Twin Cities Slovenians
Membership meeting, November 17, 5:30 p.m.
Hosted by Frank and Mary Medved
members and guests were present.
There was no official business.
Program Frank and Mary shared the tradition of the celebration of Martinovanje, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, with the tradition of wine and harvest.
Slovenia has a long tradition as a wine-producing country. The most important
holiday for all winegrowers and winemakers is without a doubt
St Martin`s Day, 11 November.
This is a holiday dedicated to the new wine, and one of the biggest holidays in
Slovenia. Although it is not an official public holiday, celebrating St Martin`s
Day is very popular in Slovenia.
St Martin`s Day is a traditional popular holiday in Slovenia that marks the end of work in the fields and the baptism of the new wine. Although the holiday has the appearance of a religious feast day, its origins date back to the period before Christ. At autumn festivities and banquets our pagan ancestors thanked the gods for a good harvest and petitioned them for the same abundance in the year to come. Because of the general popularity of the holiday, it was not abolished by the Church with the coming of Christianity but instead identified with the feast of St Martin, a Christian bishop born in the early fourth century in present-day Hungary, who was well known and venerated among the people.
The holiday is traditionally connected to the drinking of wine, since it is on around this date that the `must` (the newly pressed juice of grapes) becomes wine. St Martin`s Day celebrations are among the biggest gastronomic events in Slovenia and attract even hardened city-dwellers into the countryside. Various celebrations and tastings of the young wine are held across Slovenia on and around 11 November. Farms in the Primorska region set up osmice, `eight-day wine shops` where as well as wine visitors can sample other local delicacies such as ham, salami, sausages and cheese, not to mention cabbage, turnip and boiled štruklji.
Who was St. Martin?
The man commemorated on this day was Martin of Tours. He was born in the Roman province of Pannonia in the city of Savaria, the capital of Pannonia Prima, about 100 miles south of present-day Bratislava, Slovakia. Savaria is the present-day town of Szombathely, Hungary.
His father being a Roman officer, it is not surprising that Martin was named “Martin” after Mars, the Roman god of war. His biographers tell us that at a young age he insisted on joining the still fledgling Christian church, against his parents’ wishes. As the son of a Roman officer he followed his father’s occupation, as was expected of him.
A famous story surrounding St. Martin was that while serving in the Roman cavalry, he encountered a poor beggar who did not have enough clothing. Martin pulled out his sword and cut his own cloak in two, giving half of it to the beggar and leaving Martin only half of his cloak with which to continue on the cold day ahead. This took place before he’d reached the age of 18.
In time, he became what we might today call a “conscientious objector” and requested to leave the army. This insistence came on the eve of a big battle. His superiors recognized cowardice in his request and said so to his face. In response, he offered to lead the army into battle the next morning, but only on the condition that he not be forced to carry a weapon with him and that he not be forced to do harm to any man on that battlefield that day. His superiors agreed to Martin’s foolish proposal. The battle never took place and Martin was released from his duty to the Roman legions.
The word hagiography literally means “writing about the lives of the saints,” but it has become used in a figurative sense to mean any biography that is overly supportive and creative about how great a person is. The biography of St. Martin by his contemporary St. Sulpicius Severus is both a hagiography of Martin in the literal sense and in the figurative sense. You really get the feeling from reading it that you are with this unbelievable being who is not possibly human.
As with any information about a person so commonly mythologized, it’s hard to tell where the truth begins and ends. However, maybe the truth about Martin isn’t so important. Maybe his life can be read like a novel through which we might better understand a certain view of Christian qualities that have been idealized by those who wrote about him – a prayerful life in which we try not to harm others, a life in which we try to do good for those around us.
A strange detail about the remembrance of Martin of Tours is that he has an unusually high level of respect among some non-Catholics as well. Lutherans generally do not name their churches after saints who did not appear in the Bible. St. Martin of Tours is an exception. A Google search for “St. Martin Lutheran Church” produces 75,000 results.
One reason for this may have some connection to Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic priest who began what historians today refer to as “the Protestant Reformation.” Luther, who was born on Nov 8, 1483, was baptized three days after his birth on the feast of St. Martin and was therefore named after this regionally significant Roman Catholic saint.
So why the heck do people eat geese on St. Martin’s Day?
There seems to have been a mystical power to Martin that caused him to be elevated and noticed by other throughout his time, despite, according to his biographers, a desire to simply be left alone to pray in isolation.
Martin chose a monastic life and had no interest in higher office, as the legend goes. He spent time in isolation and in a community of believers that was centered on prayer and sought to live in poverty. The local bishop had died and hearing of the miracles Martin had worked, the people called for the elevation of this former soldier, Martin of Tours, to the vacant position of bishop. And when emissaries came to deliver the news and to call Martin to his bishopric, Martin was ready for them. He hid himself in a flock of geese that were being raised nearby. The emissaries waited and waited, but were unable to find Martin. What they did notice were a flock of geese hidden in a barn making a whole lot of noise. This can be expected, as the geese were likely not used to one of the local monks crouching down amongst them. As time passed, the emissaries, no longer interested in just waiting around, started making the rounds and the first of those places was the barn, where these loudly and fervently squawking geese were located. There they found our hero hiding among the unhappy geese. They picked him up, dusted him off, told him the news, and then dragged away the determined Martin, by force, to be installed in his ecclesiastical seat. The geese had given Martin away.
As a commemoration of this event, in which the humble Martin hid among the geese, a goose feast is eaten on St. Martin’s Day – Nov 11 – believed by some to be the anniversary of the burial of St. Martin of Tours in 397. This day would become a very important holiday for some – the last day of feasting before a 40-day pre-Christmas fast. That period of fasting would later develop into the season of Advent.