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Who was Saint Martin?

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Saint Martin
of Tours

Saint Martin's feast day is officially November 11, but we usually celebrate it as a parish on the closest Sunday. Find him in the stained glass window at the back of the church, and on the left-hand icon in the Lear Chapel.

Martin, born around 316 or 336 CE, was not raised as a Christian. He was a soldier like his father before him. He became a catechumen, studying to be a Christian, when he was still a teen.

There is a celebrated story of this time in which he cut his cloak in half to provide warmth to a beggar whom he met one winter day. That night, he dreamed that Christ was wearing the half cloak. The vision prompted him to be baptized and pursue a life of devotion that included leaving the army, teaching against heresy, and becoming a monk and bishop. According to one legend, he hid in a goose pen to avoid being made bishop, but the cackling of the geese gave him away. This story is why you'll find the image of a goose in the Parish Hall, above the Willow Grove doorway.

By Roman tradition, a patron saint is someone who has been chosen as the special intercessor and advocate in heaven of a particular place, person, or organization. The custom of having patron saints for churches arose from the practice of building churches over the tombs of martyrs. The traditional celebration of the patronal feasts of churches was revived in the mid 19th century during the Oxford Movement and has continued to this day.

You can read more about Martin, here. The book, A Venture in Faith, by historian and parishioner David Contosta tells the history of our parish. (There are several copies in the parish house if you would like to read it.) According to that text, it was founding parishioner Henry Houston who chose the name Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, probably naming it after the parish in Trafalgar Square, London that had, like this parish, once stood in the midst of open fields.

In 2016, artist and parishioner Ned McConaghy wrote and illustrated the story of St. Martin and the beggar for our Stewardship campaign in graphic novel style. If you do not have one, you can download a copy of the comic, or you can obtain one from the office.

The Saint Martin's Day Hymn

Did you know that we've got our very own version of a hymn about St. Martin of Tours? Every year we sing this song on St. Martin's Day. The lyrics were written by former Presiding Bishop, the late Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold when he was the Rector of Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It is set to the common tune titled, Puer Nobis.

The hymn tells the full tale of St. Martin of Tours' encounter with a beggar one day along the roadside - the encounter fabled to have turned his path toward Christ.
 

1. Twas on a cold and wint’ry night
The snow was falling swift and white.
Along the road a soldier came
In cloak dark blue of Roman fame.

2. As he did pass along the way,
A voice cried out, “Brave soldier, stay!”
And in a ditch the road beside,
A man near death, the soldier spied.

3. Quick down he leapt and cut in two
His woolen cloak of Roman Blue.
“Good fellow, may this wool you warm,
And keep you safe from further harm.”

4. Then all at once, the man did rise,
And change before the soldier‘s eyes.
“My Brother, Martin, good and true,
I am the Lord, and I need you.

5. You shall bear witness to my love,
And by your life, my presence prove;
To all in need, both friend and foe,
My Father’s mercy you shall show.”

6. Baptized was Martin straight away,
Then to the woods he went to pray.
But soon from Tours the people came,
And made him bishop in Christ’s name.

7. As priest and shepherd of the town,
He ministered to all around.
May we, like him, go forth in love,
And by our lives, Christ’s presence prove.

8. O God of Saints! to you we cry;
O Savior! plead for us on high;
O Holy Spirit! guide and friend,
Grant us your grace ‘til life shall end.

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