Martin was born in 315 or 316 AD, in the Roman Empire. His father was a Roman soldier and a pagan. Martin’s own spiritual yearnings drew him to Christianity. As a young man, Martin had served in the Roman Legions. However, his real ambition was to live a life of prayer and contemplation.
Martin was baptized as a Christian after the following incident: while serving as a soldier he gave half his cloak to a beggar. That night he dreamt of Jesus, who was wearing the half of Martin’s cloak that he had given to the beggar. The next morning Martin was baptized.
After leaving the army, Martin began to wander the Empire. He became a disciple of Saint Hillary and lived as a hermit. He soon gained a reputation for holiness. At this time, people elected their bishops. Such was Martin’s reputation that the people of Tours (part of modern France) elected him as their Bishop.
Martin accepted the position out of a sense of Christian duty. He wanted to really live a life of prayer and solitude. Instead of living in a Bishop’s palace, he lived in a hermit’s cell attached to a church. Martin lived a life of extreme asceticism. He exposed himself to the elements, fasted, and disdained all physical comforts. He soon began to attract followers. To accommodate them, he founded one of the first monasteries in Western Europe. Martin’s monastery was one of the inspirations for Western Monasticism.
Martin, though he loved solitude, was also a man of energy and great drive. He was a zealous missionary who converted many people who were still pagans. The Saint also had a special concern for prisoners, and he saved many of them from death, as well as secured the freedom of many more.
Martin was also very tolerant for his time. He intervened to save some Christian heretics from execution, even though it provoked the anger of the Emperor.
Martin died at about the age of eighty, and was buried in a paupers’ graveyard, as was his wish.
The Saint was renowned for his miracle working. On one occasion, he visited a young girl who had never spoken. He asked her name, and suddenly, she began to speak. On another occasion, he destroyed a pagan temple by simply praying. Martin prayed that the building be destroyed, and it was set ablaze by a bolt of lightning from a blue sky.
St. Martin had a great faith and this made him very brave:
"...In the name of the Lord Jesus, and protected not by a helmet and buckler, but by the sign of the cross."
He also believed that every Christian was a servant of the Lord, and that they should serve Him in every way possible.
Martin dedicated his whole life to God:
“Lord, if I am still necessary to thy people, I refuse no labor. Thy holy will be done.”
Saint Martin of Tours is still very popular with French Catholics.