This day celebrates the burial of St. Martin of Tours (316-397 AD) who devoted much of his life in establishing Christianity in France, and became one of her patron saints. He was born in Pannonia, and began life with a career in the Roman army, but eventually realised that he was ‘Christ’s soldier’ and asked for a discharge. The legend tells that, when he was then accused of cowardice, he offered to stand unarmed between the opposing sides of battle.
St. Martin is remembered especially for an incident which occurred while he was still taking instruction in the Christian faith before being baptised. While serving in the army at Amiens, Martin met a poor beggar at the city gate, who shivered half-naked in the cold. Drawing his sword, he cut his warm cloak in two and gave one half to the pauper. The following night, Christ appeared to Martin, dressed in the piece of cloak that the young officer had given away, and said: “Martin has covered me with this garment.”
H.D. Thoreau wrote about autumn in 1854: “The season of hope and promise is past….We are a little saddened because we begin to see the interval between our hopes and their fulfillment. The prospect of the heavens is taken away, and we are presented only with a few small berries.” We stand as paupers at the gates of winter. Martin’s half cloak brought hope and comfort to the beggar - his compassionate gesture may warm us also, and protect us from wintry despair.
The traditional way of celebrating Martinmas is with lantern walks or processions, accompanied by singing. When we make a paper lantern, we, too, may feel that we are giving protection to our own little ‘flame’ that was beginning to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the dark world. It may only be a small and fragile – but every light brings relief to the darkness.
A Martinmas Meal
Choose a simple meal – a bread roll, baked potato or any other food which can be cut in half. At the start of the meal, divide your food and pass half to the neighbour on the left. Gift food really does taste different!
(The preceding material is from ALL YEAR ROUND, by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton, and Marije Rowling.)