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E00692: The Life of *Martin (ascetic and bishop of Tours, ob. 397, S00050) is written in Latin by Sulpicius Severus in Primulacum (south west Gaul), c. 395 AD, before Martin's death. It presents him as an ideal monk, bishop, and miracle-worker. Overview entry.

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posted on 2015-09-03, 00:00 authored by robert
Sulpicius Severus, Life of Martin


The Life of Martin is dedicated to a certain Desiderius, named in a dedicatory letter. In the prologue Sulpicius Severus presents his aim as describing the life of a most saintly man (sanctisimus vir) in order provide an example of Christian life to others (ch. 1).

Martin, the son of a soldier, is born in Sabaria (Pannonia, modern Hungary). In his childhood he longs for a monastic life, but has to enrol in the army. Yet he lives like a monk rather than a soldier (ch. 2). He shares his pay and goods with the poor and has a vision of Christ, clad in the cloak that Martin had cut in two in order to clothe a beggar (ch. 3). He refuses to fight in a battle against barbarians in Gaul, says so to the emperor Julian, and leaves the army (ch. 4). Hilary of Poitiers ordains him an exorcist (he refused to accept a higher clerical rank). Martin travels back to Pannonia, to convert his parents, and also converts brigands whom he met in the Alps (ch. 5). He confronts the devil close to Milan, and shortly afterwards fights against Arians. When forced to withdraw from the city, he lives as a hermit, first close to Milan, then on the island of Gallinaria (Liguria).

Martin founds a monastic community in Ligugé, near Poitiers, where he performs his first miracles. He raises a novice and a suicide from the dead (ch. 7-8; see $E00791). He is chosen as bishop of Tours (ch. 9), founds a new monastic community in Marmoutier close to Tours, and continues to live as a monk during his episcopate (ch. 10). He discovers that a man venerated as a martyr close to Tours was actually a brigand (ch. 11; see E00100). As a bishop he systematically destroys pagan shrines in the countryside, shows his power over elements, and so converts rural pagan populations (ch. 12-15). He heals the sick and demoniacs by prayer and administering oil (ch. 16) or touch (chs. 17-19). He heals a leper by kissing him; threads from his clothes heal the sick (ch. 18). Even a letter sent by Martin has healing power, and he is able also to cure the eyesight of Paulinus [of Nola] (ch. 19). He interrogates demoniacs in order to check whether gossip spread by evil spirits is true (ch. 18). Martin himself is healed by an angel (ch. 19). When meeting the emperor, Martin, unlike other bishops, keeps apostolic dignity (ch. 20). He fights against Satan who either tries to scare him by killing other people (ch. 21) or deceive him and other Christians by appearing to them in the form of pagan gods (ch. 22), angels (ch. 23), or Christ (24). Sulpicius Severus mentions his meeting with Martin (ch. 25) and emphasises his virtues which were all the greater as Martin was often despised and even persecuted by other Christians, including bishops (ch. 27)

Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Martin, bishop of Tours (Gaul), ob. 397 : S00050

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Lives of saint


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Primuliacum Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Sulpicius Severus

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracles causing conversion Power over life and death Healing diseases and disabilities Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Exorcism Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Miracles experienced by the saint

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Heretics Monarchs and their family Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Foreigners (including Barbarians) Soldiers Peasants The socially marginal (beggars, prostitutes, thieves)


Unlike other lives of saints, the Life of Martin was written before its protagonist's death (Martin died in 397 AD). Its author, Sulpicius Severus, was an aristocrat and friend of Paulinus of Nola, like him converted to the ascetic life under Martin's influence. He founded a monastic community on his estate of Primuliacum in Aquitania. The Life of Martin, as well as three Letters and Dialogues written after Martin's death, present him as a perfect monk, bishop and miracle-worker. Sulpicius Severus argues that there is no contradiction between being a good bishop and a monk, and even that only a monk makes a good bishop. This was a novel and controversial idea, since the Gallic episcopacy was generally reluctant to accept ascetic monasticism.


Edition, French translation and commentary: Fontaine, J., Sulpice Sévère, Vie de saint Martin. 3 vols (Sources Chrétiennes 133-135; Paris: Cerf, 1967-69). Further reading: Stancliffe, C., Saint Martin and his Hagiographer: Miracle and History in Sulpicius Severus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983). Vogüé, A. de, Histoire littéraire du mouvement monastique dans l'antiquité. Vol. 4 (Paris: Cerf, 1997), 19-91.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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