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  • Writer's picturePeter Kennedy

Saint Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours grew in sanctity and ultimately became a saint because of his great work as the bishop of Tours in France. However, he is best known for the events that led to his initial conversion. Born in what is now Hungary in Pannonia, he is now referred to, as are many saints, as a beloved saint and hero of the place where he served.

As a young man, Martin endeavored to join the newly established Christian community and entered the ancient equivalent of the RCIA as a catechumen, likely around the age of 10. This meant he was being mentored in the Christian faith by a local Christian of great repute. Shortly before Martin’s birth in 313, Emperor Constantine had legalized Christianity, but it was still not yet widely respected. Martin’s parents were not pleased with his new faith and so his father enlisted him in the Roman military at the age of 15 and they in turn sent him far from home. He eventually rose in the ranks to join the elite calvary of the emperor’s personal body guard, following in the footsteps of his father.

saint martin of tours

He is attributed a rather miraculous secondary conversion. It seems that the life of a Roman soldier was not able to harden the young man’s heart completely. As the story goes, while he was serving in Gual (now France), he came upon a certain poor, elderly man. The weather was particularly cold that day and the man was too lightly clad. He was freezing and so Martin took his calvary cloak and split it in two, sharing it with the old man. In a dream that same night, it was revealed to him that the old Man was none other than Christ himself, so Martin left the military soon after to pursue his renewed Christian faith. Martin sought to continue his mentorship as a Christian` and so became a disciple of St. Hilary of Portiers, a great Doctor of the Church.

Martin is known to have traveled much in his time, primarily to work as his mentor did, against the Arian heresy. This was a rather dangerous endeavor as much of the imperial court were followers of Arius and his heterodox beliefs. In his travels he even returned home to his parents in the hopes of bringing them to Christ. While his mother was Baptized, he could not win his father to the faith.

Eventually Martin would be named bishop of what is now Tours against his will. The people are said to have lured him to the church to care for the sick there, and when he realized his predicament, Martin escaped for a time. But , the people soon found him and he relented to their pressure. As a bishop, he is known for cleansing his diocese of pagan influence. While he is widely known for burning or demolishing pagan temples, he was known for also making certain no harm came to the homes next door. When it came to converting the people, he is known for doing so in a decidedly gentle fashion. He did not use violence, as some pressured him to do, but rather a more gentle hand, seeking the genuine conversion of his people. Along with St. Ambrose, Martin attempted to intercede against local authorities who sought to execute heretics. Martin argued for the virtue of hope that heretics would convert, rather than for torture or capital punishment. He even encouraged secular authorities to stay out of these maters completely.

After his death, Martin’s burial caused much controversy. As many wished to remain close to the saint, even after his death, great mobs of thousands pressed to move his body to their particular favored location. Yet, peace prevailed as the good bishop would have wanted, so his body was placed in a boat and ferried down the river to allow the people to say their goodbyes. He was then buried in a simple field outside of town. Eventually a monastery would be built on the site.

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