[St. Pachomius Library]

St. Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours

IV Century
The son of pagans, St. Martin was born c. 316 in Pannonia, now Hungary or Austria. He is said to have followed his father's profession as a soldier until he split his cloak to share it with a beggar and learned in a dream that he had given it to Christ. Martin thereafter saw himself as Christ's soldier and requested resignation. Charged with cowardice, Martin was imprisoned until 339. He travelled to Italy but was banished when he upset the local Arians, who had quite a bit of power. C. 360, he joined the exiled Hilary of Poitiers, who gave Martin the land on which he established the first monastery in France at Ligugé. About ten years later, Martin was acclaimed bishop of Tours. He continued to live as a monk and established a monastery at Marmoutier as a retreat. He gained a reputation as a miracle-worker. Martin opposed the teachings of Bishop Priscillian, who believed that Christians should renounce all pleasure, and opposed the civil authorities who tried the Spanish bishop for sorcery and heresy. The matter was ecclesiastical, and the church's courts should try Priscillian. Priscillian was put to death for heresy. Martin and other clergy, among them Ambrose of Milan, opposed the death penalty for magicians. After Martin's death (c. 396/397), he became one of the most beloved of saints, and the story of the saint and the beggar is a popular subject in art.

Karen Rae Keck