Thursday, November 11, 2010

St. Martin of Tours

So far as I can tell, the ancestral village of the house of Palardy is St-Martin-Hermine-en-Lars in the Vendée. I have no doubt that St. Martin evangelized many of my ancestors in his great missions throughout western Gaul.

His cloak was a sacred relic of the Royal House of France, and Clovis credited his victories to St. Martin's intercession, leading to the baptism of France in 496. Indeed, one would not be incorrect to consider St. Martin's cloak the first flag of France. His abbey in Tours was among the most prominent in France, a place a pilgrimage, and even granted by Charlemagne to his trusted advisor Alcuin. After the rediscovery of St. Martin's tomb in 1860, devotion to him became resurgent in the French Army amidst all the tumult of the Franco-Prussian War and the anti-clericalism of the Third Republic. Despite the attempts of the government to wipe this devotion out, it came back powerfully in the trenches of the Great War, leading to that tragic war ending on Martinmas, 1918.

St. Martin, priez pour nous.

Accordingly, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man.

He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round -- "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe." The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth -- "Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion. For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

--Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin

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