Photo: "Skellig Michael" Copyright Irish Tourist Board.


Favorite Monks: Martin of Tours

Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."

 Image: painting of Martin of Tours while still a Roman Cavalry Officer giving half his cloak to a beggar.  Martin of Tours

316 or 317 A.D. – November 11, 397 A.D.

Also: Saint Martin, St. Martin, St. Martinus. _________________

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Tell others about Jesus like Martin of Tours did:

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When Martin of Tours was 20 years old, he was a Roman Cavalry Officer, but he ended his life as Bishop of Tours.  

In between, as a Monk, he founded Liguge monastery in 363 A.D., the first monastery in Gaul (modern-day France).

Martin founded a second monastery in Marmoutier in 372 A.D. 

This new and vibrant monastic movement in Gaul would attract two young men from Britain named Ninian and Patrick (there were as yet no monasteries in Britain---the movement was too new!)  But this was shortly to change in the lifetimes of these two men on fire to spread the Gospel. 

From the Marmoutier monastery, Ninian of Whithorn went out as the first apostle of Christianity (as a Missionary Bishop) to Scotland in 397 A.D.          __________________

Martin's life was recorded by a contemporary, Sulpitius Severus.

Martin of Tours was born in what is now modern-day Hungary.  His father was a senior officer, a tribune, in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army, and was later stationed in Gaul (modern-day Pavia, Italy), where Martin grew up.

At the age of ten, he went to the church against the wishes of his parents and became a catechumen or candidate for baptism.

Christianity had been made a legal religion in 316 A.D., but it was by no means the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.  It had many more adherents in the Eastern Empire, and was concentrated in cities.

 Christianity was still far from accepted amongst the higher echelons of society.  

Although the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, and the subsequent program of church-building, gave a greater impetus to the spread of the religion, it was still a minority faith.

When Martin was fifteen, as the son of a veteran officer, he was required to join a cavalry division himself and around 334 A.D. was stationed in Gaul.

While Martin was still a soldier at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. 

He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar.  He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. 

That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away.  He heard Jesus say to the angels: 

"Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me." (Sulpicius, Chapter 2).

The dream confirmed Martin in his piety and he was baptized at the age of 18.

He served in the military for another two years until, just before a battle with the Gauls at Worms in 336 A.D., Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, 

"I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." 

He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops.  His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.

Martin declared his vocation and made his way to the city of Tours, where he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a chief proponent of Trinitarian Christianity, opposing the Arianism of the Visigothic nobility.

When Hilary of Poitiers was forced into exile from Poitiers, Martin returned to Italy, converting an Alpine brigand on the way, according to his biographer Sulpicius Severus.  

Returning from Illyria, Martin was confronted by the Arian archbishop of Milan, Auxentius, who expelled him from the city. 

According to the early sources, Martin decided to seek shelter on the island then called Gallinaria, now Isola d'Albenga, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit.

Founded Monastery at Liguge

With the return of Hilary to his Episcopal See in 361 A.D., Martin joined him and established a monastery nearby, the very first monastery in Gaul, at the site that developed into the Benedictine Ligugé Abbey.   ______________________________

 Image: The Prayer Foundation logo (with white Celtic cross on a green shield).

        Image: Bas-Relief of Martin of Tours giving half of his Roman Officer's cloak to a beggar.          Martin gives half his cloak to a beggar.

Martin brought this communal, ruled, way of living into the Western Church,  in the country of the Pictones, Poitou, Poictou, or Pictavia.

On Hilary's return from banishment to Poitiers in 360 A.D., he gave Martin land at Ligugé where Martin became a solitary monk. 

However, in time he attracted others and his community became famous, so much so that he was forced to leave this first small house at Ligugé to found another larger one, Magnum Monasterium, Mór Muinntir, Marmoutier, close to Tours, of which city, as we have said, he later became bishop.

Ninian's Mission to Scotland

It was to this community that Ninian of Whithorn went to study, before returning back to his homeland (modern-day Scotland), and there Ninian became an enthusiastic disciple of Martin

Marmoutier is the monastery where Ninian of Whithorn trained, before becoming the first Christian missionary to Scotland.

Ninian's foundation at Whithorn was at first to be known as Muinntir Mór, but he himself called it after Martin's first at Ligugé - Logotegiacum being the Latin form of Ligugé, coming from the Celtic "leuk" (Gaelic "geal", shining white) and "tigh", a house. 

From this then came the name Candida Casa, and its daughter house in Wales, Ty Gwynn, the Bright House.

Martin traveled and preached through western Gaul: 

"The memory of these apostolic journeys survives to our day in the numerous local legends of which Martin is the hero and which indicate roughly the routes that he followed."

Became Bishop of Tours

In 371 A.D. Martin was acclaimed Bishop of Tours, where he impressed the city with his demeanor, and by the determination with which he had pagan temples demolished or burnt, pagan altars smashed, and pagan idols destroyed.  

Sulpicius affirms that he withdrew from the press of attention in the city to live in Marmoutier (Majus Monasterium), the 2nd monastery he founded (in 372 A.D.), which faces Tours from the opposite shore of the Loire.

The Abbey of St. Martin at Tours was one of the most prominent and influential establishments in Dark Age and Medieval France.

Martin Luther was purportedly named after St. Martin, as he was baptized on November 11 (St. Martin's Day), 1483.

St. Patrick & the Monasteries of Gaul (France)

The monastic movement in Gaul started by Martin of Tours was to have an enormous influence in Ireland (and later also in England), as well as in Scotland:

There are local traditions that St. Patrick studied at two other of the earliest monasteries in Gaul, before his return to Ireland as a Missionary Bishop: Lerins monastery (founded by Honoratus in 410 A.D.) and Auxerre monastery (founded by Germaine in 422 A.D.). _______________________________

Earliest Monasteries in Gaul Timeline:

  • Liguge: the first monastery in Gaul (modern-day France), founded by Martin of Tours in 363 A.D.

  • Marmoutier (Majus Monasterium): the second monastery founded by Martin of Tours, in 372 A.D.

  • Lerins: monastery founded by Honoratus in 410 A.D.

  • Auxerre: monastery founded by Germaine in 422 A.D.

Early Missionary Monks:

St. Ninian trained at Martin of Tours' Marmoutier monastery, before becoming the first missionary to Scotland.  

Local tradition holds that St. Patrick trained at the Lerins and Auxerre monasteries before becoming missionary to Ireland. _______________________________


  • Sulpitius Severus, "On the Life of St. Martin". Translation and Notes by Alexander Roberts. In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, New York, 1894.

  • Wikipedia: "Martin of Tours".

  • "The Catholic Encyclopedia", Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company.


See Also:


(Except Wikipedia and other Texts) Copyright © 2007 S.G.P. All rights reserved.