I’m sorry about the gaps in posting — and I have so much backed up it’s crazy. But no worries. I am devoted to my task of showing you everything (or at least every church) I see on my exciting travels. It’ll get done eventually!
Yesterday, Nov 11th, was not only Armistice Day, but also St Martin’s Day, or Martinstag. (Or Martinmas, if you are from the UK and/or read lots of historical fiction as a kid.) Go ahead and read about it on Wikipedia!
I like St Martin. He’s an accessible and lovable character and one of my favorites. I read about him a lot. But for practical purposes, here is what you need to know:
1. One time Martin was going down the road on his horse and he met a beggar, who was cold. He ripped his cloak in half and gave one piece to the beggar. Later he had a vision where the beggar was Christ.
2. He (like every other late antique/early medieval saint) really didn’t want to be made a bishop (because he was humble, and because of all the paperwork). But he (like every other late antique/early medieval bishop-saint) was tricked and/or hounded into it by the people of his diocese. He tried to hide in a pen full of geese, but the geese squawked, so the people (who were looking for him with torches) found him.
3. He cut down a pagan holy tree in the middle of the woods in a big dramatic showdown. (As written in his “Life” by Sulpicius Severus. His “Life” was widely read all over medieval Christendom, and you get lots of imitations of the tree-cutting in later saint’s “Lives”– like St Boniface, for instance.)
The first two stories are incorporated into the modern celebration of Martinstag in Germany, which really started to be celebrated in this way in the 16th century (many of our “immemorial” folk traditions really came into being around this time — like Christmas trees, etc.) (But you can read about medieval Martinstag.) So on Martinstag the traditional thing is to have goose for dinner (I did not) and to have a Martinspiel (like a Nativity play, but with Martin) and then walk around with lanterns and torches (this is called a Martinszug), singing Martinslieder (Martin songs) and end with a big Martinsfeuer (bonfire). There are also Martinsmänner, bread-cookie things, but I don’t know how they came about!
Martinstag is also an important part of the liturgical calendar and the cycle of the seasons. It’s one of the autumn/harvest holidays, and also marked the beginning of the pre-Christmas fasting season, or Advent (which used to also be 40 days).
St Martin is one of the most significant saints of the early middle ages; he was born in 316 (in modern day Hungary) and was a Roman soldier before becoming a Christian, a monk, and a bishop of Tours (in that order). He gained popularity across nearly all of Western Europe for two main reasons — his biographer, Sulpicius Severus, and Clovis. Sulpicius emphasized Martin’s dual role as an ascetic monk and an active bishop. In that part of the West at the time, bishops had taken on many of the civil roles that fell onto the local elite after the “fall” of the Roman Empire. So for example, because the bishop was such an important guy in the city that after the old infrastructure (of tax and bureaucracy) broke down, he became responsible for maintaining the city wall or the streets, or for running a court of law, and so on. The local elites wanted to keep this job in the family, so many bishops of the time were from aristocratic families and basically did administrative work. But there were still others who had a true spiritual calling and were unsatisfied with this state of affairs, so Martin’s example (as a monk who lived in poverty and prayer and yet still managed to be a powerful leader and a very emphatic defender of orthodoxy) was very appealing.
But still more important was that guy, Clovis. Clovis was a Frank (Franks aren’t the “origins” of the French, but their name carried over – they were a Germanic tribe that started off up in the Netherlands) who converted around the year 500 (long story) and who conquered a huge amount of land in Gaul (France and part of Germany) during the 6th century. For some reason, when he was establishing his rule, he chose Martin as his official patron, and from then on Martin was very closely associated with the royal family and court. (Just want to clarify that by this time Martin was already dead.) That famous half of Martin’s cloak was kept as a relic in Marmoutier (Martin’s monastery) and was carried around with the king wherever he went, especially into battle. The special priests who kept the cloak (cappa Sancti Martini) were called cappellani, which is the origin of our words chaplain and chapel. Yes, for real! Our chapels are all named that because of St Martin and Clovis. Isn’t it awesome. (You can read more about the devotion to St Martin and his cappa on Wiki — it’s fascinating.)
Anyway. On to the kids and the fun stuff.
On Friday night, the actual day, I went with N., Amelie, and Felix to a little celebration in the back of St Martin’s. (The church down the street. Now this is getting confusing.)
All the little neighbor kids went, too. Here are their lanterns ready to go!
Somewhere inside the parish hall here, there was apparently a lady singing songs and there was a reenactment of the Martin’s cloak event starring children. We couldn’t see or hear ANYTHING, because of the crowd, and because their microphone didn’t work. But Amelie pushed way up to the front (of course) and I guess she saw some of it!
Then we walked around the neighborhood in a big line with our lanterns, symbolically looking for St Martin (or maybe I’m just making that up based on the searching-with-lights thing in the story – it could be linked to something else), and singing these children’s songs that I wanted to like but actually found kind of annoying. Turns out kid songs are way less fun when you don’t know the words and never sang them in your own childhood. The three main ones are “Ich gehe mit meine Laterne,” “Laterne, Laterne,” and “Sankt Martin,” which is the best of the three.
Then we came back and TRIED to have a fire, but the two teenage guys (whom I also recognized as altar boys at St Martin’s) couldn’t get it going because they started it wrong. They put in logs with the bark still on, I guess because they were smaller, instead of using the chopped stuff that would have started easier. Not a single fire-starting man stepped forward to help them (and neither did I), so we just stood there for a good ten minutes while they poured more lighter fluid on the wood and watched it dribble down to nothing again. I was ANNOYED, if you couldn’t tell, because I love a good big fire!
But it got BETTER because there were MARTINSMÄNNER, which were really good and basically donuts!
Then Saturday evening (tonight) I took a walk down to Schloss Blutenburg, where there was a Martinimarkt (kind of the first of the Christmas markets) and a bigger Martinstag celebration with a Martinspiel and REAL HORSES!!! This is a big attraction for families with little kids, and, of course, me.
First to the castle itself, where they were having the most expensive antique and art sale I’ve ever been to in my life.
The German word for art, by the way, is “Kunst.” It is just one of those classic, could not sound any less appealing or anything less like the thing that it describes, German words.
I had to pay a 3€ entry fee for this antique sale. I don’t really know why I did. But, I did, and so you can have a look at some of the pretty things I saw.
Lots of different table settings and cups and dishes and things. You can’t even see it all, it is so shiny! In the back I found them selling pages ripped out of an old book (a horrible amateur collector practice), and one was this book in Latin, I think an ecclesiastical history of the 14th century or something, with beautiful woodcuts. I thought of getting one until I saw that they wanted like 90-160€ per page! These were paper, not parchment, and off a printing press, so they couldn’t have been THAT old. I don’t collect that stuff (well, more like, in the US we don’t have them at local antique sales) so I don’t know how something like that runs, but wow.
Then I went over the Martinimarkt, which was more my style…
There were quite a few booths, all with their handmade crafts and things.
I was there just long enough to resist buying anything when they announced the Martinspiel was going to start. Everybody was lined up on the path outside, and I was lucky enough to find myself at the front…
First they sang songs, with a live brass band no less, and the guy playing the beggar got into position while on the other side of the bridge they lined up the horses…
I took a few video clips… just because I can.
Everyone singing “Sankt Martin.”
Then the storyteller began (SHE at least was properly miked) and I took a video again as a rich young man swept by the beggar without helping him…
But thankfully St Martin showed up in his Roman soldier’s outfit (as a woman — what, there weren’t any men who could ride a horse??) and gave the beggar the half of his cloak, and then rode on. As soon as Martin left the whole crowd got in a line to follow him and SOME OF THE GROWN UPS HAD TORCHES!! (P.S. If you want to see a seriously well-produced Martinszug, look at these pictures from Freising!)
Well, I didn’t have a lantern (OR A TORCH), and I was kind of burned out on the walking-around-in-the-cold from last night, so I didn’t follow.
But it was a really fun evening… I walked home from Blutenburg but stopped at St Martin’s for the Vigil Mass (since I’m going to Salzburg tomorrow…)
It was beautifully decorated with flowers and things because its patron’s day is St Martin’s (duh).
Just me and the old people! What else is new. 🙂
I read that even the Protestant parts of Germany continued to celebrate Martinstag after the Reformation, partly because it was close to Reformation Day (which also happens on Oct 31st) and partly because Martin Luther’s baptismal name was Martin, because he was baptized on Nov 11, St Martin’s Day.
In closing, you might be thinking to yourself, This holiday is awesome! Why don’t we do it in America? Well, it’s partly because it’s a Catholic holiday, and nearly all of the old Christian holidays were deliberately discarded by various nonconformists/non-Anglicans who came to the US. (Even Christmas got the boot for a while.) But All Saints is Catholic and it got imported from Ireland and became Halloween. (Sort of.) And it was celebrated in some capacity (I’m not sure if it was done in this way) by Protestant Germans. And as with the Irish, there was heavy German immigration to parts of the US. So why not St Martin’s Day? I don’t know. But it is sad. I really like it.