battles against the Priscillianists
and Ithacians, evangelized and set up religious communities as far away as
Paris and Vienne, visited every parish in his large diocese each year, and
died around the age of 81, so loved that he became known as "The Glory of
Gaul." St. Martin is the patron of beggars, vintners, equestrians, soldiers,
tailors, innkeepers, alcoholics, and geese. He is usually depicted in art
on horseback, handing half of his cloak to a beggar, or relinquishing his
arms. His symbol is the goose. You may also see him riding on a donkey based
on the apocryphal story of him walking to Rome and meeting up with the devil,
who mocked him for not riding on a donkey as a Bishop should. St. Martin
turned the devil into a donkey and rode him all the way to Rome, urging him
on with the Sign of the Cross. The angered devil cursed him with this palindrome:
Signa te Signa:
temere me tangis et angis:
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor
("Cross, cross thyself, you plague and vex me without need
For by my labors you shall soon reach Rome, the object of your wishes")
St. Martin's Feast
is considered the first day of Winter for practical purposes, so, alluding
to the snows of that season, the Germans say that "St Martin comes riding
on a white horse." Of course, it might not feel like Winter if one is
experiencing a "St. Martin's Summer" -- the equivalent of an "Indian Summer."
It is said, too, that one can predict what sort of Winter one will have by
the conditions of St. Martin's Day: "If the geese at Martins Day stand
on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."
The Feast coincides not only with the end of the Octave of All Souls, but
with harvest time, the time
when newly-produced wine is ready for drinking, and the end of
winter preparations, including the butchering of animals (an old English
saying is "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," meaning "he
will get his comeuppance" or "everyone must die"). Because of this, St. Martin's
Feast is much like the American Thanksgiving (celebrated on the 4th Thursday
in November) -- a celebration of the earth's bounty. Because it also comes
before the penitential season of Advent, it is seen as a mini "carnivale"
with all the feasting and bonfires. As at Michaelmas on 29 September, goose
is eaten in most places (the goose is a symbol for St. Martin himself. It
is said that as he was hiding from the people who wanted to make him Bishop,
a honking goose gave away his hiding spot), but unlike most Catholics, those
of Britain and Ireland prefer pork or beef on this day.
Goose with Apple
(Martinsgans mit Apfelfüllung) (Serves 6 to 8)
1 ready-to-cook goose (8 to 10 pounds)
2 cups water
1 small onion, sliced
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
6 cups soft bread crumbs
3 tart apples, chopped
2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Trim excess fat from goose. Heat giblets, water, sliced onion and 1 1/4 teaspoons
salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until giblets are done, about
1 hour. Strain broth; cover and refrigerate. Chop giblets; toss with remaining
ingredients except 1 teaspoon salt and the flour. Rub cavity of goose with
1 teaspoon salt. Fold wings across back with tips touching. Fill neck and
body cavities of goose lightly with stuffing. Fasten neck skin of goose to
back with skewers. Fasten opening with skewers; lace with string. Tie drumsticks
to tail. Prick skin all over with fork. Place goose breast side up on rack
in shallow roasting pan. Roast uncovered in 350° oven until done, 3
to 3 1/2 hours, removing excess fat from pan occasionally. Place a tent of
aluminium foil loosely over goose during last hour to prevent excessive browning.
Goose is done when drumstick meat feels very soft. Place goose on heated
platter. Let stand 15 minutes for easier carving. Meanwhile, pour drippings
from pan into bowl. Return 1/4 cup drippings to pan. Stir in flour. Cook
over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Remove from
heat. If necessary, add enough water to reserved broth to measure 2 cups.
Stir into flour mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir
1 minute. Serve goose with apple stuffing and gravy. Guten Appetit! (Recipe
from the German Embassy)
If you eat goose, save the furcula -- the "wish bone" -- from the bird's breast. Physician Johannes Hartlieb wrote in 1455, "When the goose has been eaten on St. Martin's Day or Night, the oldest and most sagacious keeps the breast-bone and allowing it to dry until the morning examines it all around, in front, behind and in the middle. Thereby they divine whether the winter will be severe or mild, dry or wet, and are so confident in their prediction that they will wager their goods and chattels on its accuracy." Afterward, the wish bone can be tugged on by a person at each end as they each make a wish. The person who ends up with the larger part after the bone breaks is the person whose wish is said to come true.
In many countries,
including Germany, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of
the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns
in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with
And on a macabre final note, old superstitious folklore (not Catholic teaching,
of course) says that if you stand in the back of the church and look out
over the congregants on St. Martin's Day, you can see auras of light around
the heads of those who will not be among the living at the next Martinmas.
Note: In America, November 11 is also the secular world's Veterans' Day.
Veterans' Day began as "Armistice Day" (initiated by anti-Catholic Woodrow
Wilson and formalized in 1938), which is the anniversary of the World War
I Armistice (truce) signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the
Germans in 1918.