It is said that years after the passing of Saint Martin, the part of the cloak was preserved in an oratory that came to be called “The Little Cloak.” In Latin: cappella. In Old French: chapelle. So, the place we now call a chapel originated from the story of Saint Martin.
So, what is this story of a cloak? When Martin was 18 and a soldier, he saw a beggar at the gate of Amiens. The poor man was naked and trembling in the frosty air. Martin unsheathed his sword, sliced through his cloak, and covered the exposed man in his cloak. That night, Martin had a dream in which Jesus Christ declared to a host of angels that Martin had covered Him with the only piece of cloth he had. That very morning, Martin rushed to the nearest church so that he would be baptized.
Martin was born in Hungary between 315 and 330. He was forced into military service after his family had moved to Italy. However, his distaste for the behaviors and responsibilities of soldiers and army life caused him much grief. It is said that he refused to follow orders saying, ” ‘I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ…It is not lawful for me to kill.’ ” When he was accused of cowardice, he responded, ” ‘Very well, tomorrow place me in the very front of the battle-line. In the name of the Lord Jesus, and without helmet or armor or sword, protected only by the sign of the cross, I will thrust myself into the thickest squadrons of the enemy without fear.’ ” He was confined to a cell that night, but early the next morning, a truce was established, and Martin’s plea was never engaged.
He was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood in 360 and went out into Western Europe establishing a hermitage in the monastic life. His sensibility was such that he wanted nothing but God’s providence to offer shelter and sustenance. He essentially lived, along with 80 other monks, in roughly-hewn wooden huts for about 10 years. In this simple and meager way of life he was immensely happy. In 371 the people of Tours called for him to be raised to bishop, and to this he flatly refused. He had no desire to shift his life to the posh, wealthy life of higher church leadership. However, the people’s will prevailed, and he was invested with the office of bishop. And yet, he refused to live in the palace of the bishop and sit on the episcopal throne; instead, he moved outside of town and established a monastery (Marmoutier) where a significant number of monks followed him. The abbey burned several times after Martin’s death and was rebuilt ever larger and more extensive than the one before.
Martin’s mission in his Christian leadership squared off against paganism within the realm. Known for his fierce beliefs, he was no stranger to wielding aggression against those who built temples to idols. Pulling down niches and buildings in the name of Christ, he fought against all things that deflected attention away from his Christ.
At 70 years of age, Martin predicted his death. As his day drew near, he gathered ashes on the floor of his small living quarters and laid down for his final rest. As he drew his final few breaths, his disciples heard him exclaim to an unseen apparition of the devil: “You shall find nothing in me, for I see Abraham’s bosom open to receive me.” There are close to 4,000 parishes and over 500 villages that are named after the worthy Saint.
Interestingly, many years later, a child was born in Germany on November 10, 1483. The day after the child’s birth, his parents took him to a baptismal font to be baptized. Upon entering the small parish, the parents realized that the feast day was for Martin of Tours. In that moment they decided to name their child after the beloved Saint; the family name of the couple was Luther.
*information collected from Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy by Fr. John-Julian, OJN.