St. Martin of Tours was born around the year 316, in modern-day Hungary. His father, a military official of the Roman Empire, moved the family to Italy to serve the army there. Although his parents were pagans, Martin felt called to the Catholic faith. He received religious instruction when he was 10, and considered becoming a hermit.
However, by the time he was 15, Martin found himself forced to join the Roman army. At the time, he was unable to receive baptism. Martin lived humbly in the military, giving away most of his pay to the poor.
One day, Martin encountered a man freezing, without warm clothes, near a gate at the city of Amiens in Gaul. As the soldiers passed by, Martin stopped at cut his cloak in two pieces with his sword. He gave one half to the beggar. That night, Martin saw Christ in a dream, wearing the half-cloak he had given to the poor man. Christ said, “Martin, a catechumen, has clothed me with this garment.”
Martin knew it was time to join the Church, and was baptized. He remained in the army for two more years, but finally asked permission to leave so he could dedicate his life to God.
His officers accused him of cowardice, so Martin offered to stand before the enemy forces unarmed. “In the name of the Lord Jesus, and protected not by a helmet and buckler, but by the sign of the cross, I will thrust myself into the thickest squadrons of the enemy without fear,” he said. However, the enemy Germans sought peace, and Martin was free to leave.
After leaving the army and living as a civilian, Martin met Bishop Hilary of Poitiers. The bishop was impressed by Martin’s faith, and asked him to return to Poitiers after a trip home to see his parents. During this trip, Martin was able to convince his mother to join the Church.
While Martin was away, Hilary provoked the Arians, and was banished, so Martin could not return to his diocese. Instead, Martin spent some time living in severe asceticism. He and Hilary were reunited in 360, when the banishment period had ended.
Hilary gave Martin a piece of land to build what may have been the first monastery in Gaul. Martin lived as a monk for a decade, and was known for raising two people from the dead through his prayers. He was eventually appointed as the third bishop of Tours, despite not wanting the position.
As bishop, Martin lived simply, dressing plainly and owning nothing. He traveled throughout his diocese, driving out pagan practices. He helped all his parishioners with their moral, intellectual, and spiritual problems, and helped many lay people discover their callings to consecrated life.
Martin foresaw his own death, but when he fell ill for the last time, he was uncertain about leaving his people. He prayed, “Lord, if I am still necessary to thy people, I refuse no labor. Thy holy will be done.” For many nights, he did not sleep, simply praying throughout the night.
Shortly before he died in November 397, Martin told his followers, “Allow me, my brethren, to look rather towards heaven than upon the earth, that my soul may be directed to take its flight to the Lord to whom it is going.”
St. Martin de Tours is one of the most beloved saints in the history of Europe.