Yesterday was the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. It was also Armistice Day, and it’s fitting that the two coincide. Martin was born in 316 to a senior officer of the Roman army. His name comes from the Roman god Mars, the god of war. Martin converted to Christianity when it was still a minority faith in the empire. He served in the Roman cavalry and was mainly stationed in Gaul.
Legend says that one day Martin came across a beggar. He tore his military cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, he had a vision of Christ wearing the torn cloak. The half of the cloak that Martin kept became a sacred relic to Frankish kings who often carried it into battle. The priests charged with the care-taking of the relic were called cappellani. The term became to mean any priest in the military. The word chaplain comes from this word. Because the cloak was moved with the military, small, temporary churches were built to house it. People called these little churches capella, or little cloak. The word chapel comes from this word.
Just before a battle, Martin declared that as a Christian, his conscious prohibited him from fighting, saying, “I am a soldier for Christ.” He was charged with cowardice, but in response, he offered to go unarmed in the front of the troops. A peace was reached before the battle, and Martin was released from his military service.
In 361, he returned to Italy and established a monastery as a center for evangelization of country districts. He preached around Gaul and became bishop of Tours in 371. He was reluctant to become a bishop and hid in a shed of geese, but the geese made so much noise that he was found. As bishop, he worked to free prisoners and convert pagans.St. Martin of Tours died around 396. He is the patron of beggars, soldiers, wool-weavers, and France.