Friend of God

Daily Reading for November 11 • Martin, Bishop of Tours, 397

Perhaps nowhere is the overlapping of popular enthusiasm and episcopal initiative better illustrated than at sixth-century Tours, episcopal see of the fourth-century miracle-working ascetic Martin (ca. 372-97). . . . By the time Gregory became bishop in 573, Tours was already well established as “the city of Martin.” The paintings near his tomb related Martin’s life and miracles. The inscriptions in his funerary church proclaimed both his journey through the stars and his abiding presence in the tomb. That tomb, as well as certain sites hallowed by events of Martin’s life, now drew pilgrims from across northern and central Gaul. Gregory himself had once come to Tours as just such a pilgrim. Now, as the city’s bishop, Gregory immersed himself in Martin’s cult. Episcopal routines and personal piety brought him frequently to Martin’s church outside the city walls. And almost immediately he began to compile his own dossier of Martin’s contemporary miracles, believing that careful documentation might allay any doubt about the wonders worked by the living Martin two hundred years before.

The four books of Gregory’s Miracles of the Bishop St. Martin now seem a remarkable portrait of the dilemmas and hopes of his age. Gregory began his second book with an account of his own recovery from near-fatal dysentery, cured by a drink of water laced with dust from Martin’s tomb when the wisdom of the doctors had run dry. Thereafter he would continue to record his recourse to the tomb for aid and comfort. But Gregory would seldom, if ever, have been alone there. The Miracles portray Martin’s church as the refuge of the afflicted. The sick, blind, and possessed crowd in upon the doorways and lie in the courtyard. They represent every level of society. Often they arrive in wagons or carried by friends and family. They stay for days; they return annually. They favor Martin’s feast days and other holy days. The fortunate are healed or cleansed, and some stay on to become monks or nuns. Many return home with relics, a bit of dust from the tomb or a candle. Some go away with a lesson learned about Sabbath purity or charity. But few apparently departed unawed by the power of Martin, the “friend of God” (Miracles 4.Preface.).

From Late Ancient Christianity, edited by Virginia Burrus, volume 2 in the series A People’s History of Christianity (Fortress Press, 2005).

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