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``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of St. Martin


St. Martin of Tours -- "The Glory of Gaul" -- was born around A.D. 316 in Szombathely, Hungary (known then as Sabaria, Pannonia) and grew up the son of a Roman military officer in Pavia, Italy. He joined the Roman army and was sent to Amiens, where, on horseback, he met a starving man begging alms at the city gates. Moved by deep compassion, he tore his red, woolen his cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. The next night, he had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the half of the cloak he'd given away, surrounded by angels. In the dream, Our Lord asked him to look at it and to see if he recognized it. He did, of course, and realized that he must convert and devote his life to Christ. (St. Martin's remaining piece of cloak became a very revered relic. In fact, the building where his cloak -- "cappa" in Latin -- was preserved was known as the "cappella," the root of our words "chapel" and "chaplain.")

When he was around 20 years of age, some Teutons invaded Gaul and were repelled. When he went before Emperor Julian to receive his reward, he was moved to refuse the bounty, saying "Up to now, I have served you as a soldier; allow me henceforth to serve Christ. Give the bounty to these others who are going out to battle. I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight." Julian accused him of cowardice and had him imprisoned, but he was released after a truce was called.

He got out of the army in Worms and, after spending time at Isola d'Albenga (then Gallinaria), met up with St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers and became his disciple, living a solitary life until others gathered around him, forming the Benedictine Abbey of Ligugé. After a decade of this life, he went on journeys around the area to preach the Gospel, and his popularity grew to such an extent that when St. Hilary of Poitier's successor died, the people of the town elected St. Martin to succeed him as Bishop, in spite of St. Martin's protests. Indeed, St. Martin was rather "tricked" into the position. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia
When St. Lidorius, second Bishop of Tours, died in 371 or 372, the clergy of that city desired to replace him by the famous hermit of Ligugé [St. Martin]. But, as Martin remained deaf to the prayers of the deputies who brought him this message, it was necessary to resort to a ruse to overcome his resistance. A certain Rusticius, a rich citizen of Tours, went and begged him to come to his wife, who was in the last extremity, and to prepare her for death. Without any suspicions, Martin followed him in all haste, but hardly had he entered the city when, in spite of the opposition of a few ecclesiastical dignitaries, popular acclamation constrained him to become Bishop of the Church of Tours.

As Bishop, he led an exemplary simple life, a life that inspired the formation of yet another monastery, one called Marmoutier. He fought battles against the Priscillianists and Ithacians, evangelized and set up religious communities as far away as Paris and Vienne, visited every parish in his large diocese each year, and died around the age of 81, so loved that he became known as "The Glory of Gaul." St. Martin is the patron of beggars, vintners, equestrians, soldiers, tailors, innkeepers, alcoholics, and geese. He is usually depicted in art on horseback, handing half of his cloak to a beggar, or relinquishing his arms. His symbol is the goose. You may also see him riding on a donkey based on the apocryphal story of him walking to Rome and meeting up with the devil, who mocked him for not riding on a donkey as a Bishop should. St. Martin is said to have turned the devil into a donkey and ridden him all the way to Rome, urging him on with the Sign of the Cross. The angered devil cursed him with this palindrome:

Signa te Signa: temere me tangis et angis:
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor

("Cross, cross thyself, you plague and vex me without need
For by my labors you shall soon reach Rome, the object of your wishes")

For more about the life of St. Martin, see "The Life of St. Martin" (pdf), by Sulpicius Severus, available in this site's Catholic Library.


St. Martin's Feast is considered the first day of Winter for practical purposes, so, alluding to the snows of that season, the Germans say that "St Martin comes riding on a white horse." Of course, it might not feel like Winter if one is experiencing a "St. Martin's Summer" -- the equivalent of an "Indian Summer." It is said, too, that one can predict what sort of Winter one will have by the conditions of St. Martin's Day: "If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."

The Feast coincides not only with the end of the Octave of All Souls, but with harvest time, the time when newly-produced wine is ready for drinking, and the end of winter preparations, including the butchering of animals (an old English saying is "His Martinmas will come as it does to every hog," meaning "he will get his comeuppance" or "everyone must die"). Because of this, St. Martin's Feast is much like the American Thanksgiving (celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November) -- a celebration of the earth's bounty. Because it also comes before the penitential season of Advent, it is seen as a mini "carnivale" with all the feasting and bonfires. As at Michaelmas on 29 September, goose is eaten in most places (the goose is a symbol for St. Martin himself. It is said that as he was hiding from the people who wanted to make him Bishop, a honking goose gave away his hiding spot), but unlike most Catholics, those of Britain and Ireland prefer pork or beef on this day.

Goose with Apple Stuffing
(Martinsgans mit Apfelfüllung) (Serves 6 to 8)

1 ready-to-cook goose (8 to 10 pounds)
2 cups water
1 small onion, sliced
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
6 cups soft bread crumbs
3 tart apples, chopped
2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Trim excess fat from goose. Heat giblets, water, sliced onion and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer until giblets are done, about 1 hour. Strain broth; cover and refrigerate. Chop giblets; toss with remaining ingredients except 1 teaspoon salt and the flour. Rub cavity of goose with 1 teaspoon salt. Fold wings across back with tips touching. Fill neck and body cavities of goose lightly with stuffing. Fasten neck skin of goose to back with skewers. Fasten opening with skewers; lace with string. Tie drumsticks to tail. Prick skin all over with fork. Place goose breast side up on rack in shallow roasting pan. Roast uncovered in 350° oven until done, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, removing excess fat from pan occasionally. Place a tent of aluminium foil loosely over goose during last hour to prevent excessive browning. Goose is done when drumstick meat feels very soft. Place goose on heated platter. Let stand 15 minutes for easier carving. Meanwhile, pour drippings from pan into bowl. Return 1/4 cup drippings to pan. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. If necessary, add enough water to reserved broth to measure 2 cups. Stir into flour mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Serve goose with apple stuffing and gravy. Guten Appetit! (Recipe from the German Embassy)

If you eat goose, save the furcula -- the "wish bone" -- from the bird's chest. Physician Johannes Hartlieb wrote in 1455,

When the goose has been eaten on St. Martin's Day or Night, the oldest and most sagacious keeps the breast-bone and allowing it to dry until the morning examines it all around, in front, behind and in the middle. Thereby they divine whether the winter will be severe or mild, dry or wet, and are so confident in their prediction that they will wager their goods and chattels on its accuracy.

Afterward, the dried wish bone -- which, in essence, can be seen as the birds' fused clavicles, or collar bones -- can be tugged on by a person at each end as they each silently make a wish. The person who ends up with the larger part after the bone breaks is the person whose wish is said to come true.

In many countries, including Germany, Martinmas celebrations begin at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month. Bonfires are built, and children carry lanterns in the streets after dark, singing songs for which they are rewarded with candy.

And on a macabre final note, old superstitious folklore (not Catholic teaching, of course) says that if you stand in the back of the church and look out over the congregants on St. Martin's Day, you can see auras of light around the heads of those who will not be among the living at the next Martinmas.

Note: In America, November 11 is also Veterans Day -- the day to remember those who've served their country in the Armed Forces. In the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia, the day is known as Remembrance Day, and focuses more strictly on those who've died while serving their country in the Armed Forces (for Americans, this more strict focus is observed on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May). Veterans Day and Remembrance Day both began as "Armistice Day," which is the anniversary of the World War I Armistice (truce) signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918. In all of these countries, red poppies are worn to honor the fallen.

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