Thursday, 13 January 2011

Pilgrimage trails

Our church in Charnizay sports a couple of informative plaques to the left of the door. The older,  of marble, informs us in lovely gilt lettering, about Charles de Menou, Sieur de Charnizay who went to Acadie (French area of settlement in Canada in the 17th cent). Then there's a much more modern perspex plaque which gives information about St Martin of Tours and has a picture of the ceremonial banner dedicated to the saint which is housed in the church.

info on Le Chemin de l'Eveque de Tours
To the right of the doorway is a pewter coloured badge--very much in the style of medieval pilgrimage badges which were made of lead. It depicts a footprint overlaid with a bishop's mitre.

The plaque explains that Charnizay's church is on a way called 'Le Chemin de l'Eveque de Tours' (a 'randonee culturel' or cultural walking route) which runs from Poitiers to Tours. There are 3 of these ways set up by 'Centre Culturel Europeen St Martin de Tours' [great website in French; has good pdf file maps of the 3 different routes] as a way of promoting cultural tourism allowing walkers, tourists and pilgrims to (re)-discover the heritage of St Martin. Le Chemin de l'Eveque de Tours sets out a route which mirrors the journey St Martin took from Poitiers to Tours when he went to take up the bishopric. The next 'stop' after Charnizay is Betz-le-Chateau.

St Martin of Tours was a very popular saint in the Middle Ages. The son of a Roman solider he lived from c.316 - 397, and was born in what is now Humgary. He is easily recognisible in art as he is most often depicted giving half his cloak to a poor begger. This event took place in Amiens and soon after he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers and was baptised a Christian. He became a solitary monk at Liguge and here disciples joined him creating the first monastery in Gaul. In 372 he became Bishop of Tours. The story goes that he had refused the bishopric of Poitiers and was 'persuaded' by the acclamation of clergy and people to finally accept the bishopric at Tours.
St Martin
He became famous for his visitations of the outlying rural areas of Touraine converting them to christianity and for founding monasteries including the one at Marmoutier. During his 25yrs as a bishop he also gained a reputation for working wonders in healing lepers. He died at Candes and was buried in Tours on the 11th November--his feast day.

His reputation as a miracle worker and the fact that his close friend Serverus wrote a very popular Life ensured his popularity. The Life of St Martin of Tours was the medieval equivalent of a best seller and served as a model to others who wrote Lives of saints. In France there are over 4,000 parish churches dedicated to him.

There are good representations of the life of St Martin in the stained glass at the cathedrals of  Tours, Chartres, Beauvais and Bourges. The most complete cycle in stained glass in the UK is in St Martin's church, York; which we know well.

In the UK his feast day (although now synonomous with Remembrance Day) was the usual time for hiring servants and killing cattle for salting during winter. St Martin's Summer is a spell of fine weather which sometimes occurs round his feast.

Image of St Martin: patron saints index image gallery  

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