Saint Martin and the Beggar by El Greco

Saint Martin

Born about 316, the son of a Roman soldier in Pannonia, Martin was converted to Christianity at the age of ten.   He joined the Roman army but became convinced that his religious commitment was incompatible with military service.   After a period of imprisonment, he was discharged from the army and went to Poitiers, France, where he became a disciple of Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers and a leading opponent of Arianism.   After a period in Italy, Martin rejoined Hilary and founded the first monastery in Gaul at Ligugé.   In 371 Martin, against his will, was named bishop of Tours.   While serving as bishop, he established a monastery at Marmoutier that became an important religious center.   Martin continued his missionary work in Touraine and throughout Gaul, giving particular attention to the conversion of the rural population.   He is credited with destroying many temples and sacred groves.   He died about 397.

Many miracles are attributed to him.   During one exceptionally cold winter many people suffered from want.   St. Martin had given away his last coin when he met a beggar, half-naked and shivering.   Having nothing left to give except his own clothing, the Saint drew his sword and divided his cloak with the beggar.   That night as he sat at dinner a strange king entered the hall wearing the half cloak.   It was Christ Himself, come to thank him.   Shown left is St Martin and the Beggar by El Greco (1541-1614) National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Saint Martin's feast day is November 11 (Martinmas).   With Joan of Arc, Martin is the patron saint of France.

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