For a short while during my Primary School days I attended a St Martin of Tours C of E Aided School, which had the exciting blazer badge of a Roman soldier astride a horse slicing half his cloak off to give to a man begging. As blazer badges go, it was a pretty good one. The figure on horseback, was Martin before he came to turn his back on his military career and become a contemplative monk. This wasn’t yesterday. It was during those years in the latter part of the fourth century when the Roman Empire was on its last legs, but still had a massive army and extensive borders to control.
Martin (316-397), even as a soldier was seen to possess the gift of compassion that was later to be a very obvious mark of his life, but his attraction to the Church went back long before. An early writer on his life tells of the ten-year-old Martin visiting a Church near his home and being dazzled by the scene of the faithful worshipers singing, reading and all in the massed candlelight of the end of a celebration of the Eucharist.
A twenty-first century biographer, Christopher Donaldson, has described his personality as a combination of Mahatma Ghandi, William Booth, William Blake and Montgomery of Alamein. A rather interesting mix. Certainly his lifestyle as a monk was ascetic in the extreme, and when he became a bishop (he was Bishop of Tours from around 371 until the end of his life) he continued to lead a very simple life. He is remembered in the Church Calendar on this day, 11th November, especially for his challenge to corruption and cruelty. He had a real bias to the poor and needy and attracted the support of many wealthy people to his aid.