Thursday, July 4, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we tell the story of the church’s “original” Martin: St. Martin of Tours.

It is the 4th of July 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Today is a civic holiday in the United States, also: my dog’s least favorite day of the year. You got this Pedro.

The 4th is also a significant day for one of the major saints in the Christian Church- staying with our little run of big names in Church History.

Today is not the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. That would be November 11th. That was the day that Martin Luther was baptized and thus Luther took the name of the saint. Martin of Tours being the great “original” Martin in the church- a saint of mega (and mythic) proportions.

Martin’s years are likely 316-397, so his youth was spent in the earliest years of the church under Constantine. He was born in modern day Hungary to pagan and noble parents and was expected to enter the military orders as did his father.

The stories of Martin’s early years are conveyed to us in texts that resemble more legend than history- but he had become a soldier but also a Christian- something that would have, until just recently, been seen by many as contradictory. There are stories told to either vindicate his role as a soldier or his redemption from the position. One story has him offering to go into battle on the front lines with nothing but a cross (or a sign of the cross or some such) but was instead released from the cavalry as a coward.

The event that he would be forever tied to occurred when he was in the Roman army- on his horse and wearing his red Roman tunic. He came across a beggar in the cold and tore his tunic in half, giving the beggar the other half.  

Later he had a dream in which Jesus was talking to group of people and asking why they did not help him when he asked, he then pulled out the other half of the torn roman tunic and praised Martin as the only one who offered him anything- and he noted that Martin had not even been baptized!  

It was custom in the early church amongst some to delay your baptism as long as possible- such that it might wash away that maximum number of sins. Convicted by this, he was baptized and went to study for the ministry with Hilary of Poitiers. He would serve as a missionary and would oppose the Arians, who would eventually pester him to retire to private life, where he gave a model of early monasticism to the French. He was a nobleman, a Roman soldier, a Christian convert, and a monk- with this pedigree, he was elected and consecrated on this, the 4th of July in 371, said to be against his will, as the Bishop of Tours (from whence he would get his name for posterity).

As a Bishop, he was known for his missionary zeal (so much so that some erroneously believed him to be the uncle of St. Patrick). He settled his church territory in the manner of the Roman army with distinct units within larger structures—this would become the parish system that would be the norm for the majority of the church throughout time (that is, you were assigned to the closest smaller church near where you lived).

In foreign missions, he relied on making native converts and using them to influence the larger groups- not relying on force or threats of force.  

He was so popular he would be one of the earliest Christians to be granted sainthood without being a martyr (obviously, after Constantine, this became the norm), which points to his massive popularity. Another attestation to this was the popular belief that he kept that half-tunic in a small church next to his main church.  A small, or half, tunic was called a “cappella,” which gives us the word “chapel”: a small church near a bigger church,  with or without a miraculous half-tunic.

On account of his administration and mission work, for his care for the poor, his service to monasteries is the patron saint of:

  • France
  • The poor
  • Tailors (think about it)
  • Conscientious objectors AND soldiers
  • French monks and monasteries
  • And numerous locations-

An early saint—and so beloved that he became so without being a martyr—his holy life and care for the poor, as exhibited in the story about the tunic, have made him a beloved and ancient saint—St Martin of Tours, consecrated Bishop of Tours on this day in 371. 


The last word for today is from Mark 9:

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. 


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of July 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, the patron saint of coffee-roasting Lutheran pastors and fathers of more kids than make a starting side in baseball.

The show is written and read by a man who celebrated two days ago with John Adams- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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