StMartinOfTours02b

Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church

On this lunchtime bike ride I went back to Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church.  It located at 1908 North Capitol Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, and is situated on hill next to a bridge where T Street passes over North Capitol Street.  I say I went “back” to the church because although it’s been many years, I have been there before.  My first (and current) wife and I were married there almost two decades ago, and this was the first time I’ve been back since.

Saint Martin’s Church was built in phases over time, and embraces an architecturally eclectic mix of neo-classical Greek and Roman styles. Beginning in 1902, a parish hall was constructed to serve the church, which was established the previous year. The original parish hall remains, and now serves as a community center. As the church continued to grow, a basement church was built on the corner of North Capital and T streets in 1913, and the main church was eventually added in 1939.

Martin of Tours was born in in Savaria in the Diocese of Pannonia, in what is now Szombathely, Hungary. Born of pagan parents, his father was a senior officer in the Roman Army who was later stationed at what was known as Ticinum, now Pavia, in northern Italy, where Martin spent much of his childhood. At the age of ten he attended the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen. As the son of a veteran he was forced to serve in the Roman Army beginning at the age of 15. Then at the age of 18, while still in the Roman Army, he was baptised. This would eventually lead to a conflict of conscience and, at the age of 23, Martin found his military duty incompatible with his adopted Christian faith. He refused a war bonus and told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” After great difficulties, he was discharged.

After living as a Catholic for some time, Martin traveled to meet Bishop Hilary of Poitiers, a theologian who would later also be canonized a saint. Martin’s spirituality and dedication to the faith impressed the bishop, who asked the former soldier to return to his diocese after a planned journey back to Hungary to visit his parents. While visiting them, Martin persuaded his mother, though not his father, to join the Church.

Martin became be a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, and was ordained an exorcist. He then became a monk, living first at Milan. Later, he moved to a small island named Gallinaria, now Isola d’Albenga, in the Ligurian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit. Eventually Martin returned to France and established what may have been the first French monastery near Poitiers. He lived there for the next decade, forming his disciples and preaching throughout the countryside. It was after this time that the people of Tours demanded that Martin become their bishop. A story was devised of a sick person at the church in Tours who was in need of Martin’s assistance. The ruse worked in bringing Martin to the church, where despite the deception he reluctantly allowed himself to be consecrated bishop.

After his appointed as Bishop, Martin continued to live as a monk, dressing plainly and owning no personal possessions. In fact, throughout the rest of his life Martin continued to live an austere life focused on the care of souls. In this same spirit of sacrifice, he traveled extensively as a missionary to places where Christianity was as yet barely known.

During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first nonmartyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.  Saint Martin of Tours has historically been among the most recognizable and beloved saints in the history of Europe.

I enjoyed learning more about the church and the saint after whom it was named as a result of this ride.  But even more, I enjoyed seeing the inside of the church again after so many years.  And it is exactly how I remembered it.

StMartins01a     StMartins04a     StMartins02a

StMartins03a     StMartin02     StMartinOfTours01b
[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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Comments
  1. Roslyn says:

    You took some beautiful pictures of my beloved church. I have been a member of St. Martin’s Church since the 1950’s, and attended St. Martin’s School. Even after all these years, when I walk inside the church I am still in awe about the beauty of our church and its stained windows especially when the sun illuminates the beautiful colors. One comment about the picture that you took of the circular stained glass window up in the choir loft: Its panels depict the story of Martin’s life as a soldier and as a bishop and of the dream in which Jesus appeared to Martin which–legend has it–was the catalyst for Martin leaving the military and answering the call to follow Christ. The next time you visit the church, be sure to go up to the choir loft and see the window up close. It is also engraved with the name of our first Pastor, Father Eugene Hannon.

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    • You’re right, Roslyn. It is a beautiful church. And thank you so much for the additional information. The next time I am able to visit the church I will definitely go back up to the choir loft to see the stained glass window. I’ve been up to the choir loft once before. When my wife and I got married at St. Martin’s, as the ceremony ended and we went down the aisle, we went up to the choir loft and watched and waived to everyone as they were leaving for the reception.

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