His goose was cooked!

Source of photo: The Irish Times

ST MARTIN’S Goose was cooked!

St. Martin is honoured today (November 11th).

Born in about 315, he was a native of Pannonia in Hungary and he began to follow the Christian faith at the age of 10. For 25 years or so he served in Roman army as his father had done before him. He was stationed in Milan and Germany. In Worms he struggled with the clash between his occupation as a soldier and his faith. He refused to fight and was imprisoned for a time. When the enemy surrendered he was released from the army.

It was around this time that probably the most famous story about him took place.

 Riding into Amiens he came across a poor beggar who was almost naked, and he cut his soldier’s cloak in half in order to clothe the man. The following night he had a dream in which he saw Christ himself wrapped in half of a soldier’s cloak and saying, “Martin, a mere catechumen, covered me with his garment.”

After Baptism he spent time in Milan and then settled in Poitiers where he was influenced by St. Hilary. He then became a hermit for a time as he dedicated his life to God. He then set up a religious community in Legugé and from there moved to Tours.

He lived through a turbulent time for the Church as it overcame a number of heresies and wrestled with the most important struggle ever of the Christian Church – whether Jesus was both truly divine and truly human. It was a period when the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official Religion of the Empire. Various Councils of the Church followed and, in Martin’s lifetime that,at Nicea in 325 led to a Creed  affirming our Lord’s divinity and humanity – true God and true Man.  This was strengthened at the Council of Constantinople in 381AD.  (The final Council on this subject was in 451AD at Chalcedon after Martin’s death)

His holiness became known and the Christians at Tours in France elected him to be their new bishop. When they went to find him he had fled into hiding because he did not believe he had the qualities and gifts to be their bishop. However, one might say that, his goose was cooked, when a gaggle of geese honked so loudly that they drew attention to his hiding place!
Despite his own reservations. he became Bishop of Tours and served his Lord and the people with humility and devotion. He was especially concerned for the poor.

The Geese however were not forgotten and legends grew up about them.

Amongst several customs and practices which became associated with St. Martin’s Day the cooking and eating of a goose was, and, in many parts of Europe, still is, part of the celebration of a Saint who gave his name to a season – Martinmass. This was accompanied by Fairs, street celebrations with lighted lanterns, and the cooking of geese and sometimes ducks.Amongst several customs and practices which became associated with St. Martin’s Day the cooking and eating of a goose was, and, in many parts of Europe, still is, part of the celebration of a Saint who gave his name to a season – Martinmass. This was accompanied by Fairs, street celebrations with lighted lanterns, and the cooking of geese and sometimes ducks. It’s popularity as a season is also bound up with the final ending of the Harvest when animals were slaughtered and salted for the dark winter months ahead. In religious observance it was linked with Advent to signal a period of preparation for Christmas. So the festivities at St Martin’s tide were especially observed. A Martinmass Fair in Nottingham used to last for 8 days. It’s popularity as a season is also bound up with the final ending of the Harvest when animals were slaughtered and salted for the dark winter months ahead. In religious observance it was linked with Advent to signal a period of preparation for Christmas. So the festivities at St Martin’s tide were especially observed.

Today the feast in the UK is associated with Remembrance, being linked with the signing of the World War 1 Armistice on St Martin’s Day in 1918. It is therefore a more solemn day.

However, it is still kept in Hungary, Germany and Scandinavia, especially southern Sweden. In Britain there are a few Lantern Walks in Scotland and Wales.

Of course, there is always the Goose! There are many delicious recipes linked to this fest. In Germany, for example it is always served with braised red cabbage and bread or potato dumplings. St Martin is toasted with a glass of matured new wine which is known as ‘Martin’s glass’.

There is always plenty of Goose fat leftover for Christmas cooking.

Some may think that the poor Goose got its come uppance for revealing Martin’s hiding place but perhaps we should toast it too. After all, by honking away, it gave the church one of its most loving and holy bishops, whose heart for the poor may have made him a little surprised that his day is associated with rich food, One hopes that some portion of these meals might be given to the poor, or a monetary equivalent!  Dare I even suggest that we might be kind to geese.

[GC]

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