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Moissac-St-MartinMartin of Tours was the first Confessor Saint. Tours was a royal Frankish city and the Merovingian kings kept Saint Martin’s legendary cloak as a sacred relic and carried it with them into battle.

Martin, a fourth century soldier in the Roman Imperial Guard had met a naked beggar outside the gates of the town of Amiens. Taking pity on the man, he divided his cloak in two with a sword stroke and offered one half to the beggar. In a dream that night  Martin had a vision of Christ who identified himself as the beggar.

Converted to Christianity, Martin became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers. He spent time as a hermit on the island of Gallinaria off the Ligurian coast before taking a highly active role in evangelising Gaul and establishing the first monastic community there. He was elected bishop of Tours.

Martin’s reputation as a thaumaturge or miracle worker and exorcist was so established during his lifetime that despite having died a natural death in 397, he was declared a saint, a status until then, uniquely reserved for martyrs.

The Pilgrim’s Guide declares: “He is the magnificent one who has resuscitated three dead, and further that he rendered much-desired health to the leprous, the St-Hilaire-fresco-swordpossessed, the insane, the lunatics, the demoniacs, as well as to others who were sick and ill”.

Gregory of Tours reports that the dust from the area surrounding Saint Martin’s tomb could be mixed with water to provide curative benefits and the reputation for the relics to produce miracles meant that during the middle ages the shrine was a celebrated pilgrimage destination.

Already within sixty years of Martin’s death a new and larger church was required to be built over his tomb in order to accommodate the large crowds of pilgrims who came.


Behind the shrine was an atrium where pilgrims could remain for considerable periods in order to pray in proximity to the relics.

Saint Martin’s shrine at Tours was a pilgrimage centre of the first order and pilgrims of the twelfth century would have venerated his relics in the massive Romanesque abbey church there. It was built on the same model as the other great pilgrimage churches of the time, Saint Martial of Limoges, Saint Sernin at Toulouse and Santiago de Compostela.

As the Guide describes, above his tomb, “An immense and venerable basilica has been erected in his honour, similar to the Church of the Blessed James”. The great church was destroyed during the French Revolution, however the two remaining towers still give an indication of its vast size.

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Road of Tours took its name from the shrine of Saint Martin of that city. This route afforded its travellers the opportunity to visit the great shrines of […]

  2. […] The mighty Saracen force advanced north from Bordeaux towards Poitiers. There they plundered the basilica of the patron of the city, Saint Hilaire. The army moved on towards Tours the greatest Frankish city and the shrine of their most venerated guardian, Saint Martin. […]

  3. […] Tagged Bordeaux, Eutrope, Euvert, John the Baptist, Pilgrimage, Poitiers, Radegonde, Roland, Saint Denis, Saint Martin, Saintes, Santiago de Compostela, Tours This route would have drawn pilgrims from Paris and the shrine of Saint Denis along the valley of the river Loire past Orléans and the relics of Saint Euvert towards the great pilgrimage abbey of Tours and the tomb of one of the most celebrated saints of the medieval world – Saint Martin. […]

  4. […] Its church was one of the five great pilgrimage churches built to the same plan which included Saint Martin of Tours, Sainte Foy of Conques, Saint Sernin of Toulouse and Santiago de Compostela itself. All these […]

  5. […] relics. Beginning with Euvertius at Orleans, the pilgrim was exhorted to pass via the shrines of Martin at Tours, Hilarius at Poitiers and that of the head of John the Baptist at Angely. At Saintes the tomb of […]

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