St Martin of Tours

Saint Martin and the Beggar (El Greco)

Born in an army camp on the outskirts of Hungary, Martin was brought up to believe that the most important thing in the world was to do one’s duty and to do it well.

It was this sense of duty that led him to respect his father’s wishes and join the imperial cavalry at the young age of 15 years.

From an early age, Martin had heard of Christ and his message that all men are brothers.  Once in the army, he listened to his friends in the barracks discuss this new idea and the more he thought about it, the more certain he was that some day he would a Christian.

He was a good soldier who spared himself in nothing but work or bravery, and within three years he had become the leader of his battalion.

One winter, Martin’s unit was transferred to France, to a city called Amiens. It was the bitterest of cold days and Martin had taken on the extra duty of inspecting the stables and food supplies so his men could have some relief from the cold. As he rode his horse past the gate to the city, he saw a poor, huddled mass of rags and flesh. The bare skin of this man’s skinny arms were turning purple, and he shivered as he held a bowl out form whatever scraps of food he could get from passers-by.

No one bothered to stop. It was much too cold to stay out in such weather longer than one had to.

Martin passed by slowly, thinking, “How can I do this? This poor man is my brother. How can I think about my neighbour if I can go passed this beggar and pretend I don’t see him?”

He turned his horse around and came back to the beggar. He knew he had no food or money with him, so he took off his heavy, warm, royal cloak made of red wool and neatly split it ion half with his sword. Then Martin wrapped it snugly around the speechless man’s shoulders and put the other half around his own.

“We are brothers, my friend”, he said gently, “This belongs to you as well as me”.

He rode off and soon encountered his commanding officer. He stared at Martins with angry surprise and scolded him for destroying government property. Martin said nothing in his defence for he knew that the officer was not a Christian and would not understand.

That night Martin had a dream that was so real, it woke him up. In his dream he saw Christ wearing the half-cloak he had given the beggar. The Lord was surrounded by angels who asked him where he had got such a fine garment. “From my servant, Martin, who has not yet been baptised”, he said.

When Martin woke, he dressed quickly and ran through the quiet streets searching for the first Priest he could find in Amiens. He was baptised and immediately sensed a great peaceful joy.

Martin left the army two years later and became a priest. Through his extensive travels spreading the word of God, his family became so wide that he was the French people’s choice to become the Bishop of Tours.

After serving his people for a number of years he retired to a cave in the forest, in Marmoutier. There he would live a simple life, eating once a day and sharing his beliefs with anyone who passed his way.

Martin’s legacy is that he spent most of his life not doing what he wanted to do, but what he felt was his duty.

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