St. Martin’s Day – 11th November

miniature duck toys
© F H Powell 2011

Saint Martin of Tours was Bishop of Tours, France. The legend of St Martin is similar to that of Saints Crispin and Crispinian in that he was a Roman soldier living in France and also converted to Christianity. He was born in 316 AD to a Roman soldier serving in Hungary. Moving back to Italy he grew up to be a soldier himself. Around 336 AD he repelled invaders looking to overthrow the Roman occupiers and and was summoned to Emperor Julian to receive a reward. Martin declined the money requesting it be given to the poor and announced he would forsake being a soldier of Rome to become a soldier of religion. He became a monk and was recognised for his kind and charitable ways. It is said he saved the life of a beggar in a snowstorm by tearing his cloak in two and giving half to the beggar. For this St Martin is known as the patron saint of beggars and the poor. It was decided that on the death of the Bishop of Tours, Martin would be his successor. This was not in accordance with his wishes and so he went into hiding. He was uncovered when the honking of a goose gave away his hiding place. He relented and become Bishop in 371 AD.

His feast day of 11th November (he died on 8th November, 397) , known as Martinmas is recognised for a number of reasons. It recognises the move from autumn to winter, a German saying is St Martin comes riding on a white horse. Another: If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas. It is also seen as the end of the summer harvest and in France the harvest of the grape crop. His association with the change in seasons in medieval times was celebrated with feasting, especially in preparation of the long cold winter months ahead. The legend of the goose giving away his hiding place made geese a natural choice for his feast day.

Martinmas has, since 1918, shared it’s day with Armistice Day, marking the armistice signed by the Allies and Germany that brought the end to the First World War.