St. Martin was born in the Roman city of Savaria, present day Szombathely, the oldest city in Hungary, in 316 during the reign of Emperor Constantine. His father was a Roman military official. Martin accompanied his father to Pavia Italy and was enrolled in the Roman army as per the law of the time. He was touched by grace at an early age and was attracted to Christianity, which was in favor at the time since the conversion of Constantine. His regiment was sent to Amiens in Gaul (present day France) where the legend of Martin’s cloak took place. Tradition has it that Martin came across a shivering and half-naked beggar at the city gates one very cold day. Having no money, Martin cut his cloak in two and gave half to the poor man. (The part kept for himself became the famous relic preserved in the oratory of the Frankish kings under the name of “St. Martin’s cloak”.) That night Martin saw our Lord clothed in the half cloak and heard him say to the angels, “Martin, yet a catechumen, hath wrapped me in his garment”. This prompted Martin to be baptized and leave the army. With the help of St. Hilary, Martin founded the first monastery in France near Poitiers. He is famous for his apostolic journeys in central and western Gaul where he preached the Gospel to the rural inhabitants and for his fierce opposition to the Arian heretics of the day. Martin was later lured from his monastic refuge to become the Bishop of Tours in central France, yet maintained his monastic way of life outside the city. He died in 397 at the age of 81.
Martin is considered one of the greatest Saints of the Church of France. His body was enclosed in a stone sarcophagus in a simple chapel in Tours, later to become a basilica in 470 that was subsequently enlarged in 1014 and 1230. Unfortunately the basilica was sacked and destroyed by Protestants in 1562 and again much later in 1793 during the French revolution. The church was again rebuilt in 1860.