Martin was born in 316AD in what is now Hungary, the son of an Officer, serving in the Roman Army. While he was still a child the family were transferred to Pavia in Northern Italy, where Martin came under the influence of Christians who worked as servants in his parents home.
At the age of ten, Martin became a catechumen (someone who receives instruction about the Christian faith but who is not baptised), against his father’s wishes, who feared that this would prevent Martin from following the profession of a soldier.
An imperial edict ordered the sons of veterans to be enrolled in the army and Martin was obliged to obey and, at the age of 15, he became a cavalry officer.
It was during his time as a soldier that the famous “Cloak” incident occurred for which St. Martin is so famous.
One night in an unusually severe winter, Martin met a beggar at the gates of the City of Amiens and, having nothing but his arms and the plain garment of a soldier, he prayed that those passing would have compassion on the naked man. However, no one came to his aid and so Martin, taking his sword, cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night Martin had a dream in which the risen Christ was wearing half a cloak and telling his angels that Martin had given it to him.
Immediately after this incident Martin was baptised but he was never able to reconcile the ethics of warfare with being a Christian and after a further two years left the army.
It had been Martin’s desire to enter the monastic life and in 361 AD he founded a monastery at Poitiers ad stayed there for ten years. Sometime later the Bishop of Tours, who had been in Office for fifty years, died.
The people of Tours desired Martin to be their next Bishop, but Martin was reluctant to leave his mastery. The townsfolk tricked Martin into visiting the town, through a ruse that someone was sick. Whilst he was in the City he was virtually take prisoner by a group of citizens until, with some reluctance, he agreed to be their Bishop.
Martin took up residence, not in the Bishop’s house but in a small cell adjoining the Church. After a while, disliking the life of town, he established a monastery at Marmoutiers, some two miles away, amongst the cliffs and, from this inaccessible centre, he administered the affairs of the Diocese.
Martin lived to be over 80 years old and died somewhere around 397 AD. It is said that over 2000 monks accompanied his body to Tours on the 11th November where his successor built a chapel to receive it.
Seventy years later, a larger Church was built on the spot and his bones were moved to it on 4th July 470 AD. Successive churches were built over the shrine until it was completely destroyed during the French Revolution.
Today, a much smaller Basilica covers the spot of the original Church.
St. Martin is commemorated on the 4th July and 11th November each year.