St. Martin was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages. His feast was also the last major festival before the fast of Advent, which at time was much more strict. So, on this day known as “Martinmas,” our medieval forebears would feast on roasted goose, St. Martin’s wine, and other sumptuous fare in preparation for a strict fast. Let’s not forget, now is not long off from the harvest, so food was plentiful. Add to that the pleasant weather of “St. Martin’s Summer” a November respite from the cold, and things were all in order for a feast.
Martinmas is not the only “-mas” feast. Besides Christmas, there are several others, which we have catalogued in our posting Merry Childermas!
St. Martin was from Pannonia, the old Roman name for the area of central Europe now divided among parts of Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was baptized at age 18, went to the East to become a monk, returned to the West and became a disciple of St. Hilary of Poitiers, the “Athanasius of the West,” who had fought against Arianism in Gaul the way that St. Athanasius the Great did in the East. Made bishop of Tours, Martin evangelized in his diocese, destroying pagan temples and leading those who formerly worshipped demons to worship the only true God, the Holy Trinity. He did not engage in ecumenical dialogue. He did not try to advance the cause of religious liberty. He cared not a whit for pluralism. He adored the true God, saved souls, and routed devils. Perhaps this older paradigm of evangelical action could come back to the Church. We might save souls and win the culture war that we’re currently losing almost completely. (And that war will go on whether we choose to fight or not!)
Because of this zealous activity, St. Martin was dubbed “the Apostle of France.” The gospel reading for his feat day (reproduced at the end of this posting) speaks about “light” and being “lightsome.” It is evident by this that the Church regards St. Martin as being being a bearer of the light of the Gospel to a region that was in darkness. In this, he was imitated by his nephew, the great St. Patrick of Ireland.
(St. Luke 11:33-36)
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: “No man lighteth a candle and putteth it in a hidden place, nor under a bushel: but upon a candlestick, that they that come in may see the light. The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body will be lightsome: but if it be evil, thy body also will be darksome. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If then thy whole body be lightsome, having no part of darkness: the whole shall be lightsome and, as a bright lamp, shall enlighten thee.”