In the United States, today is celebrated as Veterans Day; elsewhere, today is Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. These civil observances this day are derived from the Armistice signed on 11 November 1918AD that ended the First World War. Hence, it is a fitting time to offer prayers and express gratitude to those Veterans that have offered their service to their country in the Armed Forces.
St. Martin and the Beggar by El Greco.
11 November is also the rather ancient feast of St. Martin of Tours -- himself a veteran before he would become a bishop -- who died in 397AD. Thus, today is Martinmas!
St. Martin of Tours was long one of the most beloved saints in the history of the Church, and his life is a remarkable example of virtue in one of the first to be celebrated on the Church calendar as a saint without having been martyred: a "confessor."
The Charity of St. Martin, by Jean Fouquet.
St. Martin was born a pagan in the area of modern Hungary. He would end up in the Roman army, and, while in Gaul, received baptism at the age of 18. The famous episode of St. Martin dividing his cloak for the beggar took place prior to his baptism! Departing the army, St. Martin would become a monk, receive guidance from the great Doctor of the Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and, in the end, become Bishop of Tours. St. Martin, as bishop, was a bulwark against the external attacks on the Church by paganism and those internal from Arianism. More than anything else, St. Martin was known for his "boundless charity to the poor."
St. Martin, then, would quickly become a widely beloved saint. His feast, falling as it does toward the end of the harvest time, and before the season of Advent, was an occasion of great celebration and festivity in the Christian world. Martinmas lanterns and bonfires are certainly worthy of note! In Europe of old, and perhaps still in a few places, the "Indian Summer" of Americans was known as "St. Martin's Summer."
Statue of St. Martin in St. Martinsville, Louisiana.
Innumerable places and individuals would bear the name of St. Martin -- from St. Martinville, Louisiana, burial place of Longfellow's Evangeline, to the Protestant notable, Martin Luther. It is said that over 400 towns and 4,000 churches have been named for St. Martin in France alone.
For more on his life you should note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Martin of Tours
Patron Saints Index: St. Martin of Tours
Butler's Lives of the Saints: St. Martin of Tours
This next site is a good resource for a few customs of the day, and a wonderful weather prediction of our Medieval forebears: "If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."
Fisheaters: St. Martin of Tours (Martinmas)
The Basilica of St. Martin in Tours.
["Tours, Saint Martin" by Parsifall - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]
St. Martin is buried in a grand Basilica bearing his name in Tours, France -- location of the great battle in 732AD when Charles Martel turned back the Islamic invader. You can view the official website of the Church where he is buried here: Basilica of St. Martin
The Tomb of St. Martin in Tours, France.
["Tombeau de Saint-Martin de Tours" by Tipoune - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons]
Perhaps today is the day to revive a few Martinmas customs, and give a toast to our Veterans while we are at it?