November 11th is Martinmas, or the Feast of St Martin (Festa di San Martino), which is is a very popular event in Venice, where young children take part in a raucous event known as "batter sanmartin" (to beat Saint Martin).
Groups of youngsters, cloaked and crowned, march through the calli and campi, chanting rhymes, banging merrily away on pots and pans, and calling on shopkeepers to ask for money or sweets. The day is also marked by the sale of St Martin-on-horseback-shaped biscuits.
Most images of St Martin depict him on horseback sharing his cloak with a beggar. The story goes that, while serving as an officer in the Roman army, St Martin (c. 315-397) came across a poorly-clad beggar shivering in the winter cold. Cutting in half his paludamentum (military cloak), the saint shared it with him. That night St Martin had a dream in which Christ appeared wearing the part of the cloak that he had given away.
A variation on the tale has St Martin meeting a second beggar, to whom he gave the other half of his cloak. At that point the sky cleared, the sun came out and the weather became much milder. This is the origin of the phrase 'Estate di San Martino', the summer of St Martin, which refers to good weather in the period around the saint's feast day.
In 370 St Martin became bishop of Tours in France. Martin is, unsurprisingly, the patron saint of beggars.
The church of San Martino, which was founded in 932, stands very close to the entrance to the Arsenale. The interior was rebuilt in 1553 by Jacopo Sansovino on a Greek-cross plan; its facade was remodelled in 1897.
The small building on the west side of the church, which once belonged to the Scuola di San Martino, bears a 15th century relief of St Martin and the Beggar.
Blogging about Venice:
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England.
Since 200I I have been living in Italy, where I run private tours of Florence, Rome &