Saint Martin sharing his cloak Carennes -Jarcey Musee de Cluny

Cult of Saint Martin

New book explores the local foundations of the universal Saint Martin through a careful examination of the medieval music and liturgies surrounding his cult

The story of Saint Martin of Tours was originally inspired by his life as both an ascetic and a bishop. Later he became protector saint of numerous French kings as well as the rally point for local as well as international pilgrims. “As such the city of Tours came to function as a religious metropolis inspiring a lively folkloric tradition, numerous works of art, and the establishment of thousands of churches and confraternities all over the known world”, writes Yossi Maurey in a recently published book on the development of the Cult of St. Martin.

Yossi Maurey addresses these questions by focusing on the liturgical life in and around the main church dedicated to the saint in Tours. Here the saint’s relics were accessible in the crypt and here Martin’s cult was developed and marketed from. More precisely, Maurey explores the music and liturgy of the cult – according to him the most effective means of its dissemination – to reveal its specific inner workings over time.

The reason Maurey analyses the rise of the cult of St. Martin by focusing on the music is two-fold. First of all chants and music connected with the saint obviously emanated from Tours “where the aura of the saint was constantly negotiated and effectively exploited” for shifting purposes according to the political and cultural climate at any given time. Saint Martin was obviously a man of all times.

medieval music, legend and the Cult of St martinIn this Maurey succeeds. Promoting a saint was an arduous effort. First you had to secure a home for the relics and maintain the physical setting (preferably in reliquaries glinting in gold). Secondly the relics had to be at the centre of a sustained liturgy comprising a distinct calendar with preordained sets of festivities and with accompanying music and readings. Maurey likens a medieval saint to a modern brand and explores what initiatives had to be taken in order to secure the constant reimaging of him or her; and of course more specifically what it took to constantly reinvent and reimagine St. Martin and to spread the “good news” while at the same time develop a local monopoly at Tours. Deft handling of diverse traditions were some of the tricks of the trade, and Maurey succeeds in telling the story of how “the owners” of the physical remains of St. Martin were able to both export the idea of St. Martin and secure a local monopoly at home by reserving a distinct and very complex liturgy for celebrating the major festival in Tours. More specifically a detailed study of the preserved service-books from Tours shows how a highly impressive body of newly composed prosas, chants performed during the Divine Office, was developed and reserved for Tours. Significant inspiration for these prosas came from music otherwise associated with Christ.

The second reason, however, is less obvious. Maurey states that chants have been “favoured because the various aspects of their composition – from their music and text to the circumstances surrounding their composition – also shed light on larger issues pertaining to medieval music in general, to saintly cults in the Middle Ages and frequently to both”. (p. 18) This may be so: however sometimes it seems as if the author forgets how the actual performances of such chants invited no one except the specialists (cantors) to reflect upon these matters in depth. Composing and collating this music may have been carefully carried out according to the general ethos of a particular époque or place. Diffusion by copying must however have been a more haphazard matter, while performing or listening may only in a few instances have been appreciated in the same way as we may appreciate different performances of music today. We have – as is obvious – only this option because we can collate different performances on CD’s or Mp3’s and compare them directly. Such was not a medieval option. Only the cantor had that option through examinations and comparison of service-books. The ordinary public may have enjoyed the music, the festivities and in general the performance of the diverse liturgies. However, only a few have been able to sample and discern the differences pertaining to different localities and types of celebrations. And even more: understand the political niceties of who went from where in the local processions.

Nevertheless, this is a very interesting book which presents us with a detailed and careful exploration of the musical and liturgical settings, which developed around St. Martin both in Tours and elsewhere. And which truly deserves this careful examination, which Maurey has undertaken. In the end it may perhaps promise a bit more than it actually delivers. However, this may very well be less a reflection on the author and more on the editor, who seems to have been tempted to oversell it slightly in the blurb.

The book is highly recommended, but may be fruitfully enjoyed together with the work of Sharon Farmer on the Communities of St. Martin from 1991. The two works complement each other.

Karen Schousboe

Medieval Music, Legend, and the Cult of St Martin: The Local Foundations of a Universal Saint
By Yossi Maurey
Cambridge University Press 2014
ISBN-10: 1107060958
ISBN-13: 978-1107060951


Yossi Maurey, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 
Yossi Maurey has served as Lecturer in the Department of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem since 2008. He holds a PhD (2005) in musicology from the University of Chicago.


Communities of St. Martin. Legend and Ritual in Medieval Tours
By Sharon Farmer
Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press 1991
ISBN-10: 0801423910
ISBN-13: 978-0801423918


Tours – A Divided City

Martinmas – A European Festival

Saint Martin – a Man of All Times

Martinmas at Dugo Selo



Saint Martin sharing his cloak ca 1200. From Carennes -Jarcey in Musee de Cluny