St. Martin of Tours – History, Folklore and Festivities

St. Martin at Liguge © Bestfreephotos

Read the stories about St Martin of Tours, one of the most popular saints in medieval and modern Europe

During his lifetime, St Martin was called upon as a venerable ascetic and bishop. Later, in the 6thcentury, he was turned into a local saint of Tours. Notwithstanding the primary identification of St Martin as a monk and not a soldier, he was soon recruited as a missionary and heroic saint, with whom warriors and soldiers might readily identify. As such he moved effortlessly through the missionary landscapes of the fringes of Europe – at first Gothic Italy and Frankish Gaul, later Anglo-Saxon England, Scandinavia and further into the Baltic Sea. Finally, in 10th century St Martin was officially posited as the prototype of a Christian knight. At the same time, however, he was deftly turned into a popular saint and protector of the poor. It is as such we know of him today.

St Martin of Tours may have started out as a career officer in the Roman Army. In the course of the next 1500 years, he was continuously recruited to play a panoply of different roles. As such, he has been a powerful prism of shifting times. In the end, though his role as a soldier was never entirely forgotten. It was no coincidence when the ceasefire was finally set on Armistice Day in 1918. After four years of untold suffering and wantonness, it was decided to be called at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, honouring the first conscientious objector of all times, Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours in Skibby Church. Source: WikipediaMartin of Tours – A Man of All Times

Saint Martin was the first non-martyr to be sainted by popular acclamation. Still popular, he succeeded by shift-shaping over the centuries – from 4th-century ascetic to 20th-century conscientious objector

The earliest presentation of the Charity of St Martin. From Fuldaer Sakramentar, c. 997 – 1011 (Udine, Biblioteca Capitolare, Cod. 76 V - (Udine, Biblioteca Capitolare, Cod. 76 V) © UdineSt. Martin – a Popular Saint

St. Martin was a Roman soldier, who turned into a Christian ascetic. Later he was adopted as a national saint for France, as well as a soldier of Christ. His final disguise, though, was as a popular saint

Crypt of Romanesque Church at Marmoutier at Tours © Inrap

Martin of Tour in the 4thcentury – Roman Soldier, Ascetic Athlete, and Reluctant Bishop

St Martin of Tours is one of Europe’s most venerated saints. From Roman soldier to ascetic Christian he is paradigmatic of one of the huge shifts, which took place in Late Antiquity

St Martin's Cross at Iona. Source: wikipedia

Martin of Tours in the 6thcentury – from Ascetic Saint to Local Miracle Worker

In the 6thcentury, Martin of Tours was recruited to bolster the fame and position of his successors as a prestigious miracle-worker

Pendant from the Canterbury Hoard © British Museum

The European Fame of St Martin of Tours – from National Frankish Hero to Christian Knight

The “Martin” of the 7th to 10th centuries was not the ascetic bishop of the 5th century. The leopard changed its spots and became a National Frankish saint and a budding Christian Knight

Geese crossing the street in Skanör in Scania, Sweden.


Martinmas is celebrated the night before St. Martin by merrymaking and feasting. Since the Middle Ages roast goose has been on the menu east of the Rhine

Luttrell Psalter Herding Geese and fighting off hawk Add MS 42130 fol 169v British Library web

The Medieval Goose

Keeping geese is complicated and labour-intensive. This created an intricate network between people in villages, on manors and in towns

Luttrell Psalter. Roasting the fowls for the feast © British Library. Add MS 42130 fol 206v

How to Cook a Medieval Goose

Any medieval household with a surplus of small children might use them to guard flocks of geese. Eating off grass during summer, they might be fattened in the autumn supplying the household with either an extra bit of cash or a delicious treat. In the Middle Ages, they would have been cooked, stuffed with fruit

Tours at Loire

The City of Tours

Tours was very early on a fortified city with a flourishing Christian community on the outskirts. The two parts of the modern city still seem to reflect this ancient history

Saint-Martin de Moissac. Source: Wikipedia

St. Martin in Moissac – the Oldest Church in France

In late Antiquity, a Roman bath fell into disuse in Moissac. Soon after, the church of St. Martin (Saint-Martin de Moissac) was built inside the ruins, while a cemetery was established outside. The church is considered to be one of the earliest churches built in France.

Collage of books about st. Martin

St. Martin of Tours – A Selection of Books

St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier, who turned into a Christian ascetic. Later he was adopted as a national saint for France, as well as a soldier of Christ. His final disguise, though, was as a popular saint and pacifist.


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