St. Martin of Tours

On this day Americans generally and rightly focus on Veterans Day, a day to celebrate those who have served in the armed forces. However, hidden deep in the day is the Christian witness of St. Martin of Tours.  The original name for Veterans Day was Armistice Day, as it is still known in Europe. It marked the end of the First World War and the peace that began on November 11th. This day was chosen in the treaty because of St. Martin of Tours.

St. Martin is the patron saint of Europe and was a soldier himself. He served in the Roman army where he converted to Christianity. Tradition says that it was a cold night and a beggar came and asked for assistance.  Martin, breaking protocol, took his sword and cut his uniform cape in half, giving it to the beggar. Later that night, Martin had a dream of Christ who was wearing half a cloak and he realized that in serving those in need he served Christ. When he awoke, he discovered that his cloak had been miraculously restored to wholeness. The French army then used a relic of his cloak in battle for a special blessing on its military. The priests that guarded the cape were called the cappellanu, coming from the word cape. The word eventually covered all clergy who served in the armed forces and in English they are known as chaplains. A similar thing happened to the small temporary buildings that the cape was kept in during a war; it became known as a chapel.  

Saint Martin, soon after conversion, chose peace and left his post in the Roman army, telling his commander that he was no longer in the Emperor’s army but the Lord’s. Miraculously avoiding the consequences of this decision, he became a monk and devoted his life fully to Christ. He was a bishop and evangelist spreading the good news all over Europe. Being born in Hungary, raised in Italy, a bishop in France, and missionary to so many other places, it is easy to see why he became the patron saint of Europe, and why his life was a good foundation for peace in Europe. 

Another reason that St. Martin’s Day was so beloved is that it marked an old period of carnival. Carnival is a season of preparation for a fast. The most well known celebration is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) before Lent.  But Advent, too, is a penitential season, traditionally marked with fasting. And it once was the same length—40 days not counting Sundays. This placed the great celebration on St. Martin’s day, and it became known for feasting. The traditional foods to eat before the Advent fast from meats and sweets was roast goose and all the fixings. In fact, it functioned much like the American celebration of Thanksgiving – a pre-Advent moment of feasting. And it was celebrated with many of the same type of foods. But of course most Americans substitute turkey for the goose, and cranberries for the currants.  

For our veterans celebration, we are practicing some of our Thanksgiving recipes before the whole family is present. We also will be celebrating those who have served our country, and like Martin did with his cloak, shared what they have for others.


We also want to pass along a recipe for World Peace Cookies from prolific cookbook writer Dorie Greenspan. These rich and chocolatey cookies are delicious treat to snack on while you practice your Thanksgiving recipes. Undoubtedly they are a treat meant for feast times and not fast times. And their name reminds us that St. Martin ultimately chose peace.

Recipe available on King Arthur Baking Company website:

Pictured Above: Scenes from The Life of Saint Martin of Tours by Winifred Knights, c. 1928-1933, oil (or possibly tempera) on canvas with glazing, 73 x 159.5 cm, Milner Memorial Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral