Martin of Tours

Posted on 10th November 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (Luke 6:30)

Martin of Tours (c316/336 - 397) is an important figure in the history of the church, rising to become Bishop of Tours where he founded a monastery and set up a basic parish system for the area. His most famous act does not come from this time, though, but rather from when he was a teenaged soldier.

Although he had been born in modern day Hungary, he found himself stationed Gaul (France). Coming up to Amiens, he met a poor beggar who was so poorly clothed he was barely less than naked. The young soldier was moved to pity, cut his cloak in half and gave one piece to the beggar. That night he dreamt that Jesus was wearing the same piece of cloak he had given to the beggar, and when he awoke he decided to get baptised. And so, aged eighteen, he was.

He kept his half of the cloak, and it became a prized relic stored at the nearby abbey. In the Middle Ages it was carried into war by the king, and oaths were sworn on it. Known as the cloak of St Martin (cappa Sancti Martini), it was held in the royal treasury, The priest who looked after the cloak was known as the cappellani or, in French, chapelains. Or, in English, chaplain. And the place where the relic was kept? A chapel.

So Martin’s influence even extends to our language. Chaplains are clergy with a specific purpose, and chapels are buildings which have a single purpose. All this from a teenager who shared his cloak with a beggar.

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