St. Martin’s Church in Bladon – A Church Dedicated to St. Martin of Tours:
Our visit to Churchill’s burial place brings us to St. Martin’s Church in Bladon, on the edge of Blenheim Estate in Oxfordshire. This Anglican church is best known as the burial place of the Churchill family, but it is also interesting that the church is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours.
There has been much written about St. Martin and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints. St. Martin was born in Hungary, the son of an officer in the Roman army. As a child he became a Christian and ran away from home to a monastery. His father however insisted that the boy become a soldier.
Martin served in the imperial cavalry in France. One cold winter day in Amiens he came upon a beggar clad in only a few rags. Martin took off his cloak and cut the garment into two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. That night, Christ appeared to him in a vision saying, “What thou has done for that poor man, thou has done for me”. Martin then became determined to devote his life to religion and asked to be released from military service.
The emperor accused Martin of being afraid of facing the enemy. Martin declared that he would gladly meet the enemy armed only with the Cross. Before his courage could be put to the test, the enemy sought peace. It was believed that St. Martin’s faith in God had brought about this surrender and he was allowed to retire from the army.
Betrayed by Cackling Geese
St. Martin then sought to lead a life of seclusion and prayer. However, in his absence he was appointed the Bishop of Tours. Anxious to continue his life of religious solitude, he hid from the emissaries who had come to take him to Tours. According to legend, his hiding place was disclosed by the cackling of geese.
Martin remained Bishop of Tours for some thirty years. Whilst Bishop he continued to live as a monk and also founded other monasteries and was very active in the conversion of rural areas. He is credited with having destroyed heathen temples and healing lepers and even raising a dead man to life.
In art, the most popular depiction of St. Martin is that of a soldier dividing his cloak to clothe a beggar. His emblems are either a globe of fire over the head seen whilst he is saying Mass – or a goose. His ordination and translation are celebrated on the 4th of July.
To this day, on St. Martin’s Day on the 11th of November, goose is eaten in Austria (along with dumplings and red cabbage) to remember his betrayal by the geese! St. Martin’s Day is also celebrated in some parts of the Netherlands, a small part of Belgium (mainly in the east of Flanders and around Ypres), and most areas of Germany. Children go through the streets with paper lanterns and candles, and sing songs about Saint Martin. Sometimes, a man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession (though not in the Netherlands).
St. Martin’s shrine also became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.