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Catholic Activity: November 11: St. Martin of Tours


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The feast of St. Martin of Tours (also called "Martinmas") marks the time when new wines are tasted, cattle are butchered and geese are at their prime. This feast is usually celebrated with a roast goose in Europe.


The most common form of charity — and of hospitality — is to offer food; Saint Martin chose instead to give away his cloak. We most ordinarily think of him as the young soldier, cutting his cloak in two with his sword to give a part to the shivering beggar he met upon his way. We may think of him also when he became a Christian and a priest, proudly writing to his mother to beg her to become his first convert. She was the first of many he made, for he journeyed for many years about Gaul, preaching and baptizing, and throwing about all, and especially about the poor, his cloak of pity and love.

Martin became the bishop of Tours and there founded a monastery, dying in his see city, where his tomb has been a place of pious pilgrimage for over sixteen hundred years.

An interesting footnote to history is the story of what became of the other half of Martin's famous cloak. For many years it was carried into battle by the Frankish kings. We are told that it was then lost for a long time but eventually found again, and it is shown to visitors to Tours today, in a little chapel not far from the cathedral where rest Saint Martin's bones. And The Golden Legend tells us further that the place where Martin's cloak was kept was known as the place of the cloak, or cape (cappella); hence the origin of the modern word chapel.

Saint Martin is known as the patron of Saint Martin's summer, of swallows, and of winegrowers (and some say he is the protector of drunkards as well). His feast comes at that time in autumn when the new wines are tasted, when cattle are killed for the winter's food, and when geese are at their prime.

On the Continent the goose is the chief dish of the Martinmas feast, although, as we have seen, it was sacrificed in England earlier in the year, at Michaelmas. Even so there is an English adage that if you have roast goose for Martinmas, you must ask Saint Martin to dine with you or you won't get one next year. And to ask Saint Martin to dine means that you must share your goose with someone who has none, as Martin did his cloak.

In Germanic countries on Saint Martin's day, goose is eaten with sauerkraut. In Sweden the bird is stuffed with apples and prunes, though the fruit is usually discarded and is merely used to flavor the bird. The meal is begun with blood soup, made from the wings, neck, heart, liver, and blood of the goose and flavored with ginger, pepper, vinegar, sugar, and wine! Cinnamon Apples are the accompaniment for the Swedish goose.

The famous goose dish of France, made especially in Alsace, is Pâté de Foie Gras.

Activity Source: Feast Day Cookbook by Katherine Burton and Helmut Ripperger, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1951

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