(d. 444)

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Martin of Tours (c. 316—397)


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(d. 444),

bishop of Tours. Educated at Martin's monastery of Marmoutier, Brice became a critic of his master, but eventually his successor. While he was a deacon he said Martin was crazy; but when called on to justify his criticism, withdrew it. Another time he said Martin was falling into superstition in his old age, but again asked his pardon. He must, however, have been reasonably able, because he was elected bishop on the death of Martin in 397. This, it was said, fulfilled Martin's own prophecy.

But if Martin's episcopate had been long, Brice's lasted longer still. Although he was difficult, he had considerable powers of survival. He was accused of various faults, sometimes justly, at other times unjustly. In the thirty-third year of his episcopate his enemies accused him of adultery. Brice went to Rome and was eventually vindicated by the pope. After this incident he was comparatively subdued; he returned to Tours, having suffered exile for seven years, and spent his remaining years in energetic apostolic activity. It is thought that this implied expiation for his earlier shortcomings, and when he died he was soon venerated as a saint.

By 470 his cult was firmly established at Tours; soon it spread to Italy and England through his association with Martin. In English monastic calendars before 1100 it was almost universal and his feast was also in the Sarum calendar. But, like his life, so also his feast was controversial; in 1002 King Ethelred the Unready ordered the Danes in England to be massacred on St Brice's Day. This misguided attempt was the occasion for Swein's invasion of England in 1003. Feast: 13 November.

Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini (P.L., xx. 159–222 and C.S.E.L., i. 108–216);H. Delehaye, ‘S. Martin et Sulpice Sévère’, Anal. Boll., xxxviii (1920), 1–136;letters of Pope Zosimus in P.L., xx. 650–63;C. Stancliffe, St Martin and his Hagiographer (1983).

Subjects: Christianity.

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