By Samantha Hughes-Johnson

The 11th November marks the Western feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, whose life was chronicled during the 13th Century by the Dominican Archbishop of Genoa, Jacobus de Voragine.

It is considered that Voragine completed his collection of hagiographies, entitled Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend) in around 1260 and an Umbrian edition, dated to approximately 1290, is located at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence. 

In the section dedicated to the life of Saint Martin of Tours, Voragine reveals the following information.

“Martin was born in the castle of Sabaria in the country of Pannonia, but he was nourished in Italy at Pavia with his father, which was master and tribune of the knights under Constantian and Julian Cæsar. And Martin rode with him, but not with his will. For from his young infancy he was inspired divinely of God, and when he was twelve years old he fled to the church against the will of all his kin, and required to be made new in the faith. And from thence he would have entered into desert, if infirmity of malady had not let him. And as the emperors had ordained that the sons of ancient knights should ride instead of their fathers, and Martin, which was fifteen years old, was commanded to do the same, and was made knight, and was content with one servant, and yet ofttimes Martin would serve him and draw off his boots.In a winter time as Martin passed by the gate of Amiens, he met a poor man all naked, to whom no man gave any alms. Then Martin drew out his sword and carved his mantle therewith in two pieces in the middle, and gave that one half to the poor man, for he had nothing else to give to him, and he clad himself with that other half. The next night following, he saw our Lord Jesu Christ in heaven clothed with that part that he had given to the poor man, and said to the angels that were about him: Martin, yet new in the faith, hath covered me with this vesture. Of which thing this holy man was not enhanced in vain glory, but he knew thereby the bounty of God. And when he was eighteen years of age he did do baptize himself, and promised that he should renounce the dignity to be judge of the knights, and also the world, if his time of his provostry were accomplished.”

Accordingly, numerous visual representations of Saint Martin are informed by Voragine’s medieval text. 

References: Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, Vol.6. Ed. F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, J. M. Dent and Sons, London, 1900. 

Images: Carlo and Vittore Crivelli, Detail from the Polyptych of Monte San Martino, 1477-1480, tempera and gold on panel, San Martino Vescovo, Monte San Martino. Wikimedia Commons.

Legenda Aurea Manuscript, c.1290, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence. Wikimedia Commons.

Simone Martini, Saint Martin Dividing his Cloak, 1320-25, fresco, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Wikimedia Commons.

Simone Martini, The Dream of Saint Martin, 1320-25, fresco, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi. Wikimedia Commons.

Giovanni Rustici, The Church of San Martino and Saint Martin Dividing his Cloak forthe Beggar, c.1450, Codex Rustici, fol. 25v. Seminario Maggiore Arcivescovile, Florence. Author’s image.

The workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, Saint Martin Dividing his Cloak for the Beggar, 1486-1490, fresco, Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, Florence. Gifted to the author © Antonio Quattrone.

Lorenzo di Credi, The Dream of Saint Martin, 1486-1490, fresco, Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, Florence. Gifted to the author © Antonio Quattrone.

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