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#76 Thoughts about San Martino and the blessings he brings
In Sicily, November is a beautiful time of the year; the garden and the plate are slowly transforming as tomatoes and aubergines are replaced with mushrooms and pumpkins.
As the vegetable garden prepares for winter greens the planting of fennel, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, peas, broad beans, spinach and other leafy greens. We welcome the persimmons and pomegranate together with our friends, the walnut and chestnut.
Then comes the celebration of Saint Martin on 11th Nov, which often gives us the unofficial miracle of the summer of San Martino, a brief reprieve from the once harsh European winters. These days, thanks to climate change, early November is barely autumn, let alone a freezing winter.
Over the past decade, his time of year seems to be associated more with flooding, landslides and torrential rain, especially in Northern Italy. Here in Sicily, it feels like we are almost on another planet, not on the other side of a peninsula in the same country, just across the strait.
Yet the dedication to San Martino results in hundreds of San Martino parties throughout Sicily to celebrate the new wine. After all they do say: 'a San Martino ogni mosto diventa vino' (for Saint Martian every grape juice becomes wine) so there are many Sagra food festivals dedicated to wine and other seasonal products but the focus is on this year's new wine.
Undoubtedly, the dedication to the vino novello is more appealing than any religious element of the celebration.
Yet San Martino is still one of the most popular Saints in the religious calendar of the Church. Martin was a conscientious objector who wanted to be a monastic brother. This religious recluse was manoeuvred into being a bishop, a bishop who fought paganism, as well as pleaded for mercy to heretics. St Martin of Tours was one of the first saints of the early Catholic Church, during the Roman Empire, not to become a martyr.
The French Saint Martin was the third bishop of Tours and is one of Western tradition's most familiar and recognisable Christian saints. The most famous story from the Saint's life is when Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army stationed in Gaul (modern-day France).
As the young Martin, who was forced into military service, was approaching the gates of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. Martin cut his military cloak in half to help clothe the man.
That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe."
In another version of the famous story, Martin woke to find his cloak restored to its original state. The dream confirmed Martin's mission in life. He was baptised at the age of 18 and then became a religious minister.
Of pagan parentage, Martin chose Christianity at age 10. As a youth, he was drafted into the Roman army. Later, he petitioned the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate to be released from the military, stating: "I am Christ's soldier: I am not allowed to fight." When charged with cowardice, he is said to have offered to stand in front of the battle line armed only with the crucifix. He was imprisoned but was soon discharged.
On leaving the Roman army, Martin settled at Poitiers under the guidance of Bishop Hilary. He became a missionary in the provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum (now in the Balkan Peninsula), where he opposed Arianism, a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. Forced out of Illyricum by the Arians, Martin went to Italy, first to Milan and then to the island of Gallinaria, off Albenga.
In 360, he rejoined Bishop Hilary at Poitiers. Martin then founded a community of hermits at Ligugé, the first monastery in Gaul. In 371, he was made bishop of Tours, and outside that city, he founded another monastery, Marmoutier, to which he withdrew whenever possible.
As bishop, Martin made Marmoutier a great monastic complex to which European ascetics were attracted and from which apostles spread Christianity throughout Gaul. He was an active missionary in Touraine and in the country districts where Christianity was barely known.
In 384, he took part in a conflict at the imperial court in Trier, France, to which the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus had summoned Bishop Priscillian of Ávila, Spain, and his followers. Although Martin opposed Priscillianism, a heretical doctrine renouncing all pleasures, he protested to Maximus against the killing of heretics and civil interference in ecclesiastical matters.
Priscillian was nevertheless executed, and Martin's continued involvement with the case caused him to fall into disfavour with the Spanish bishops. During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first non-martyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.
St Martin's shrine in Tours became a famous stopping point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. His cult was revived in the French nationalism of the Franco-Prussian war of the late nineteenth century, and as a consequence, he became the patron saint of France.
In Sicily, San Martino gives us his 'summer' of Saint Martin in a blessed week of fine weather and sunshine before winter sets in. This month is a perfect moment to taste the year's new wine and drink a toast to the patron saint of soldiers, conscientious objectors, tailors and vintners. The feast of Saint Martin features heavily in the events calendar of Sicily this month.
In his modern masterpiece of literature, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa sumptuously described the sensual nature of the estate di San Martino. In probably my favourite passages to capture the poetic essence of this beautifully golden and sparkling time of year in Sicily, we have San Martino to thank for this blessing.
The passage comes after celebrating the engagement of Don Fabrizio's nephew Tancredi in The Leopard when the old Prince is filled with a new hope for his nephew to revive his tired and fading family line.
After … came the resplendent St. Martin's summer, which is the real season of pleasure in Sicily: weather luminous and blue, oasis of mildness in the harsh progression of the seasons, unveiling and leading on the senses with its sweetness, luring to secret nudities by its warmth.
I am sending you many blessings for the season of San Martino.
Together with your favourite type of grape juice, alcoholic or not.
Cheers from your friend.
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