St. Martin of Tours was born in the year 316 in Sabaria, Pannonia (nowSzombathely, Hungary) and died November 8, 397 in Candes, Gaul (France). He is the patron saintofFrance, father ofmonasticismin Gaul, and the first great leader of Western monasticism.
Of pagan parentage, Martin choseChristianityat age 10. As a youth, he was forced into the Roman army, but later—according to hisdiscipleand biographerSulpicius Severus—he petitioned the Roman emperorJulian the Apostateto be released from the army because “I am Christ’s soldier: I am not allowed to fight.” When charged with cowardice, he is said to have offered to stand in front of the battle line armed only with thesign of the cross. He was imprisoned but was soon discharged.
Legendholds that while he was still in the military and acatechumenof the faith, Martin cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar. That night, he dreamed that Jesus himself was clothed with the torn cloak. When he awoke, the garment was restored. Moved by this vision and apparentmiracle, Martin immediately finished his religious instruction and wasbaptizedat age 18.
On leaving the Roman army, Martin settled atPoitiers, under the guidance of Bishop Hilary. He became a missionary in the provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum (now in the Balkan Peninsula), where he opposedArianism, a heresy that denied the divinity ofChrist. Forced out of Illyricum by the Arians, Martin went toItaly, first toMilanand then to the island of Gallinaria, off Albenga. In 360 he rejoined Hilary at Poitiers. Martin then founded acommunityof hermits at Ligugé, the firstmonasteryinGaul. In 371 he was madebishopofTours, and outside that city he founded another monastery,Marmoutier, to which he withdrew whenever possible.
As bishop, Martin made Marmoutier a great monastic complex to which Europeanasceticswere attracted and from which apostles spread Christianity throughout Gaul. He himself was an active missionary inTouraineand in the country districts where Christianity was as yet barely known. In 384/385 he took part in a conflict at the imperial court inTrier, France, to which the Roman emperorMagnus Maximushad summoned BishopPriscillianof Ávila,Spain, and his followers. Although Martin opposed Priscillianism, a heretical doctrine renouncing all pleasures, he protested to Maximus against the killing of heretics and against civil interference inecclesiastical matters. Priscillian was nevertheless executed, and Martin’s continued involvement with the case caused him to fall into disfavour with the Spanish bishops. During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first non-martyrs to be publicly venerated as asaint.
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