What is known of Saint Martin of Tours comes essentially from the book written by his disciple, Sulpice Severus, "Life of Saint Martin" in 397, a great success in the Middle Ages.
Martin was born in 316 in Savaria, Pannonia, a Roman province in present-day Hungary. Born into a pagan family, he was the son of a military officer of the Roman army, at the head of a legion of 6,000 men. He had great ambitions for his son and had him join the army at the age of fifteen. However, very early on, Martin showed a desire to become a Christian and consecrate his life to God. A decisive event took place during the winter of 338. While in garrison in Amiens, Martin meet a poor naked man, having no money to give him, Martin cuts off his coat and gives him half of it. The next night Christ appeared to him carrying the part of the mantle given to the poor and said to him: "Martin, still a catechumen, you clothed me in this garment." Shaken, Martin was baptized a few months later, during the Easter Vigil, he was 22 years old. Two years later, during a battle against the Alamans, Martin was forced to sacrifice to the imperial cult. He refused, and to mark his decision, he presented himself unarmed before the enemy. Miraculously, the opposing army asked for peace. When he was finally able to leave the army, Martin became a disciple of Saint Hilaire de Poitiers and wished to embrace religious life.
At the age of 45, Martin founded the first monastery in Gaul in Ligugé (Poitou) with Saint Hilaire de Poitiers. In 371, the inhabitants of Tours came to look for Martin in his monastery to make him their bishop. He was then 55 years old. Despite his office as bishop of Tours, Martin remained a monk in his soul and founded yet another monastery in Marmoutier, where he often came to meditate. For 26 years, Martin exercised his office as bishop with great charity, and he repeated his gesture of the past by giving some of his priestly clothes to a poor man in the sacristy of the cathedral. Throughout Gaul, Martin evangelized and fought paganism. Through continual acts of love and mercy, he obtained many healings and brought many to Christianity.
He died on November 8, 397, speaking this last word: “Lord, if I am still necessary for your people, I do not refuse the task, let your will be done. At his death, the crowds rushed from all around his body, which was brought back to Tours. Many miracles took place near his tomb, which became a privileged place of pilgrimage. In 460, a sumptuous basilica was built and the cult of Saint Martin quickly spread throughout Europe. Dedication to Saint Martin can be found in Italy, Germany, England and even Spain.
Saint Martin of Tours, also called Saint Martin the merciful, is celebrated on November 11. He is the patron saint of the marshals and of various trades of public guard: police officers, army commissioners, soldiers, and Swiss guards.
The life of Saint Martin, such as the book by Sulpice Sévère, shows a spirituality characterized by several aspects:
The prayer to Saint Martin by Blessed Charles de Foucauld: "Grand Saint Martin":
Great Saint Martin, patron of the monks, patron of those who loved evangelical poverty to adoration, patron of those who saw Jesus in their neighbor and stripped themselves of their own clothes to cover him;
O good shepherd, who have guarded and cared for your monastic flock and the flock of your diocese with so much love!
O great apostle who evangelized so many provinces and converted so many Gentiles to Jesus;
O good soldier, who came unarmed to the front of the army on the first day of battle to be faithful to the divine law, whose death place I saw at Candes, pray for me, protect me, teach me to practice your virtues, to imitate Jesus, to love one's neighbor, and to do in my darkness, in the darkness of Nazareth, what you did with such brilliance: to pass over the earth doing good, to live and die with your last words on the lips and in the heart: "My God, I sigh after You, I would like to leave life to be reunited with You, however, if I am still useful here below, I do not refuse work... My God, let your will be done. "