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11.11.07

Feast of St. Martin of Tours


St. Martin Is Knighted, fresco by Simone Martini, 1312-17, Cappella di San Martino, Basilica di San Francesco (Lower Church), Assisi
Now famous principally because the Armistice was signed on this day, putting an end to World War I, November 11 is more importantly the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. He was born in a province of what is now Hungary, grew up in Italy, served as a soldier of the Roman empire, and then became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers. Martin founded a monastery in the place where he lived as a hermit, later a Benedictine abbey called Ligugé. (That legendary abbey fell into disuse, until it was rebuilt as a Benedictine house in the 19th century by monks from Solesmes led by Dom Prosper Guéranger.) St. Martin was later ordained bishop of the city of Tours, where he died. The abbey named for St. Martin in Tours, destroyed in the French Revolution, was one of the most powerful monastic houses in the Middle Ages. Alcuin was appointed abbot there by Charlemagne, during which time the Carolingian minuscule was developed in his Carolingian scriptorium.

There are images of St. Martin all around Europe, including this recent one by a graffiti artist. The most beautiful artwork depicting the Life of St. Martin is the fresco cycle by Simone Martini, 1312-17, decorating the walls of the Cappella di San Martino in the lower church of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi (Scenes 1-5 and Scenes 6-10).

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