Have you ever been to a Mexican or Latin American restaurant, grocery store, or business and seen a picture of St. Martin of Tours? As Catholics, we immediately recognize that the painting or statue is of a Catholic saint. Many times, the owners are Catholic but sometimes they aren’t. So why do they have this fourth-century Hungarian saint in their businesses?
Who was St. Martin of Tours?
Born between 317 and 336 in Savaria, Pannonia (modern day Hungary), St. Martin was the son of a high-ranking officer in the Roman Imperial horse Guard. Though his parents were pagan, he chose to become a Christian at the age of ten. As you can imagine, that did not sit well with this parents, who were relieved to know that Martin was not allowed to be baptized without their consent. He was forced to follow his father’s footsteps, becoming a member of the Roman military at the age of fifteen.
One day, while being stationed in Amiens, France, Martin encountered a poor beggar who had been overlooked by everyone who passed him. Seeing the beggar cold and naked, Martin, who had nothing to give him, took his sword and cut his cloak in half, giving the half to the beggar. That night, he had a vision of Christ holding the cloak and saying, “Martin, a mere catechumen has clothed me.” Quite impressive for someone so young (he was still a teenager).
At the age of twenty, he quit the military as he was opposed to the fighting and war. Many years later, he made his way to Tours, France where he became a student of St. Hilary of Poitiers. After bringing his pagan parents to the Faith, Martin established a monastery (Liguge Abbey) which eventually became the home to Benedictine monks. He later became the bishop of Tours, though he did not wish to be ordained nor become a bishop despite his reputation for being an effective and powerful evangelist. He gained the reputation for being a peace-loving bishop who put his flock first and never shied away from combating heresy and paganism. He died in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul in the year 397.
Why “San Martin Caballero”?
St. Martin of Tours—known as San Martin Caballero in Spanish (St. Martin the Gentleman)—is placed in businesses in hopes to attract clients. There are two reasons for this:
The faithful Catholic seek his intercession for abundant business. Most of these businesses are small and family-owned, competing with large chain stores and restaurants. Their marketing budget is usually tiny so they rely on word of mouth and reputation to get more clientele. Just like St. Martin was able to help the poor beggar, these business owners hope to have a little help to make their businesses thrive. After all, he’s a patron of the poor. They accept that there is a chance their business might not make it but they still ask for the saint’s intercession in hopes that they will be able to keep their businesses open.
And then we get to the superstitiousness. Unfortunately, as with many other Catholic saints and devotions, some people use images and statues of this great saint as a sort of amulet or “good luck” charm to attract business. While superstition is rampant worldwide, we Hispanics and Latinos tend to be quite superstitious, mixing elements of Catholicism with “white” magic. Either way you spin it, these specific practices are condemned by the Catholic Church. Gratefully, it seems to be a tiny minority.
What you can do
If you ever find yourself in a business with an image or statue of St. Martin, please say a prayer for the owners; that God blesses their businesses. If you’re comfortable enough, you can also engage them in talking about St. Martin. We never know how much or how little is known of this great saint by others so it may be a good evangelism opportunity. You would make St. Martin proud.
This article highlighted just some of the many wonderful things this holy man did during (and after) his lifetime. I highly recommend reading more about him on his feast day of November 11th.
St. Martin of Tours, pray for us!
Featured Image: Wikimedia commons.