November 11 is more than “just” Armistice Day and Veterans’ Day. It is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, one of those rather unlikely figures in Christian history. He was born in the fringe of the Roman Empire between AD 315 and 340 CE (accounts vary). He began a career as a soldier in Pannonia (modern Hungary or Slovakia) because the laws of the Empire required sons to take up the occupation of their fathers, and Martin’s father was a cavalryman. His career took him westward, crossing the Roman Empire to Gaul. Iconography shows him on horseback, dividing his uniform cloak and giving half to a poor beggar, an event that is believed to have happened near modern Amiens, in Gaul. Martin later refused to fight (battle near modern Worms, Germany) and offered to go into the fight unarmed to prove his sincerity. For these reasons, and a few others, he is a patron of soldiers and of conscientious objectors. And then there’s the geese.
What, you’ve never heard of eating Martinmas goose? Martin wound up in Gaul again, after returning to Hungary and converting several family members as well as others, and (traditionally) establishing a chapel on St. Martin’s Mount, now Pannonhalma Monastery (OSB). He went to Tour, Gaul, and tried to convince heretics to come back to the true faith. The bishop of Tour died, and the popular choice was Martin. He really did not feel the same call that the congregation did, and he hid. All went well, until a flock of geese began to gabble and call, alerting the faithful to the location of the reluctant bishop-to-be. And so sometimes St. Martin is shown with a goose, sort of like St. Anthony the Hermit and his pig.
In truth, Martinmas marked the day when debts and rents were paid, the school term began in England at Oxford, and people started to slaughter excess livestock.
So to end the First World War on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month had a religious resonance as well, although one suspects that symbolism was not as important as ending combat.
Thus it is doubly fitting on November 11 to commemorate the end of the Great War and to honor all who have served in the military, including those who would not carry arms but still answered the call to aid their comrades and serve their countries.
Thank you Dad, Uncle Phil, Grandpa Carl, Uncle Walter, JY, Jim, Mr. R., Mr. K., Miss R., Doc, Doc W, Courtney K, and all those who have served.